That night of November 19 , 1962

Discussion in 'Military History' started by Singh, Aug 29, 2012.

  1. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

    Feb 23, 2009
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    I am perhaps one of the very few surviving people who came to know about Jawaharlal Nehru’s appeal to John F. Kennedy on the night of November 19, 1962. I have already written about it in the Centenary History of The Indian National Congress (Volume IV, 1990, co-published by All India Congress Committee). I wrote the chapter on the “evolution of Indian defence policy” in 1984-85 at the request of R. Venkataraman, at that time defence minister, and P.V. Narasimha Rao, at that time minister of external affairs and president of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, of which I was then the director. They told me no official, classified documents would be available and I had to rely entirely on published literature. However, subsequently Rao based many of his perspectives in Chapter 33 of his novel The Insider on the above chapter and acknowledged it in a footnote. On page 516 of the volume, commenting on Nehru’s failures in 1962, I had written: “At the highest level Jawaharlal Nehru chose to appeal to the US president for aerial support without first ordering the Indian Air Force into battle.” The footnote explains, “That the Prime Minister made such an appeal was within the knowledge of the author who was then a Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Defence. That the US Ambassador played a role in influencing the Indian decision not to use the Indian Air Force may be inferred from Galbraith, Amba-ssador’s Journal.”In November 1962, I shared a room with my senior colleague S. Soundararajan (happily with us, settled in Chennai), from whom I had taken over as deputy secretary (JIO) to enable him to concentrate whole time on coordinating foreign military aid. He was a member of a three-member committee comprising Vincent Coelho, joint secretary (Americas) in the external affairs ministry, and Major General Satarawala. It was 9 pm on Nov-ember 19, and a visibly shaken Soundararajan came and told me of this telegram which he had seen with Coelho. According to the information he gave me at that time the main adviser on the move was M.J. Desai, the foreign secretary. We never spoke about it later. Soundararajan would perhaps not have shared the secret with me but for the shock he received and his compulsion to share it with someone. I was the first person he met, his college mate, friend and colleague.I did not see the text of the telegram and what Soundararajan told me at that time confirms Inder Malhotra’s (‘Letters from the darkest hour’, IE, November 17) rather than Sudhir Ghosh’s account. Nehru did not ask for an aircraft carrier. But the Americans did have an aircraft carrier (USS Enterprise) in the Indian Ocean and it did move into the Bay of Bengal. This particular incident and what happened subsequently have very valuable lessons to non-alignment cultists on Nehru’s use of the concept as a strategy to safeguard India’s security and not as a third-worldist ideology. Since the Chinese declared a unilateral ceasefire on November 20 and withdrew — they could not have stayed on with the passes blocked by snow — the immediate crisis passed. The US came up with some help especially for supply dropping for our troops. US Hercules aircraft operated from Palam with US pilots and Indian supplementary crew for those supply missions. By December 18-21, President Kennedy and Prime Minister Macmillan had met in the Bahamas and finalised a joint military aid package of $120 million for India, to be shared equally between the US and the Commonwealth. The Americans argued that since our forces were more familiar with British weapons and equipment India should rely more on the UK and Commonwealth for combat equipment while the US would supply non-combat, communication, engineering and other equipment.The politics of aid in that era and the triangular relationship among the US, India and Pakistan is a different story. What should be of interest here is the triangle of India, the US and the USSR. At that time, Kennedy is reported to have told one of his aides that India should be encouraged to get as much military equipment as possible from the Soviet Union for its military preparedness against China. The Soviet Union could not take a pro-India stand in October 1962 as the Chinese timed their attack to coincide with the Cuban missile crisis — on this aspect we did not have a clue in India — and came out in support of the Indian stand by mid-December. From 1963 to 1965, India was concluding major defence agreements with both the US and the USSR, with neither party objecting to our dealings with the other. Z.A. Bhutto used to say that India was bi-aligned and not non-aligned. The crux of non-alignment is that this country does not get involved in some other power’s antagonism and it does not mean that we sacrifice our national security by keeping away from other powers when our national security interest necessitates our dealing with them.A word about the Chinese air-threat in 1962. In 1965, a Chinese deserter came away with a significant amount of documentation and, offering it to us, sought asylum. For inexplicable reasons, we did not accept him and his documents, but the Americans did. Subsequently they ended up in the Hoover Institute and were published as PLA’s Work-Bullettins of the period, to the best of my recollection, 1960-62. According to those bulletins, because of total suspension of supply of spares by the Soviet Union, the PLA air force was very nearly totally incapacitated and grounded, even in the mainland, let alone in Tibet. Ambassador Galbraith’s advice was based not on any intelligence but on his personal hunch. For our part, at that time we were reliant on British and US intelligence given to us at their discretion. Obviously they too did not have adequate intelligence on the status of Sino-Soviet relations. The first air-defence missiles SA-2 came from the Soviet Union in 1963.Another reminiscence of those days. Just as there are senior defence services and foreign service officers exhorting the country not to trust the Americans now for equipment, there was a large number of people arguing against our dealings with the Soviet Union. They asserted communists and communists would always get together and let us down, and that our officers and personnel undergoing training in the USSR would be brainwashed and subverted. History is witness that the procedures we implemented guarded against such risks, and democratic officers and men were sufficiently immune to communism. But how do we learn from the past when we do not throw open our archives to scholars?

    That night of November 19 - Indian Express
  3. Tolaha

    Tolaha Senior Member Senior Member

    Nov 28, 2009
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    Very interesting these lines:

    parijataka likes this.

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