Cover: Letter from India

Letter from India

July 17, 1962

Published 1962

by Alan Carlin, Albert Wohlstetter

The following is the text of a letter received from Alan Carlin dated July 17, 1962, in which he relates a discussion with B.K. Desai of the Democratic Research Center, Bombay, India, which took place earlier in the summer. The letter also contains observations by Carlin relating to Chinese expansion which may be of interest at this time in view of the Sino-Indian conflict.

Carlin has been a consultant to the Economics Department, where he has done work in systems analysis on their summer programs. He has a degree in Physics from Cal Tech and is finishing his doctorate in Economics at M.I.T. He is presently on a Ford Foundation Fellowship concerned with economic aid to India.

During a recent trip to Bombay I went to see B. K. Desai. In outline, this is what he had to say:

The China section of the Ministry of External Affairs is dominated by a pro-Chinese group of which R. K. Nehru is a leading member. The Indian policy regarding China is based on a continuing belief that China does not want war (since Communism, according to Nehru, does not imply violence or expansionism),[1] the pacifist fear that even if she does, such a war might develop into a major one, and the hope that the Russians would come to the rescue if worse came to worse. Until such time as this pro-Chinese group may be removed from the Ministry, no serious policy planning is likely to take place. The main obsession continues to be Pakistan, especially on the part of Menon.

India's favorable policy towards China dates from the early days of the Chinese Communist Revolution and the favorable attitude of India's then Ambassador to China, K. M. Panikkar, who may also have been largely responsible for Nehru's decision to recognize Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. His daughter, according to Desai, is married to a leading Communist labor leader.

Chinese aggression against India commenced within three months after the signing of the 1954 Indo-Chinese Treaty. The Army favored resistance, but was overruled by Menon who insisted that Pakistan was the real enemy. Desai claimed that supplies were deliberately withheld from Indian troops in the affected areas and that they were ordered not to retaliate. There was considerable unhappiness about this in the Army, and even open rebellion once or twice. Menon, he said, went to Ladakh personally two years ago to quiet such a rebellion.

The Army is confident that it could stop the Chinese if it were ordered to do so, but they have received no special training or equipment for mountain warfare, according to Desai. Helicopters were purchased from Russia, but were found to be unsuitable for high altitudes. Russian pilots were used for training purposes, however, and were allowed to fly over the strategic areas.

The guerrilla struggle continues in Tibet, where the Chinese are training Indian guerrillas, but no similar action has been taken by the Indians.

Desai is primarily concerned about the possibility that Menon may become the next Prime Minister, and he places the odds at 50-50. Menon is trying to create favorable cliques in the Army. After Nehru, he might try salami tactics against a divided opposition within the Congress Party, using the threat of Chinese intervention to aid him.

Desai regards American diplomats in India as stupid ("unimaginative" to me) on the whole for failing to realize the Menon threat, and says that I am the first American other than A. M. Rosenthal to contact the Democratic Research Service.

Desai was sufficiently convincing that I decided to pursue some of the questions he had raised with several prominent but pro-American Indians. My conclusions are as follows:

Menon should be regarded as a potential quisling if given power.[2] There is little chance of this, however, unless there is a significant leftward movement in the next few years. Nevertheless there are at least two possible ways in which it might occur:

(1) Through a military coup. There is a fellow-traveler approximately number five or six in the Army command (one B. Kaul), who could be elevated to Chief of Staff with Nehru's backing. But there is considerable opposition to Menon in the Army so that even then, large factions would probably disobey orders at the critical moment.

(2) Constitutionally. This is somewhat more likely, but Menon's following in the Congress parliamentary delegation amounts to less than ten, and even they would desert him if he appeared to be losing. It could only occur if Menon had Nehru's firm backing and if the opposition had been previously softened by the removal of the stronger anti-Menon elements (centered around Finance Minister Desai) in the Cabinet and the installation of Kaul. Even then, Chinese pressure might also be needed.

