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Explained: How Atal Bihari Vajpayee took on the Jawaharlal Nehru govt over the 1962 Chinese aggression

From Rajya Sabha’s debates archives, excerpts from some selected instances when Vajpayee asked very pointed questions on the Chinese aggression, and the manner in which the government of the day responded.

BJP Leader Atal Behari Vajpayee coming to attend monsoon session of Parliament in New Delhi. (Express Archives/S Paul)

In the days leading up to the full-blown Chinese aggression of 1962, Parliament witnessed major debates. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then a young firebrand leader of the Jana Sangh, and decades away from becoming the Prime Minister, intensely questioned of the government. In Rajya Sabha, Vajpayee took on then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on several occasions.

From Rajya Sabha’s debates archives, which are available online, excerpts from some selected instances when Vajpayee asked very pointed questions on the Chinese aggression, and the manner in which the government of the day had responded:

April 23, 1962

Indo-Chinese correspondence on border issue

Vajpayee: Is it not a fact that China has virtually closed the door for talks and negotiations as is evident from the… notes received from the Chinese, and, if so, may we have some idea of the steps that the government proposes to take in order to solve the problem peacefully?

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Nehru: I am afraid it is difficult and it will not be quite proper to state the possible steps that might be taken in the future. They depend on so many factors. All we could say is that every effort is made, every thought is given to this matter, and whenever an opportunity takes place, it is hoped that some possible steps might be taken. That may be a small one, whatever effect that might have.

May 3

Fresh Chinese incursions on the border

Vajpayee: If two or three Chinese persons can come, then what is there to prevent 200 or 300 coming into Indian territory?

Nehru: I presume that if 200 come — can be more — the fact of their coming becomes much more obvious, and they are met. Just one or two persons, or three or four persons can easily come this way or that way. There is no check every yard of the frontier. If any force comes, as soon as it is known, it is checked.

Vajpayee: Sir, from time to time Chinese incursions are taking place. May I know whether at any time they have been engaged in military activity by our personnel?

Nehru: I do not think there have been any cases in recent months, possibly more, about a year ago, where there has been any conflict between Indian and Chinese soldiers.

These frontline pictures were taken by an Indian Express photographer specially deputed to NEFA before the fall of Sela Indicative of the odds against which our jawans are fighting in NEFA the picture shows a truck being dragged along hilly terrain during Sino-Indian 1962 war. (Express archive)

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June 20

Fresh Chinese incursions on the northern borders

Vajpayee: Will the Prime Minister be pleased to state whether there have been any fresh Chinese incursions on the northern borders and whether a statement giving the details of these incursions will be laid on the table of the house?

Lakshmi Menon (MoS, External Affairs): Yes sir. Subsequent to our protest note dated April 15, 1962 regarding the Chinese post established at a point 6 miles west of Sumdo, Chinese troops have set up another post on Indian territory approximately eight to ten miles southeast of Spanggur. This new post set up on Indian territory has been fortuitously admitted by the Chinese in their note dated the 11th May 1962.

June 25

Violation of airspace by Chinese and Pakistani aircraft

Vajpayee: Will the Minister of Defence be pleased to state whether some fresh incidents of violation of Indian airspace have taken place recently…?

K Raghuramaiah (Minister of State for Defence): Statement showing violations is laid on the table of the House.

Vajpayee: Sir it appears from the statement that foreign places violated our airpspace at their will and that they do not even hesitate to penetrate our airspace up to a distance of about 30 miles. May I know sir, apart from sending protest notes, what steps the government proposes to take to put an end to these air violation?

Raghuramaiah: As has been stated by both the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister on a number of occasions, we have been following, Sir, the practice open to civilised countries and we hope that they will have effect.

Naik Rabi Lal Thapa commander of a post in the Pangong Lake area of Ladakh shakes hands with General Kaul during 1962 Sino-Indian war. (Express archive photo)

Aug 22

Motion regarding border situation

Nehru: … There is little that is new that I can place before the House… There have been certain charges and counter-charges of firing taking place. But apparently if this took place, it took place at some long distance and it hurt nobody. At the present moment the situation remains much as it was and I cannot say if it has definitely improved, it has certainly not grown any worse.

There are some indications — I do not know how far they are likely to be correct — that our post at Galwan may be reached by a column that we had sent by road. Meanwhile, they have been sent supplies by air regularly and there is no lack of supplies to any of our military posts.

In spite of the fact that the situation has not grown worse, essentially the situation is a bad one, is a serious one by the mere fact that, according to us, a large part of our territory is under the Chinese occupation and so long as that continues the situation is bound to be exceedingly serious.

… The question arises, therefore, what should we do about it. As I have ventured to state, our approach is a dual one, one is to go on strengthening ourselves and holding as far as possible the Chinese and at the same time to explore such avenues as we can find to achieve a peaceful settlement to this difficult problem.

Vajpayee: Sir, I move that at the end of the motion the following be added, namely: “… this House is of the opinion that government’s China policy has been a dismal failure inasmuch as full eight years after China committed its first blatant aggression on Indian soil by constructing the Aksai Chin highway across our territory, the government has not merely failed to redeem Chinese occupied territory, but has been unable to checkmate China’s continuing forays and encroachments, and more deplorably still, continues to betray an utter confusion of mind and suicidal illusions in respect of Chinese objectives and intentions with the result that our attitudes very often seem humiliatingly incongruous with the situation, provide positive encouragement to the aggressor in its misdoings and undermine our prestige and credit in the eyes of world opinion and particularly of our neighbouring countries in Asia…”

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