On 20 October 1962, the Chinese army attacked in 'human waves' across the lofty Himalayas. The Indian's who faced them were few in numbers and also poorly armed and equipped. They had very little winter clothing as they were rushed into battle. Their weaponry was antiquated and they fought with vintage first world war .303 rifles. These bolt action rifles were no match for the automatic weapons of the Chinese army and they were also outnumbered 4:1.

Seeds of conflict

The India-China war was always in the offing after China occupied Tibet in 1950 without the Indian leader Nehru raising a finger. The Dalai Lama the spiritual head of Tibet escaped to India in 1959 and was granted political asylum.

China occupied Tibet and laid claim to all areas that at one time were part of Tibet and had been wrested from the Tibetans by the British who ruled India. This was ratified by the 2013 Simla agreement. China thus claimed the entire Aksai Chin and the North East Frontier agency (NEFA), now known as Arunachal Pradesh.

Chinese provocation

Unknown to Nehru the Chinese occupied the entire Aksai Chin as Nehru had failed to set up any administration in that region and left it as a barren land. This was fully exploited by the Chinese who built roads and troop cantonments unknown to Nehru. When Nehru woke up, it was too late. Nevertheless he in his wisdom asked the army to throw the Chinese out. This was easier said than done as Nehru deliberately kept the army emaciated as he feared a military coup.

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This statement by Nehru was, however, the provocation for the Chinese to launch an attack right across the India-China border.

The attack

The clash commenced on 20 October 1962 and in a short time the Chinese army overran the Indian army posts on the Eastern border. The administration in NEFA collapsed as the PLA pressed forward. The Chinese also mounted a massive attack in the Ladakh sector. Here the Indian army was entrenched and fought bravely. Radio Peking acknowledged this in a broadcast. But the Chinese began to make inroads.

Kennedy reacts

Nehru sat in Delhi as he saw his world collapse all around him. The Chinese had chosen an opportune time as the USA was in a confrontation with the USSR in the famous Cuban missile crisis. Yet Kennedy was alarmed after the fall of Walong in the East. He instructed to beef up the Indian army and a massive arms supply train started in India. Nehru ate the humble pie as he thanked Kennedy for US assistance. As US advisors and weapons began to land in India, Mao thought it best to announce a unilateral cease-fire.

Perhaps he had realized that a prolonged war with India which was receiving US military support would not be in the interest of China.

Last word

the 1962 war was a watershed in India-China relations and even then, if Nehru had used the IAF, the tables could have been turned. But his timidity led his mind and India accepted Chinese terms. India has now beefed up its strength and is in a strategic partnership with the USA while  China is cultivating Pakistan. Another round of battle in the Himalayas cannot be ruled out. The result, however, would be different.