Thus it all depends on Nehru. Some intelligent, sensible men who know him personally feel that he favors a Communist regime as a successor, and dislikes only Communism's reliance on force and violence. Faced with an alternative between the increasingly polarized right (which he supposedly regards as reactionary) and left wings of the Party, he will choose the latter, these men argue. Others, basically pro-Nehru, stress that he has said that he will not name a successor, and that he will keep to his word.

It is my judgment that Menon does not present an immediate danger; that some sensible men think so is to me an illustration of the basic distrust with which every Indian seems to regard every other Indian. It is obvious, however, that Menon's power is increasing and that the situation bears watching. Further, if one accepts the Desai thesis, the MIG deal can be regarded as a first step in the softening-up process.

I have found no confirmation of Desai's statement that there has been any kind of open rebellion in the Indian Army: morale is apparently low, however, as a result of the political maneuvering. I understand that India has had some troops trained for mountain warfare since British times; there is supposed to be a mountain warfare school in Gulmarg, Kashmir.

It would seem to me that effective Indian defense against the Chinese requires three military capabilities:

(1) Sufficient lightly equipped and highly mobile mountain troops to check Chinese expansion in the Himalayas by taking advantage of the terrain and the natural advantages this has for the defense if properly exploited. Present orders apparently do not permit active resistance, but even if they did, India may not be able to furnish supplies for a sufficient number of troops because of the limited food resources of the Himalayas, the inadequate roads, and the limitations of her military air transport service. The troops now stationed in Ladakh, for example, appear to be supplied largely from the air. The vulnerability of such air-dependent troops to the potential Chinese air-superiority would seem to be considerable. Interestingly enough, the Chinese are reported to be building a military airfield in Western Tibet and to be laying an oil pipeline to it from Sinkiang which runs partially through formerly Indian held parts of Ladakh!

(2) Sufficient heavily armored, motorized troops on the Indian plains to check any Chinese units which manage to break through the Himalayas. The Indian effort along these lines is of course limited by her shortage of foreign exchange since most of the equipment needed must be imported. The needs might not be too great, however, if (1) is adequate because of the extreme difficulty the Chinese would have in bringing in and supplying such equipment themselves, despite their apparent assiduous attention to the construction of roads and airfields.

(3) Enough trained guerrilla units to harass China's vulnerable lines of communication through Sinkiang and Tibet, and to tie down large numbers of Chinese troops in these areas and in Chinese occupied portions of India. Tibetan refugees and others who have suffered at the hands of the Chinese should be quite willing. The principal problem seems to be lack of interest on the part of the present Indian Government. Anti-guerrilla forces may also be needed in Indian-held border areas in the future.

A former Chief of the Indian Army Staff has recently written that in his opinion India is deficient in all three of these capabilities in relation to the Chinese threat. There are also reports that shortages of even the most basic weapons, equipment, and supplies were revealed during the recent Goon episode.

If this is a correct assessment of the military needs of Pakistan for fighting the Russians and Chinese as well, I wonder to what extent U.S. aid to Pakistan has reflected these needs, and to what extent it has reflected Pakistan's interests in preventing internal revolutions and in fighting India? How quickly and how well could the U.S. supply India's deficiencies in case the Chinese launch a major offensive and the U.S. decided to bail her out?

I have recently come across a most unusual little paperback published here in Delhi called The Chinese Aggression by a Dr. Satyanarayan Sinha. It makes the following major points:

(1) The first is of the first importance if true; I shall quote from the book:

"In the spring of 1960 Indian and Nepalese nationals returning home from Chinese-occupied areas reported heavy concentrations [sic] of troops right across some of the most strategic parts of the Indian border....Roughly assessed, there were more than a hundred thousand Chinese troops, suitably armed for Alpine warfare, in southern Tibet alone, having Yatung (in the Chumbi Valley east of Sikkim) as their most important divisional headquarters. Close observations disclosed that the Chinese were getting ready for a large-scale offensive towards Indian territory....At this stage, in March 1960, a large number of revolts against the Chinese occupying forces flared up in several parts of Sinkiang. The long vulnerable line of communications of the Chinese forces stretching from northwest China to the northern borders of India snapped in a number of places. These breaches created by the Sinkiangese guerrilla nationalist forces, instigated and supported by Russian men and weapons, upset the whole plan of the Chinese attack on India." (pp. 42 and 43)

