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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 14 New Delhi March 23, 2019

Stocktaking after the Ordeal

Saturday 23 March 2019, by Nikhil Chakravartty


From N.C.’s Writings

The following is another piece written by N.C. during the 1965 Indo-Pak War. This constituted the author’s New Delhi Skyline written soon after the ceasefire on September 23, 1965.

An ordeal by fire is not necessarily the best moment to expect a chastened mood in a nation. The upheaval through which New Delhi has just passed could hardly be expected to restore immediately the balance needed for a sternly objective appraisal of the six stormy weeks that preceded the Cease Fire in the early hours of September 23.

For New Delhi as for the entire country, it was an overwhelming experience, the trials and tribulations as also the emotional stresses of a modern war, the first that has come its way since independence. The tragic content of the spectacle of two neighbours, born out of the same parentage, being locked in bloody comabt was almost lost in the sweep of a nationwide fervour that identified what the President had characterised as “this wasteful bloodshed”, with the crusade in defence of the motherland. What was perhaps missed by many was that on the other side of the front too the common humanity could look upon this very war with the same patriotic tenacity in defence of the soil of Pakistan.

One of the main reasons for this demonstration of pride in the performance of the armed forces was the underlying feeling that they could this time redeem the honour that was lost three years ago with the cowardly retreat of the Commanding General in the NEFA against the Chinese Army. The national shame suffered at Sela and Bomdila in November 1962 was wiped off by the valour displayed at Haji Pir and Sialkot in September 1965.

Besides, as may of the friendly foreign observers could testify, this brief spell of war almost served, may be unreasonably, as a safety-valve for pent-up frustration in many spheres; while the event is as yet too near for the nation to fully add up the heavy toll that a developing country has to meet on account of a present-day war. Besides, some of the ugly facets of any war can hardly be escaped in our case and those who have visited the frontlines have come back with a realistic understanding of what war means in terms of not only human misery but of its dehumanising compulsions as well.

In the emotional upsurge that has swept the country in these few weeks, a sense of oneness has scored over parochialism, and narrow communal fanaticism was, for the time being at least, kept at bay. No small contribution on this score was made by Sri Sadiq and his intrepid band in Kashmir.

Perhaps the fact that our armed forces, whether on land or in the sky, united as one unwavering fraternity, could give a good account of themselves staved off the bitter anger out of which communal fury is often begot. How much of this striking secularism of today could stand the strain of any military setback at the front against the Pakistani troops is yet to be tested.

From New Delhi one could hardly notice any panic among the common people placed right in the battle zones. Though by the grim standards of twentieth-century war it was brief in duration and limited in extent, the fact that near-normalcy could prevail even in the sensitive areas throughout the time when the battles were on, particularly in the Punjab, is itself ascribed to the complete absence of sagging morale. Rather it one stage, early in the conflict, an amateurish tendency was noticeable, a tendency which, elated by the initial military successes, seemed to take an almost Carthago-delenda-est stand against Pakistan.

This cocksure outlook was very correcly scotched by the Defence Minister in Parliament at the height of the operations on September 10—a date which roughly marked the point of checkmate in the overall progress of our Army in combat. And in this respect, the Army Chief himself displayed unusual common sense; meeting the press on the morrow of the Cease Fire, he refused to claim that the back of the Pakistan Army had been broken. The Field Commanders have also been remarkably circumspect in listing their own achievements. One is tempted to conclude that the political leadership itself was anxious not to delude the public with an exaggerated picture of military gains, for they have the sagacity to understand that it was the element of surprise in the Indian strategy at the initial stage that mainly ensured in a spectacular way the major operations being conducted mostly on Pakistani soil.

Two things however are conceded even by the severest of critical observers as solid Indian achievements: firstly, the Kashmir Valley could be saved from Pakistan’s military offensive; secondly, the superiority in arms, provided by the Pentagon, could not give Pakistan the run-away victory that the responsible leaders in Rawalpindi were reported to have had braggingly forecast to the Western diplomats just about a week before the full-scale operations started on September 1.

