In 1956, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru told his Director of the Intelligence Bureau BN Mullik that a “country [fights] a war to gain an objective”. Victory does not guarantee gaining the objective — in fact, in several “great victories” of the past, the “objective had not been gained, leaving behind a long trail of hatred and conflict”. Six years on, India would find itself fighting an ultimately disastrous war with China in which no clear objective was served, but which continues to cast a long shadow over bilateral relations.
As the two armies face off at the Sikkim trijunction, China last month reminded India of “historical lessons”, and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley retorted that “the situation in 1962 was different and India of 2017 is different”. In the same conversation with Mullik, recounted by the legendary spymaster in his memoirs, My Years With Nehru: 1948-1964 (first published in 1972 and now out of print), Nehru had quoted the Sanskrit play Mudrarakshasa on how “Chanakya brought about the disruption of several princes [who] fought against Chandragupta and [their] defeat without actually fighting a war”, while arguing that “if one could gain the objective without fighting a war, this would be most welcome”.
(Mudrarakshasa, or ‘The Minister’s Signet Ring’, is believed to have been written by Vishakhadatta some time in the 6th century AD, and purports to describe historical events of 900 years earlier, specifically, the schemes of the wily adviser to Chandragupta Maurya, to outsmart Rakshasa, the minister of the last Nanda king. Chandragupta ultimately conquered Pataliputra, and established the Mauryan dynasty in c. 321 BC.)
China’s objective in 1962, according to their official military history, had been to secure the borders in its western sectors. It perceived India as a threat to its rule over Tibet, which was aggravated by the reception that the Dalai Lama had received in March 1959.
Back in 1952, relatively early in Mullik’s 1950-64 career as DIB, Nehru had cautioned the Bureau against taking a “negative approach” towards international communism. China and Soviet Russia were geographically close; “America could be absolutely hostile to China and yet that would be of no security danger to her”, he said. But India “has a 2,000 mile frontier with China and had to take care of that. It was one thing to take care of a quiet frontier but quite another to defend a hostile frontier.”
In 1955, he reasoned that if “India had to” defend a “hostile frontier” with China “then all her resources would be spent in just defending it. Therefore, in India’s national interest a war must be avoided”. Nehru believed that “China would not follow a policy which was harmful to her in spite of communism; it would be the national policy which would come to the fore every time… It was a case of pure opportunism and not idealism any longer.” He subsequently described the war as a “bad shock”.
Mullik writes that Nehru’s “apprehensions came true and the progress which ha[d] been maintained up to 1962 came to a grinding halt as a result of the unprovoked Chinese aggression and then went on a reverse gear from 1965 onwards after the Pakistani war. The recovery came several years later”.
Also, “After the Chinese invasion, it was reliably learnt that there was joint effort by Pakistan and China to train Naga hostiles, and another gang of 400 Naga rebels… (had) slipped into [East] Pakistan through Tamenglong and Churachandrapur”.