Sinha quotes a Russian Kazakh as follows:

"'In the spring of 1960, all was set for a large-scale Chinese offensive on Indian borders. We have reliable information that such a Chinese attack would have fallen on India unexpected [sic] and as a complete surprise to you. Our Central Asian Soviet Intelligence was the only outside agency which understood the international gravity and the consequent results of the war moves of the Chinese.... Three years ago practically all our military supplies to China were carried by our Trans-Siberian Railways. After the establishment of the eastern Cominform in Peking in 1957, the Chinese began to take delivery of their military supplies at the Turk-Sib railway bordering Sinkiang. It made their intentions quite clear....(p. 48).'"

"'The equipment for ten divisions, to be delivered to China on Soviet-Sinkiang border, would have strengthened the Chinese position there, thus proving detrimental to Soviet interests. For this reason, our leaders in the Kremlin abruptly decided in March 1960 to stop all deliveries of military equipment to the Chinese in Sinkiang immediately. This came as a bombshell for Russo-Soviet relations. No amount of summit talks between the two countries can restore the old ties....(p. 49).'"

"'India too will have to remain awake to such threats to her borders from the Chinese side. It was just by coincidence that the Soviet Union in its own interests realised the urgency and took measures to stop the Chinese advance, planned to cut deep into the Indian borders....(p. 50).'"

"'Provoking successful revolts in Sinkiang may not prove enough to stop their onward march. Ultimately we shall have to think of stumping their spearhead....(pp. 50-51).'"

"'It would have been much simpler had India helped us in our efforts to smash the war-craze of the Chinese. But we shall not wait for that help. Our Soviet experts have explored the trans-Himalayan regions as advisers to the Chinese. The chances are that we shall be able to coordinate the Tibetan revolt with that of Sinkiang. Without achieving this aim we do not consider our Soviet eastern border to be safe from the Chinese threats (p. 51).'"

(2) The primary reasons why the Chinese did not launch a major offensive against India in 1961 were the famine at home and the immense physical difficulties of maintaining their supply lines through the desserts of the Tarim Basin of Sinkiang and the cold of the Himalayas, according to Sinha. This is probably largely speculation on his part.

(3) Sinha believes that India is most vulnerable to a Chinese advance from the Chumbi Valley over Natula Pass into Sikkim, as you suspected. He says that the Indians have partially handed over the absolute control which the British maintained over this and several other strategic passes to the Chinese. He also regards Shipki Pass on the border of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh and the route provided by the Arun River near Mt. Everest as strategically important.

(4) China is vulnerable to an attack on her Sinkiang bases, especially at Kashgar. Unfortunately for India this is best approached through Pakistan-held Kashmir.

(5) The Ladakh border, according to Sinha, was virtually unguarded until 1960 because the Indians were concentrating their attention on the more likely trouble spots further south — hence the Chinese were able to build a road and in 1959 take considerable territory without interference.

Freedom First (Rs. per year in India; The Democratic Research Service, 127 Mahatma Gandhi Road, Bombay 1) is a monthly bulletin of some interest. For keeping up on Asian politics and economics I recommend the Far Eastern Economic Review ($25 per year by air; 209 Windsor House, Hong Kong), published weekly. For Indian affairs, The Economic Weekly ($6 per year by sea; 65 Apollo Street, Fort, Bombay) is a must. I have recently been reading a book by Emil Lengyel called The Changing Middle East, (John Day, New York, 1960) which gives an excellent but brief summary of the political situation in each Middle Eastern country during the 1950's, although I cannot say as much of his more general conclusions. As I recall, the RAND Library did not have The Economic Weekly when I was last there.

I will try to check out Sinha's thesis and to gather further information during the next few weeks. I am sending two copies of "India, Tibet, and China" under separate cover.

It looks as if I am becoming more interested in military affairs in this part of the world.


  • [1] G. K. Desai, "Dilemma of Mr. Nehru," Freedom First, October, 1959, No. 89.
  • [2] "Case of Comrade Krishna Menon," by "Democrat," Freedom First, October, 1959.

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