The political implications of these two achievements in the field are expected to be far-reaching, according to the New Delhi authorities. In their calculation, the fact that India did not hesitate to face all the hazards of a full-scale war extending from Dwarka in the west to Bagdogra in the east, and actually succeeded in staving off the armed attack on the Kashmir Valley, should open the eyes of Pakistan’s leaders, and their friends abroad, that no government in India would or could let the Jammu and Kashmir State as it is constituted today, to go out of the Indian Union. Any move for a political settlement of the Kashmir question will thus find it difficult to escape this reality. From New Delhi’s point of view, the settlement of the Kashmir question has, thanks to this war, been reduced to fringe adjustments to the status quo in Kashmir.

Secondly, the psychological complex in favour of having indiscriminate arms aid, noticeable in certain well-known sections of the Right, has been largely removed; and in this way, the Shastri Government finds itself today in a better position to vindicate the Nehru policy of non-alignment in foreign affairs and reasonable self-reliance in defence production. It is not without significance that Smt. Indira Gandhi’s exhortation that we have ‘to stand on our own feet and to bear the entire burden ourselves”, has received wide acclaim even from circles which can hardly be identified with the Left.

It is in this context that one cannot escape noticing in New Delhi considerable slump in American prestige particularly with regard to its politics of military alliances. The discredit of the Patton tank in the eyes of the man in the street in India today may have been magnified due to ignorance of technical knowledge; but the discredit of the foreign policy based on the lavish gift of Patton tanks can hardly be concealed despite Mr Chester Bowles‘ frantic lobbying and explanatory campaign in the Capital.

The setback for the Patton has helped to lift Sri Krishna Menon’s standing, for it is Sri Menon’s tenacious emphasis on self-reliance in Defence during his tenure in the Cabinet which has paid rich dividends in the present military campaign. Many among those who were critical of Sri Menon as the Defence Minister can no longer belittle the long-range importance of his Defence Economics. It is therefore quite on the cards that Sri Menon may be playing a more and more prominent role in the affairs of the Establishment. His trip to Cairo may be the opening of a purposeful phase.

Along with Sri Menon, the prestige of the Congress Left, as also of the Left outside the Congress, has, to some extent, been enhanced. The case for building an independent economy has inevitably been strengthened by the positive experience of having indigenously-built defence equipment. The national oil policy of Sri K.D. Malaviya has also got a boost, as much as the Swatantra crusade against the public sector in basic industries is expected to suffer a reverse.

But the battle for the Fourth Plan is going to be more difficult. Sri Asoka Mehta will have to cross many more bridges, and even then the top priority for Defence is bound to shrink the Plan budget on other heads. Although public-sector defence production has got the praise due to it, it would however be incorrect to conclude that planning in the new context will automatically set its face against powerful private interests in industry and finance. Rather the present indications in New Delhi suggest that while the government will stress on Defence as top priority, the argument is being sharpened that in order to relieve the burden of development on the taxpayer, the government should allow greater scope for the private sector. The production of basic goods might be stepped up inside the country, but there is no guarantee that it would not pass on, to a large measure, to the Big Business. The battle for the public sector does not seem to be assured of automatic victory: the battle is yet to be fought and won by the Left.

The Congress Right is no doubt in disarrary but nobody in New Delhi is naive enough to suggest that it was suffered a defeat. Sri Morarji Desai is in difficulty of finding an issue with which to discredit the Shastri leadership, more firmly entrenched as it is as a result of the present crisis. Sri S.K. Patil is under a cloud as it has come to be known that he could not fall in line with some of the crucial decisions on the present confrontation against Pakistan. His split Swantantraite personality seems to be suffering from the same agonising indecision as Sri Masani himself.

At the same time, one has to recognise that the Jan Sangh in this crisis has been most prominently active. The Congress circles however point out that the Jan Sangh’s anti-Muslim frenzy has been curbed because the fight against Pakistan has become an issue of national defence and not just a communal crusade. However, careful observers tend to agree that the Jan Sangh’s election propspects have been enhanced since it can claim that its uncompromising antipathy to Pakistan has been vindicated.

Almost resembling the Swantantra, the Left Communist quandary has been most accentuated by the present developments. Sri Namboodiripad’s discomfiture is no longer a secret, since he has the unenviable task of reconciling his personal annoyance at the Pakistani and the Chinese actions against India with the unalloyed pro-Peking leanings of some of the ultra-revolutionaries in his newly-found Party. The point of polarisation inside the Left Communist ranks seems to have been reached.

What would be the political significance of the nationwide tribute spontaneously showered on the Armed Forces? There is no doubt that the leadership of the Defence forces has not only come to be widely known all over the country but today commands the admiration of all sections of public opinion.

