India-China standoff: October 20, 1962 - Why Rezang La & Shaitan Singh's bravery is still relevant along LAC in 2020

As Indian troops brave another winter in Ladakh, the echoes of Galwan clash and Rezang La battle still linger after all these years in India-China conflict. 

Chairman Mao's 'diplomatic games'

On October 20, 1962 exactly 58 years ago China fired its first shot across the Line of Actual Control(LAC) as the PLA troops sought to invade India and take up key positions in the upper Himalayas.

The echoes of Galwan clash and Ladakh still linger after all these years in India-China conflict which has now become a major flashpoint. In fact, Chinese troops had attacked Galwan Valley in September 1962 before war finally broke out in October.

The Chinese politicians under Chairman Mao continued to play the diplomatic game right till the end pursuing talks with Indian officials even as its troops prepared to take on the Indian Army in the Himalayas.

There are reliable reports of skirmishes between Indian and Chinese troops before hostilities began on October 20.

(Photograph:AFP)

Nehru's "Forward Policy"

Mao had already hatched a plan to attack India in the upper Himalayas in order to blunt Nehru's "Forward Policy" to "make it clear who is right and who is wrong."

The Chinese troops moved in to capture India's key ‘Sirijap Compex’ during the 1962 war in a series of well-planned manoeuvers.

The Chinese troops launched a sly night attack on ‘Indian Strongholds No 1, 2 and 3 in Ali Area’ as they looked to encircle and cut off the Indian troops, although the Indian Army put up stubborn resistance but could not repel the PLA.

(Photograph:AFP)

PLA'S extensive surveillance

The Chinese considered No.1 Post to be inside their 1959 claim line.

The Indian posts were isolated with Chinese troop deployment.

The Chinese troops had carried out extensive surveillance of the area as they launched a coordinated attack to encircle the Indian army which was already low on supply and manpower.

(Photograph:AFP)

Pangong Tso lake

China is likely to continue to make Pangong a flashpoint due to the Chinese highway touching the end of Pangong Tso inside China-controlled Aksai Chin. 

The Xi regime is never likely to give India the initiative to cutoff the strategic highway which would hamper the movement of Chinese troops in Aksai Chin up to Xinjiang.

(Photograph:AFP)

Battle of Rezang La

The battle of Rezang La stands out as Indian Army's finest hour which was beset with lack of ammunition and equipment in the upper Himalayas. Indian soldiers made their last stand at Rezang La against overwhelming odds with the 13 Kumaon regiment comprising the Charlie company.

The battle at Rezang La was fought on November 18 1962 on a ridge 17,000 feet above sea level, overlooking the strategic Chushul plains in Ladakh. The Kumaon regiment was led by the ferocious Major Shaitan Singh who fought till the ‘the last man and the last round’ in freezing conditions.

(Photograph:Reuters)

1,300 Chinese soldiers were killed at Rezang La

There were reportedly just 120 soldiers manning the post at Rezang La and just 3 survived with some reports claiming that at least 6 survived with Major Shaitan Singh falling at the head of his troops. Singh as later awarded Param Vir Chakra

According to the war memorial in Rewari, 1,300 Chinese soldiers were killed in the battle. Major Shaitan Singh the company commander who crawled from trench to trench reorganizing the defences and motivating his men, despite suffering injuries.

Interestingly, the same areas has once again become a major flashpoint where the Indian soldiers have come face-to-face with the PLA.

(Photograph:Agencies)

Pangong Tso

The Chinese soldiers used every trick in the book to take control of Rezang La because of its geographic location. The mountain pass lies on the Line of Actual Control(LAC), Chinese troops have tried to capture strategic positions. 

Now, they are on the back foot. India has taken control of key mountain heights. It gives Indian soldiers a clear view of potential paths of ingress allowing India to push back any Chinese advances.

China wants control over the southern bank of Pangong Tso, one of the possible paths for an incursion attempt is through Rezang La.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Finger 4 in Pangong Tso

The contentious Finger 4 of Pangong Tso lake has become the bone of contention between the two sides now after the Galwan Valley clash in June and the Doklam standoff in 2017. 

India and Chinese military commanders had agreed that PLA would vacate the Finger 4 in Pangong Tso area as part of the disengagement process but it still remains China's priority, much like in the 1962 war.

(Photograph:AFP)

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