In order to find out its possibility, it would be prudent to peep into the History and find out what led to the 1962 Sino-India war. Because some observers have already started comparing the current situation with that of 1962 by substituting new actors and settings; Narendra Modi, Dobal and Bipin Rawat instead of Jawaharlal Nehru, Menon and B.M. Kaul, and Doklam in place of Dhola Post.
After Nehru, the then PM of India, in 1950, having allowed China to gobble Tibet, China started circulating maps that showed many parts of India, almost 120000 sqkms as theirs. The Opposition as such miffed with Nehru’s peace overtures with China blamed Nehru for his policy towards China.
As a result, In July 1954, Nehru wrote a memo directing a revision in the maps of India to show definite boundaries on all frontiers. On being questioned, Zhou Enlai, the first Premier of People’s Republic of China, responded that there were errors in the maps.
Soon, In 1958, there was an uproar in India when it was learnt that China had built a road between Xinjiang and Tibet through Indian territory in Aksai Chin (historically a part of Indian state of Ladakh). This led to acrimonius debates in Parliament resulting an angry Nehru commenting that ; NOT A BLADE OF GRASS GROWS there. At this a famous Indian politician pointed to Nehruji’s bald head and sarcastically remarked ; EVEN NOTHING GROWS THERE TOO SHOULD THIS BE HANDED OVER TO CHINA.
Thereafter, one after the other border clashes kept taking place in which both sides ; Indian soldiers as well as Chinese suffered casualties.
The dispute further worsened when a rebellion took place in Tibet and Dalai Lama was welcomed in India. Tensions increased further when Mao stated that the Lhasa rebellion in Tibet was caused by Indians.
Zhou Enlai remarked ; Nehru and people from the Indian upper class oppose reform in Tibet, even to the extent of saying that reform is impossible…[They want] Tibet to remain for a long time in a backward state, becoming a ‘buffer state’ between China and India.
In the summer of 1961, China entered parts of Indian-administered regions and this again created uproar in India, blaming Nehru for his soft approach. In response the Indians launched a policy of creating outposts behind the Chinese troops so as to cut off their supplies and force their return to China. This has been referred to as the “Forward Policy”. There were eventually 60 such outposts, including 43 north of the McMahon Line.
Apparently, the political expediency led the then Indian Govt to undertake measures which were Tactically unsound and consequently caused more harm in the long run.
The initial reaction of the Chinese forces was to withdraw when Indian outposts advanced towards them. However, this appeared to encourage the Indian forces to accelerate their Forward Policy even further. In response to Indian outposts encircling Chinese positions, Chinese forces would build more outposts to counter-encircle these Indian positions. This pattern of encirclement and counter-encirclement resulted in an interlocking, chessboard-like deployment of Chinese and Indian forces. Ultimately, the two forces came so close to each other at number of places that the Indian posts and Chinese posts were separated by a narrow stretch of land. However, Indian establishment including the military was confident through previous diplomacy that the Chinese would not react with force and they kept insisting on the need for negotiations
Consequently, Tensions steadily increased between the two nations as the situation, gradually, kept spiralling out of control due to the increasing border skirmishes between India and China throughout the summer of 1962. For eg On July 10, 1962, around 350 Chinese troops surrounded an Indian post at Chushul and used loudspeakers to convince the Gurkhas that they should not be fighting for India.
According to the official Indian history, on September 20, Indian eastern command ordered all Indian posts and patrols to engage any Chinese patrols within range of their weapons. On September 20, at one of the bridges on the river a firefight developed, killing nine Chinese and Indian soldiers. Skirmishes continued throughout September.
Meanwhile, Nehru was attracting much flak from the Opposition for his non-viable border policies, and as a result he was determined or compelled to mobilize the army into action.
In early 1962, Indian Political set up now confused and under pressure Politically took another step as part of its Forward policy and established a Post at Dhola on the southern slopes of Thagla ridge, China issued diplomatic protests which accused India of violating even the McMahon Line. Thereafter, Chinese soldiers began occupying positions at the top of Thag La, north of Indian positions. On 18 October, the Chinese government approved the PLA’s plan of a “self-defensive counterattack” against India because of its actions in Tibet.
According to the official Indian history, a decision was made on September 9 to evict the Chinese from the southern part of the Thag La Ridge, by force, if necessary. Later, it was decided that “all forward posts and patrols were given permission to fire on any armed Chinese who entered Indian territory”. By the time the Indian battalion reached the point of conflict, Chinese units controlled both banks of the Namka Chu River. Chinese troops threw grenades at Indian troops and a firefight developed, triggering a long series of skirmishes for the rest of September. This implies that the situation had reached a point of No return.
