How 1967, 1987 Face-Offs With India Shaped China’s Tactics

‘The 1967 battles of Nathu La and Cho La pass changed the Indo-China political dynamics forever,” says Dasgupta.

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‘The 1967 battles of Nathu La and Cho La pass changed the Indo-China political dynamics forever,” says Probal Dasgupta, a former infantryman with the Gorka Regiment who traced the battles between India and China on the Sikkim border in 1967, in a book – Watershed 1967: India's Forgotten Victory Over China.

Dasgupta spoke with The Quint about the ongoing India-China row and the little-known India-China conflict that took place 5 years after India’s defeat in the 1962 war and how it shaped the border management and what it tells us about Chinese military thought process.

“I think that has set the template and has also ensured, what I’ve maintained – that peace is obtained when you achieve parity. Hence, there was a parity that was obtained in 1967, which got back India’s pride and was also responsible in conveying to China that they’re militarily a bigger power and that they could not overrun India anymore.”
Probal Dasgupta

What Happened in 1967?

Relations between India and China were already tense in 1967 but matters came to a head in August 1967. Irked by India’s decision to erect iron pickets along the border from Nathu La to Sebu La, the Chinese began to heckle Indian soldiers. What followed soon was a full-blown clash with the Chinese attempting to wrest control over the Nathu La pass from India. A daring decision by the commanding officer, Lt General Sagat Singh stopped their plans from succeeding.

“As India was going up against Pakistan on the Western front, Chinese troops had amassed across the border near Sikkim, and that was the time when it was expected that Indian troops would pull back from Nathu La. But General Sagat refused to do so because that would give the Chinese easy access to the Siliguri corridor down the Sikkim axis. Therefore, he disagreed with his superiors and stuck to his decision.”
Probal Dasgupta

Had General Sagat Singh not stood his ground, Chinese troops stationed at Nathu La would have captured the pass. This would give them easy access to the Siliguri corridor during the 1971 war. The outcome of the 1971 India-Pakistan could have then been very different.

“Psychologically, the political leadership was rattled and was even quite demoralised in 1962 as far as China was concerned. We had achieved some success against Pakistan in 1965. However, the overall attitude towards China was still very much different and defensive. Going against the grain of leadership was extremely creditable of General Sagat at that point of time," says Dasgupta.

In October 1967, another clash at Cho La ended in a similar manner as the one in Nathu La. Gorkhas and Grenadier troops of the Indian Army demolished Chinese PLA forces in these battles. At least 88 Indian soldiers and over 340 Chinese troops lost their lives in the battles and over a thousand were injured.

Dasgupta believes that it was the right kind of political and military leadership of officers like General Sam Manekshaw and General Sagat that made the difference in the battles of 1967.

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