January 18, 2021

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Why Report on Capt Rajendra Nath’s 1952 Expedition to Aksai Chin is Classified To This Day

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Army Chief Gen. Cariappa had sent a recon mission to Aksai Chin. The govt never made findings public.


Ngari Prefecture (Coordinates: 
32°31′N 80°04′E)

Intelligence reports from a variety of sources on the Chinese encroachment into Aksai Chin poured into army HQ in New Delhi throughout 1952. The army Chief General Cariappa was quite a wily old fox. In order to put the controversy of Chinese intrusions into Ladakh at rest, he decided to dispatch a reconnaissance mission to ascertain the position on the ground. Since Ladakh was a part of India, he did not need to obtain the permission of any higher authority to do so. For this purpose, General Cariappa selected a young officer to lead this recon mission into Aksai Chin.

Captain Rajendra Nath was an officer from the newly raised 11th Gorkha Rifles posted in the Military Intelligence directorate in army HQ. Captain Nath’s team comprised, besides himself, an engineer officer, a doctor and fifteen men mostly from the infantry. Press reports suggest that starting on 5 October, the team proceeded via the Chang La (17,800 feet) and Marsimik La (18,300 feet) passes to reach the Chang Chenmo River valley.

From there, they travelled via the Kongka La Pass (16,965 feet) to the Lanak La Pass (18,300 feet). Captain Nath’s team returned to the region of Chang La on 15 November. The report on Captain Rajendra Nath’s expedition remains top secret to this day. He was refused permission to publish it, thereby depriving him of the United Service Institution’s MacGregor Medal awarded for valuable military reconnaissance. Captain Nath retired as a Major General. It is obvious that the report confirmed Chinese intrusion into Aksai Chin, which is why it remains classified till today.

If the outcome of the report had indicated no Chinese presence in Aksai Chin, Nehru would have publicised it because it would have scotched all opposition to his policy of denying any Chinese intrusions. Also, if the report was classified, then the press reports suggesting the route taken by the team were a decoy to deflect attention from the real route taken by the recon team. 

Intelligence reports had indicated that the Aksai Chin Road entered into Western Tibet from Aksai Chin just east of the entry and exit to the Lanak La Pass from the eastern and Tibetan end of the pass that was a crossing between India and Tibet.

Therefore, Captain Nath’s party would have had to travel through the Lanak La Pass to actually get to the road. No one has ever questioned whether General Cariappa asked the then IAF Chief, Air Marshal Gibbs to have a routine reconnaissance sortie flown over the said area. Since the area was in India, the IAF Chief did not need any permission to do so. at that time, the aerial reconnaissance by the IAF was carried out by its single-engine Supermarine Spitfire PR XI and XIX aircraft. These aircraft based in Srinagar were reportedly flown to Leh to conduct these missions from there. It is only when aerial photographs established the presence of the road and its coordinates were confirmed did Captain Nath set out to reconnoitre the area. 

General Cariappa was a very thorough soldier, and he would never have blindly sent out a reconnaissance mission without detailed planning. The fact that this report was classified and remains so till the time of writing this book confirms that the contents were damning of Chinese actions. 

This excerpt from Red Fear: The China Threat by Iqbal Chand Malhotra has been published with permission from Bloomsbury India. Source: The Print

Additional Inputs by renowned Tibetologist Mr. Claude Arpi Write-up

The Aksai Chin was not invaded in 1962, but the Tibet-Xinjiang road was built in the early 1950’s.

Another interesting account about how the Indian army already knew in 1955 that the Chinese were building a road across Indian territory, has recently been published in the UK.  In 1955, Wignall, a British mountaineer went on an expedition inside Tibet with the knowledge of Indian Military Intelligence. The Army Chief, General K.S. Thimayya seriously suspected that the Chinese were building a road on Indian territory. Wignall was asked to get proof of it.

He was eventually caught by the Chinese Army, interrogated and kept as prisoner for several weeks. He was later released in the midst of winter in a high altitude pass. The Chinese thought he would never survive the blizzard or find his way back to India. After an incredible journey, he managed to reach India and was able to report about the road to the army authorities who, in turn, informed the Prime Minister and V. K. Krishna Menon, the Defense Minister.

The Government of India never acknowledged that it had information about the Aksai Chin road as early as 1954-55.

Edited by Shantanu K. Bansal

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