While the then Prime Minister of India Jawharlal Nehru and the then Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon are chiefly accused of fuelling the conflict with China, there had been people like the Intelligence Bureau Chief B N Mullick and also in my opinion, the Opposition who had left no stone unturned to compel Nehru to undertake tactically unsound measures and provoke a retaliation from China.
In fact, evidences indicate that, China had been methodically preparing for the war which India had misinterpreted and thought of countering it by FORWARD ACTION POLICY.
In view of the above, it can safely be assumed that since the time Chinese occupied Tibet, in 1950, India’s Parliamentary democratic nuances, the opposition bickering, the unsavoury remarks made by Leaders from both sides and the border incidents one after the other kept compelling Nehru to take knee jerk responses which were tactically bound to fail, in case of a war.
The current situation.
When Chinese arrived with dozers and labour to start their road construction in the Dokhlam region, the Indian troops stopped them and drove them off and occupied Dokhlam.
Dokhlam is at the trijunction of Bhutan, China and India, jutting like a sword between India’ Sikkim and Bhutan and is close to Chinese Chumbi valley. Although it is considered being part of Bhutan but it has serious security implications for India as well.
The message from China’s official, quasi-official and non-official sources is: India is at fault, it must back down, withdraw its troops and let Bhutan and China sort out their boundary dispute.
In other words, China should have the freedom to negotiate with its neighbour and India has no locus standii in this matter.
The Chinese have cleverly managed to play both instigator and victim in the Doklam stand-off. Making a distinction between India and Bhutan, and treating them separately without any cognisance of the India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty. It allows Beijing to demand that India unilaterally vacate its positions on China’s terms.
At the same time its media has not missed any opportunity to issue threats and reminding India of 1962 consequences and also called India’s foreign minister a Liar.
India although has maintained a calm but firm stance, kept the temperature low on its side and sent signals; it wants to sort the problem with dialogue.
However, as in 1962 when China felt that India can in future threaten its hold on Tibet, it deliberately and systematically over a period of time prepared itself to teach India a Lesson which had a tremendous impact on India’s psyche. I feel that Once again there are many reasons that exist now for China to once again take recourse to the same Option.
Reasons For China to resort to war option.
One, India’s objection to China’s dream project ONE BELT ONE ROAD which, India views as an Initiative done purely in pursuit of its geo political objectives. The manner in which China is pursuing its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project through Gilgit- Baltistan and POK, it can only be termed as arrogance and nothing else. Through its “one belt, one road” initiative, China is supporting infrastructure projects in strategically located developing countries, often by extending huge loans to their governments. As a result, countries are becoming ensnared in a debt trap that leaves them vulnerable to China’s influence. China now realises that India’s opposition to this initiative has the potential to usurp its geopolitical objectives.
Two, China’s high-speed railways and highways, Both carry – or soon will carry – people and goods to Kyaukpyu on Myanmar’s Bay of Bengal and Pakistan’s Karachi to Greece’s Piraeus and Turkey’s Istanbul. The first-ever railway in Tibet, linking Lhasa with Xining in China’s northwest, opened in 2006. Soon that line will reach Kathmandu, and if New Delhi agrees, north India. Dhaka in Bangladesh and Bandar Abbas in Iran, to India’s east and west respectively, will soon be joined to China by modern rail and road. China would not like to see India usurping this grand vision.
Three, , The way Chinese have been pushing and coercing the smaller neighbours and using money as a leverage to bring them into submission is now well known. Moreover, the recent incident of intrusion and causing threat to Bhutan’s security would further make many neighbours apprehensive including Pakistan which is day by day getting into the Chinese debt trap. This has already raised many eye brows in Pakistan. And they fear that Pakistan may become a colonial Border Out Post of China. So, India is the only big country in this region which these smaller neighbours can look up to and which can withstand China’s hegemony.
Four, China is probably using the same strategy here in South Asia as was used by USA in 60s, in Latin America, during Cold war era against erstwhile USSR. It considered Latin America as its back yard.. The U.S. sought to secure its “backyard even if that meant extending support to dictators and despots. So, China, that is emerging as a Superpower is also probably safe guarding its back yard in South Asia, with whatever means possible. It would, therefore if not fear India because of India’s size, its International status, its liberal and democratic society it would be wary of it. Viewing from that perspective, China is likely to remain not just a competitor for India but a Rival state, So, this bonhomie with US and Japan and these naval excercses with them in Indian Ocean are going to be viewed as a threat by Chinese to its back yard. It wishes to convey to all ; NOT A FLY CAN MOVE WITHOUT ITS PERMISSION IN THIS REGION.
