But was ignored by the system..!
Lt. Gen. SPP Thorat reported about China’s threat to India border on October 8, 1959. Thorat, then responsible for the Eastern Command, sent a paper on the defence of NEFA to the Army Chief who forwarded it to the Defence Minister Krishna Menon.
The report prepared by him in 1959 began thus: “Previously, the only real threat against India which merited consideration was from Pakistan. To this now has been added the threat from China. …This is primarily due to the claim made by China upon large territories which are clearly ours. … (China) has also refused to recognise the McMahon Line as the international boundary and has made deliberate incursions into our territory in Ladakh, Uttar Pradesh and NEFA (North- East Frontier Agency.”
Maj Gen VK Singh who wrote one of the Army Commander’s biographies noted that Thorat “clearly brought out that with the troops, weapons and equipment available at that time, a Chinese attack could not be contained or defeated, and the ‘forward policy’, being advocated by Menon was not practicable.” Thorat also provided a time table showing “how the defences would fall day by day in case the Chinese attacked.” He advocated the use of the Air Force to counter China. It is said that
Not only that, on March 17, 1960, Lt Gen SPP Thorat, commanding the Eastern Command, conducted a military exercise called “Excercise Lal Quila” that accurately predicted the timing and nature of a possible Chinese attack.
It was attended by all Principal Staff Officers from the Army HQ. It was clearly brought out that, with the troops, weapons and equipment available at that time, a Chinese attack could not be contained or defeated, and the ‘forward policy’, advocated by the Defence Minister and General Officer commanding the North East, Lt Gen BM Kaul, was not practical.
But Lt Gen Kaul differed with the assessment of Lt Gen SPP Thorat. Defence Minister Menon even called Lt Gen Thorat a warmonger, and never sent the Lal Quila report to the Prime Minister. Later, during a discussion on ‘forward policy’ at the Prime Minister’s Office, Intelligence czar BM Mullick, who had close links with the CIA, opined that the Chinese would not react.
Its findings were accessed by military historian and author Kunal Verma, who met Gen Thorat’s family decades later. “I went through his personal diaries… he had precise knowledge about the nature and timing of the attack,” Verma told HT.
Gen Thorat made detailed studies of Intelligence Bureau reports, the terrain, the time taken by Chinese troops to cover distances and their preparations to accurately predict a Chinese attack.
Thorat’s findings were outright rejected by the then Defence Minister Menon and worse, Thorat was accused of being an ‘alarmist and a warmonger’.
The COAS post
After Menon took over the Defence Ministry, Thorat, had fallen out of Menon’s favours. VK Singh further noted: “When Thimayya retired in May 1961, it was expected that Thorat would succeed him as the Army Chief. He was highly decorated, had combat experience, and was held in high regard in the Service. Most important, he was GOC-in-C Eastern Command, and was familiar with the situation on the borders with China.” Unfortunately for India, Gen PN Thapar got the top job; though technically senior, he had little field experience but was pliable and close to the minister.
Intimidation by PM office
At 8 am on June 24, 1961, Lt Gen Thorat received a letter from the Army Chief who had been ‘asked’ by the Prime Minister for his comments “on the following allegations against you [Thorat] which have come to his notice.” By the evening Thorat had answered all the points.
The first allegation was about a speech given by Thorat in Ranikhet where the Army Commander would have said: “Indian Officers were seeking promotions through political influence which was disrupting our army, or words to that effect.”
Thorat replied that he had only said that “officers must give their loyalty to their superior Commanders and through them, to the COAS [Army Chief] whoever he may be. Any tendency to look in other directions for early advancement was likely to ruin the discipline of the Army.”
The second allegation was that Thorat would have told a senior IAF Officer that he was “allergic to the Defence Minister whom [he] could not stand and who was disrupting the army.” There is no doubt that many in the Army thought that way. Had Thorat said it openly?
Thorat answered to the Chief: “I recollect that some IAF officer possibly at Jorhrat or Tezpur asked why I had not been appointed COAS. To the best of my memory, I remember having replied that you were senior to me and also that the Hon’ble Defence Minister and I were not very fond of each other.” He admitted that it was not proper to make such a statement.
The next query was worse: “your Headquarters spent large sums of money on the farewell parties, functions and parades for General KS Thimayya in Lucknow during his visit earlier this month. How much money was spent, and how many vehicles were employed under the items mentioned above?” Then COAS Gen Thapar had nastily written to Lt. Gen. Thorat, “these are serious allegations and cannot be ignored.”
The Army Commander listed ‘his’ expenses during the farewell functions: (a) At Home: Apr 26 Nil; (b) Guest Night: Apr 29, Nil; (c) Parade: May 1, Rs 450. He went on to provide the details for the Rs 450.
Thorat’s conclusions were: “Should [the PM] not be satisfied with my explanation, I request that I may be given an opportunity to clear myself in person, in the presence of those who have made these allegations.”
Afterwards, when PM Nehru called Gen Thorat
Lt.Gen Thorat’s 50-page report ‘Lal Quila’ was finally seen by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru when the 1962 war was nearing its end. According to Verma, Gen Thorat was flown down to Delhi by a special plane because Nehru wanted his advice. In fact, Gen Thorat has recorded this meeting in his autobiography ‘From Reveille to Retreat. The meeting was initially tense as Nehru read the report and was stunned when Gen Thorat said the Chinese would withdraw from the occupied territories. It is said that after the war Nehru realized how right Thorat had been in his assessments and predictions. It was too late.
One can only hope that the VK Krishna Menon Papers will soon be available to the Indian public; then we may realize all the blunders committed by the arrogant Ministers, generals & bureaucrats and learn from them.
Article- Conspiracy of Silence appeared in The Mail Today/DailyO by Claude Arpi. Additional information is also compiled with the article from the open sources.
Edited by Shantanu K. Bansal