Was Gen Sundarji Right in his Aggressive Plan against China?

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A Tambram & The Peking Soup.

(A Long Post)

It was the summer of 1986, life in India was going as usual. Rajiv Gandhi had been the Prime minister for 2 years and Congress dominated the entire political scenario of the country on the account of the sympathy votes they garnered after the death of Indira Gandhi in 1984. The economy had begun to grow at 5% after roughly 3 decades of stagnancy. The mood in the country was upbeat and the politicians in the Raisina corridor of Delhi were preparing for the next elections (mind you this was the time before the Bofors scandals broke out and scandalised the Rajiv Gandhi Government).

On the morning of 2nd May, 1986 a phone rang in the Military Operations Directorate, in Army Headquarters New Delhi. It was no ordinary phone call, it was different. The call had directly come from the Director of Intelligence Bureau (IB) informing the Army Headquarters that Chinese had occupied Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh and were stocking up their positions and preparing for a War like which happened in 1962. The message was immediately conveyed to the then Chief of Army Staff General Krishnaswamy Sundarji .

Now Sundarji was an unconventional Army Chief. A first generation Army officer, son of a Physics Professor and a Maths Teacher, he was a Tamil Brahmin (Tambram as they call today). He had joined the Army rather than MBBS just to prove his father that he was a brave man. In the Army, he had the reputation for being a startegic thinker and an intellectual. 

Without any delay, he sprung into action. The Chinese had occupied the Thiag La ridge in Arunachal Pradesh overlooking Tawang and were demanding Indian Army retreat from Arunachal Pradesh and the government handover Arunachal Pradesh to China which they claim was South Tibet.

This was preposterous according to Sundarji. He immediately moved the 17th Mountain division to Arunachal Pradesh under Major General JM Singh and asked the 33 Corps to move to Arunachal Pradesh. 

For 4 months, the Indian and the Chinese troops looked eyeball to eyeball. The Govt in New Delhi was nervous. The Chinese were dead sure to call the Indian bluff as they knew that India didn't have roads to supply and sustain their troops for more than a year.

The winter continued and politicians in New Delhi grew nervous. In the absence of any roads, the Indian Army was using mules to stock supply, which was unfeasible in the long run according to Major General JM Singh as the Chinese had superior all weather roads. Infrastructure in Arunachal Pradesh had been neglected for a long time. The winter was over and the Chinese were preparing to teach India another lesson. 

Surprisingly Sundarji was completely quiet during those months refusing to give interviews. For 6 months, he had worked on a plan to mobilise troops and teach the Chinese a lesson. Audacious of him.

The spring of 1987 arrived and the standoff was continuing. The atmosphere was tense. And Sundarji made the first move. Using the newly induced Mi-17 Russian helicopters along with older Mi-8s he airlifted 3 brigades (10,000 troops) overnight and outflanked the Chinese. Now Indian troops had an immense advantage sitting at the mountain tops within fortified positions looking down at the Chinese troops below. All day, using megaphones and laud speakers Indian Army soldiers would blast messages in Mandarin humiliating and demoralising the Chinese. The logistics and supply lines of Chinese were cutoff. In fact the situation became so bad that the PLA soldiers started committing suicide. The Chinese were incensed at this. The Indian Ambassador in Beijing was summoned and was abused by the Chinese Foreign Minister in the most unparliamentary language .

Before the Chinese could react, Sundarji Struck again. He moved another Infantry division based in South India to Arunachal Pradesh and occupied the Namka Chu Valley. 

In 1962, Indian Army had been brutally defeated by the PLA there and they had occupied the Namka Chu valley which gave PLA towering altitude advantage over the Indian Army garrisons located in Arunachal Pradesh. Not only was the Namka Chu valley reconquered but the area was supplemented with Mi-35 attack helicopters and Bofor guns ... The Chinese were really terrified then. In a mere 14 days, they had lost the advantage they had gained over 25 years.

All this happened without Rajiv Gandhi even getting a whiff of it. When the complexity of the situation was known, Rajiv Gandhi lost his cool. General Sundarji was summoned to PMO and when he was asked about the plans to deal with Chinese, he replied nonchalantly that the Army was ready to go on an offensive and occupy roughly 10,000 Sq Kms in Tibet ridge line and hold on to it and ultimately force the PLA to retreat to pre-1962 positions. As he said these words, there was silence in the room and Rajiv Gandhi was looking at him bewildered.

What followed was a shameful assertion of Indian political establishment lacking a spine. Sundarji was reprimanded by the PM and was asked to move back, which he unwillingly did. His Military Operations  Directorate staff remember that he told the PM and the Defence Minister that India was losing a golden chance and the country would pay for it in future. Ironically it turned out to be true in 2017.

Rajiv Gandhi and Congress got brownie points and won praise from China apologists for dealing with the Chinese in a mature manner. Now 35 years later, the question is 'Was General Sundarji right' ? Today, the answer is Yes. We as a country are paying price for short term Political Brownie Points .

Now Sundarji was not limited to China only, he scared the shit out of General Zia in 1987 by conducting an excercise involving 500K troops on the Rajasthan border (Ex-Brasstacks). He was the first Indian Army Chief who openly argued that Pakistan should be prevented from becoming a nuclear state and was an advocate of conducting nuclear tests. In fact the 1998 Pokhran tests were based on the plans formulated by him in 1988.

Ironically, the Chinese were impressed with a man of Sundarji's calibre and invited him for a visit in 1993 after his retirement. In Beijing , when the Marshal of PLA asked Sundarji what he would like to eat, with a poker face, the General replied, "I as an Indian would like to drink Peking Soup", which meant that he could manage and predict the Chinese easily, needless to say the PLA Marshal was left red-faced and could smile only in reply.

Yet today, General Sundarji remains a controversial man, maligned by Congress affiliated media and journalists just because he stood up against the the then PM Rajiv Gandhi.

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