This is no doubt in keeping with the present national mood. How far the Armed forces will play a significant part in the political life of the country time alone can show; and that too can be known only in times of crisis. At the moment, the attitude of the bulk of the officer class is echoed by a Field Commander receiving a team of Parliament Members with the words: “We are your servants.” In the present temper in the Capital this expression of robust loyalty to the sovereign Parliament has not received the publicity it deserves.

In the sphere of foreign affairs, the Indo-Pak armed conflict has brought to the fore the question of this country’s future links with the Commonwealth. An outstanding feature of New Delhi’s political life today is that the Quit-Commonwealth slogan has become widely popular in the Congress circles. Although the Prime Minister disfavoured the presentation of a formal memorandum of protest to the UK High Commissioner by a group of MPs, it is an open secret that Sri Shastri has not in the least discouraged the Congress members coming out sharply against India’s continued association with the Commonwealth on the floor of the House. Sri Bhagwat Jha Azad’s resolution in the Lok Sabha practically got the green signal when the Prime Minister himself condemned the Whitehall stand at a public meeting in the Capital three days later.

While Mr John Freeman has conveyed to Mr Wilson the magnitude of Indian indignation at the British role in the Kashmir dispute, the British circles here seem to be confident that India would have second thoughts on the question of quitting the Commonwealth. Their calculations seem to be based on the assumption that secession from the Commonwealth would hit this country’s foreign trade, and it will take time for India to work out an alternate trade pattern on a global scale. They also pin their hope on the pull of their lobby inside the Secretariat ranging from the External Affairs to the Finance Ministry.

The US embarrassment has been most acute over the stark realisation by all sections in India that Pakistan could fight the war against this country almost entirely with the American gifted arms. This is a point which the government spokesmen have been directed to underline in their public pronouncements.

The general impression here about Washington’s attitude is that it is opposed to the continuation of the Indo-Pak war as such; at the same time, there is a very strong suspicion that while anxious for a Cease Fire, the US authorities would exert the maximum pressure in the coming weeks for a political decision on Kashmir which will tend to favour Pakistan; although the demand for plebiscite seems to have lost weight in Washington, other proposals—including the JP plan for a variant of condominium—seem to be under the State Department’s consideration. In other words, the US diplomatic pressure is likely to be stepped up to force New Delhi to modify its present stand of complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian Union. Not only Sri Rajagopalachari’s views but even Sri Namboo-diripad’s declaration that the political status of Kashmir can by no means be regarded as settled has aroused interest in official US circles in the Capital.

The report that the Pentagon seems to favour the resumption of US arms aid to Pakistan has not come as a surprise here. Informed quarters in New Delhi have long held the view that the Pntagon and the CIA have never been alienated from President Ayub so long as he permitted the continuation of the U-2 base at Peshawar; on the other hand, the State Department has been annoyed by Pakistan’s hobnobbing with Peking. Hence the strange spectacle of the Pentagon canvassing for arms for Ayub, while the World Bank repeatedly postponing the Aid-Pak Consortium meeting.

The argument trotted out by Mr Bowles’ men in New Delhi in apologia for the Pentagon move is interesting: So long as the Pakistan Government remained in loyal subservience to the US there was no danger of any attack on India: bellicosity in Rawalpindi came as a consequence of its moorings with Washington getting weakened. If Pakistan coiuld once again be brought within the orbit of total US control, India would not have to fear any fresh armed attack from Pakistan.

This is no doubt an extraordinary piece of dollar dialectics by which the US arms gift were supposed to ensure peaceful proclivities in Pakistan, an argument which directly runs counter to New Delhi’s bitter experience, gained over more than a decade, that it is the large-scale induction of US arms through military alliance that has heightened the danger of the Indo-Pak war. It appears that New Delhi’s opinion will considerably harden against Washington if the Pentagon proposal to resume arms aid to Pakistan is put through.

In contrast to Britain’s sorry plight and the US disconfiture, Moscow at the moment is enjoying the sunshine of Sri Shastri’s confidence. Apart from the Soviet Union’s traditional stand on Kashmir, which has always been favourable towards India, the Soviet leaders seem to have taken pains to explain to New Delhi that any accretion of the Soviet influence in Rawalpindi through patience and goodwill would in the long run be to this country’s advantage, since it will to that extent neutralise Pakistan’s leanings towards both Peking and Washington.

