It is important to know what happened and why, and how we got to where we are today before we have a good shot at understanding where we should be going and how we could get there. If we are lost in any sense today, it could be because we are ignorant of our past and cannot quite figure out where we ought to be heading, leave alone knowing how to get there. We don’t know our history. Chalk that one up as yet another failing of our dismal educational system.
Reading someone who has lived through events that define our past is a learning experience. Lieutenant General M L Thapan, Param Veer Seva Medal, has just added an important bit to my very limited understanding of India’s recent history. He’s seen most of the last hundred years, being 89 years old. Long before most of us were born, he was fighting wars. Ramanand Sengupta spoke with him, Rediff.com reports:
He fought in two major campaigns in World War II.
After Independence, his division was ‘two-and-a-half km from Sialkot when the ceasefire whistle blew in (the second India-Pakistan war) 1965.’ And in 1971, he faced enemy fire again when he was asked to clear one of the three sectors into which East Pakistan had been marked out by India’s Eastern Command.
Here are some of his words, for the record.
On the 1971 war with Pakistan: “When the country was divided in 1947, the people of East Bengal decided to opt for East Pakistan. That was a decision taken by them, and 25 years later, they found that the authorities in West Pakistan were not favorably disposed towards the east.
“Anyway, they had of their own accord joined the western part of Pakistan. So I saw no reason why we should have interfered in their problems. They brought it upon themselves.
“To put it crudely, they should have stewed in their own juice. “
On the spinelessness of Indian leadership: “In 1971, our forces paid with lives to help liberate Bangladesh. In April 2001, New Delhi was seen as passive after 15 BSF men were killed and strung up like animals by the Bangladesh Rifles. What has changed over the years?”
On fragmenting India along secterian lines: “Look what is happening with all this nonsense with the caste and community and things. It is all because of getting votes.
“The British divided India into two parts, if we carry on like this, these blighters will divide India into 50 different parts. Someone in the minorities commission, he said this once, but was told to shut up thereafter. He belonged to one of the classes which was affected. But he was a sensible man and had enough courage to say this after his experience in that commission.
“He said the only answer to this whole business is to abolish caste, say it will not be referred to at all in any form. In which case then we are all Indians.”
The man speaks his mind. And why not? He owes nobody anything. He has laid his life on the line more times that most of us have had hot meals. Listen to him: “[The war with] China, where I was not involved, in 1962, was a disgrace. Again, we can blame our own people. Then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, then defence minister V K Krishna Menon. Menon most of all, Nehru for being naive and ingenuous. These chaps had closed minds.
“As far as the defence sector was concerned, he (Nehru) said there is no need for a defence sector. He said we are a peace loving country. All our neighbours too are supposedly peace loving. So we don’t need you. So when you have that kind of a man ruling a country, in self delusion. . .
“I think it was (India’s second President Dr (Sarvepalli) Radhakrishnan, who later made the point that this man [Nehru] was living in a world of his own. And he listened to odd-balls like Krishna Menon.”
I fall down and kiss the feet of the God who oversees the World Wide Web. For our textbooks don’t tell us anything. Finally I am getting an education.