The nation remembered the heroes of the war with China virtually for the first time in 50 years on October 20. What is not being discussed much in the media is the different types of battles India has been fighting deep inside its territory since then. While the country lost 4,000 soldiers on the Himalayan front in a one-month period in 1962, in the last half a century it has lost thousands of securitymen and civilians in other wars, which had their origin in China. Although Maoism breathed its last in China a few years after Chairman Mao’s death in 1976, in India it is still taking a huge toll. An area much larger than Aksai Chin deep inside eastern and central India is effectively in control of the Indian Maoists. To keep the pot boiling in India, its northern neighbour need not use the People’s Liberation Army.
The Sino-Indian war affected the political landscape of the country in a different way too. The Communist Party of India got split two years after the war, in 1964. One of the factors responsible for this division was the stand adopted by some of its leaders –– many of them from West Bengal. Gradually, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which holds India as the aggressor in the 1962 war, became powerful. Along with smaller Left parties, it ruled West Bengal for 34 long years at one stretch.
Within five years of the war, armed struggle had started in West Bengal, a state not too far away from the international border with China. Slogans like “Chairman Mao is our Chairman” started rending the air in parts of the state. However, such uprisings were brutally crushed by the Congress government of West Bengal in the 1970s. Ironically, the rise of the Naxalites coincided with the Bangladesh liberation war. The man who played a crucial role in that war, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, was also instrumental in destroying the hideouts of the Naxalites when he served as the chief minister of the state between 1972 and 1977.
From the hills and plains of West Bengal, the Naxalites fanned out to the green fields and jungles of Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Since they are far removed from Naxalbari, it is now more appropriate to call them Maoists rather than Naxalites.
Incidentally, while the Naxalite movement was getting transformed into Maoism in the mineral-rich and industrial heartland of India, China had been drifting from communism to capitalism. Many hardline Indian communists used to argue in the 1960s that the war between China and India was between socialism and communism.
Fifty years later, both the countries are engaged in a different type of conflict. While ‘capitalist’ India is really fighting the home-grown Maoists, communism in China is fighting a last ditch battle with capitalism. All this is happening when the borders between the two countries are peaceful and the two countries are cooperating in business and other activities.
It is only now that we have been reminded that we should pay respect to those who can be called the unsung heroes of the 1962 war. They were almost forgotten because India suffered a humiliating defeat in the hands of China. On October 20, 2012, the first such function was organized in which the defence minister, A.K. Antony, laid the wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti in New Delhi. All these years, we had wanted to forget the war as a bad dream. Better sense finally prevailed and we gave due respect to those who had laid down their lives.
Half a century later, China –– though not at war with India –– continues to be crucial for us in a different way. Its presence in the warm waters of Indian Ocean cannot be ignored.