This rather daring experiment at international diplomacy on the part of Moscow has not created misunderstanding in New Delhi, though some pro-US commentators have started talking about Moscow’s let-down. The Shastri Govern-ment was known to have decided to accept the Soviet offer of mediation in the very week-end that U Thant was here, that is, long before Mr. Kosygin’s letter was formally replied to by Sri Shastri. There is however a feeling of pessimism in certain circles here about the prospects of the proposed Tashkent summit, though there is not the least misgivings about the Soviet leadership’s objective in promoting Indo-Pak peace.

With the regular war brought to an end by an uneasy peace that has accompanied the Security Council’s mandate for a Cease Fire, there is speculation in New Delhi about the political crisis that is supposed to be brewing inside the Pakistani leadership. While President Ayub‘s responsibility for going in for the war is not denied, there is a general understanding here that the reported Ayub-Bhutto tension is a major upshot of the war which may turn out to be the decisive pointer to the future of Indo-Pak relations. Mr Bhutto with his pro-Peking bellicosity is believed to have the support of a good section of the Army leadership: though Mr Bhutto’s political prestige may not have been enhanced by the fiasco of the much-proclaimed Chinese support in the war against India, the more truculent among the Generals have felt humiliated that the Cease Fire has come as an obstacle to their throwing Indian troops out of Pakistani soil.

On the other hand, President Ayub according to this theory, has gone in for the Cease Fire precisely to prevent the Generals getting too powerful through the continuation of war while the public morale might have been embittered by his own failure to win Kashmir. The defiance of the Security Council Resolution appears to be the impact of the pro-Bhutto Generals’ veto; both the factions, at the same time, are still hesitating to take the responsibility of going in full steam for a regular war with India. The fact of the Indian Army’s presence on the Pakistani soil is for them a humiliating irritant, while the failure to trounce the Indian Army—which they might have complacently hoped to achieve—is acting as a deterrent against the resumption of full-scale war.

By this appraisal there seems to be a tug of war going on inside Pakistan between the Washington lobby and the Peking lobby, a tussle which has been accentuated as a result of the war. President Ayub, who has permitted himself the luxury of Mr Chou En-lai’s friendship as a lever for pressurising the US never abandoned his links with Washington, he himself being the architect of the US-Pak military alliance in the Dulles days. In contrast to this, Mr Bhotto has staked his whole political career on a determined entente with China in common belligerence against India. Whether this theory stems from wishful thinking or is a true indicator of events only the developments unfolding in the next few weeks will prove.

The Sino-Pak axis plans against India were believed to have been given the finishing touch when Mr Chen Yi met Mr Bhutto in Karachi after the Pak offensive had been mounted in the Chhamb sector. According to this blueprint, the Indian Army was expected to march into East Pakistan, finding it an easy target. Synchronising with this, Peking hoped to engineer a coup in Bhutan with the help of the disgruntled Dorji clique whose leader, the ousted Premier Lhendup Dorji, now in London, is believed to be in close touch with both Peking and the Whitehall. This projected coup was scheduled to give birth to a “Revolutionary Council” which would send out an appeal for help to “friendly powers” in their struggle against the Indian Army which by treaty is to come to the support of the King. Thereupon the Pak troops would try to push towards Bhutan through the narrow 60-mile gap of Indian territory that keeps Bhutan and East Pakistan apart, while the Chinese troops could march down from Bhutan. This way Assam and NEFA could have been sliced off from the rest of India, a geopolitical dream which Peking has long nurtured.

Unfortunately for Mr Bhutto and his comrades in Peking, little Lal Bahadur Shastri did not oblige them by walking into their trap and Peking in the hurry had to cook up the complaint about the unused installations beyond Nathu La and of the missing yaks and the sheep. This was indeed poor substitute for the grand design that banked on involving the Indian Army in a war with China via Bhutan and East Pakistan using Pakistan Army as a baffle wall against any possible Seventh Fleet bombing.

It was but natural that the fiasco of this meticulously worked-out plan led Peking into a state of frustrated rage whose spit-over could be seen in the famous double-ultimatum and the note of condemnation at the bleating of the eight hundred sheep that turned up at the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi. Perhaps a sense of humour is a ‘revisionist’ sin.

(Mainstream, October 2, 1965)

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