Five, China today enjoys superiority over India , both in terms of economic as well as military power. However, as Chinese economy is facing a slow down and India is now surging ahead there is a likelihood that if the current Govt continues the economic and military superiority that China enjoys today may diminish considerably making it difficult for China then to obtain any worthwhile outcome.
Six, War is fundamentally a political act. Although, It is the military, that fights the war, but its the political leaders, who declare the war. Democratic leaders are more likely to avoid difficult wars because they are more dependent on the support of the population as Compared to other types of regimes. Therefore, the necessity of wining in order to secure support from the domestic constituency compels leaders to avoid a difficult war and bank more on diplomacy and negotiations. Because, if they lose, the people will not spare them. However, at the same time, they can also not be seen to be compromising on Borders which puts them in a Catch 22 situation. This is what had happened with Nehru and likely to happen with Modi. The Govt therefore finds itself in a precarious situation because the enemy as well as the Opposition parties are also aware of this weakness of a democratic setup. Thus, democratic leaders have to ensure that ; there is no war, second, there is no compromise and if at all war happens it will not be a destructive force to their support base and they must win. It is a tough call and thus it may compel Govt to take measures which are caused by political expediency rather than military prudence. This emboldens China to trap India as it did in 1962.
So, Is there Going to be a war?
In view of the above points that we have discussed and taking into account the prophetic words of Dr Ambedkar which he In 1954, while criticising PM Nehru’s China policy said ;
“By allowing the Chinese to take possession of Lhasa the PM has practically helped them bring their border down to the Indian border ……………..Aggression might well be committed by people who are always in a nature of committing aggression”.
Thus given the basic nature of Chinese, this is, in my opinion, the most opportune time for China to once and for all secure its backyard. China has a limited window of opportunity of approx 1-2 years to achieve this geo political objective. Once India is taken care off the smaller nations would automatically fall in place. Therefore, in my opinion, Chinese provocations and warnings, and their continuous references to 1962, seems to me that Beijing is preparing for an imminent and unavoidable war with its neighbour and chances of a war would be almost 60%.
So,What should India be Doing ?
One, The Indian PM should avoid committing the same mistakes as Nehru did , i.e Nehru kept believing that China will not use force and he will be able to arrive at a solution through peaceful negotiations and also at the same time did not prepare his military fearing that it may antagonise the Chinese further. So, India must continue to upgrade its defence preparedness because that is the best guarantee against any misadventure by Chinese. In that regards, Modi has done the right thing by giving purchasing power to Vice Chief to meet the deficiencies of army.
Second,, The Govt must leave it to the military experts to plan the deployment as well as employment of military resources rather than allowing the NSA, Mr Dobhal or any other Beauraucrat or Politician to play larger than life role in this. We must know that the incursions are likely to increase in near future, if the Chinese are serious about escalating the level of conflict, and in that case all our manoeuvres and deployments be made keeping in mind the tactical requirements and not be borne out of Political Expediency.
Three, Rely on our strengths, as mountains will offer more advantage to the defender than the attacker and Chinese economic and military superiority as an attacker will be nullified to a great extent because of the peculiar nature of the terrain. Moreover, The Indian army with an exception of US army is the only army, today, which is battle hardened. It has for last 30 years been fighting militancy/ terrorism. The Indian infantry soldier and the Infantry units have faced fire and are well trained in active operations and not on SAND MODELS and Firing ranges. The recent eg is the Kargil war where Pak regulars despite occupying tactically advantageous positions on mountain tops lost to Indian army. So, in case China does try any adventure in mountains its army is surely going to suffer very heavy casualties.
Four, India must not miss any opportunity to portray China as a hegemonistic power which is trying to bully its smaller neighbours using money and military as a leverage. Our entire media and Social media must synergise their efforts and focus to achieve this objective. This would have a far reaching impact on China which is trying to fill the vacuum left by USA . Because, a loss against India will dent its image permanently and all the smaller nations in Asia would then look up to India as their saviour.
Five, The India Govt should not buckle down under pressure from opposition in parliament which has already started seeking answers from the Govt and the Cong wants a full fledged debate on the stand off. As the incursions increase and border show downs become frequent, the political bickering would intensify. Even, then the Govt must show restrain and not take any measure which from military point of view is tactically unsound.
So, although China may find this as a window of opportunity and might have started its preparations for Round 2, but it must also not forget that instead of teaching India a lesson, China may learn a lesson or two in mountain warfare and end up with egg on its face and its IMAGE may be dented for ever. This is going to be very embarrassing for China which is aspiring to acquire a Super power status.