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Book review

In 1962, India and US were ‘that’ close to becoming allies in a war against China

Bruce Reidel’s ‘JFK’s Forgotten Crisis’ offers startling revelations and what-if possibilities

For many years there’s been a story floating around that in 1962, when the Chinese invasion was into its fourth unstoppable week, the Indian government panicked completely and wrote to the US government pleading for mind-boggling supplies of armaments – including several squadrons of the latest US fighter aircraft and bombers. I heard this story a few years ago from someone who’d been an aide at the Indian embassy in Washington at the time, who told me how the Ambassador had called him in and wordlessly handed him New Delhi’s letter to see.

The two men had then quietly shaken their heads at the sheer magnitude of air power being requested, and what it said about the degree of panic in the Indian government with the many questions it raised – the first one, of course, being who exactly was supposed to fly those highly sophisticated new aircraft (since Indian pilots were obviously untrained to fly them). But there has never been any real confirmation of this story. Until now.

Bruce Reidel is a US security expert, veteran CIA spook, and advisor on South Asian issues. His recent book, JFK’s Forgotten Crisis: Tibet, the CIA and Sino-Indian War, looks at the 1962 War from an unusual perspective: the hitherto unknown, but key, role that the US played behind the scenes. The source of Reidel’s information is a rich lode of material in the US, including recently de-classified letters between Nehru and Kennedy and the private diaries of some of the protagonists, among them being JK Galbraith, the US ambassador in India, a key player in the drama. What makes this book especially interesting is the fact that successive Indian governments – including the present one – have been so tight-lipped about what actually happened in 1962 (to the extent that the Henderson-Brooks Report, commissioned to investigate the causes of the defeat, has still not been de-classified, over fifty years later, although a copy is readily available on the Net).

Reiterating the ‘Domino Theory’?

Reidel reveals the fact that Nehru did indeed write to Kennedy on November 19, 1962 requesting as many as 12 squadrons of state-of-the-art fighter aircraft and two squadrons of long-range bombers – 350 combat aircraft, in all! – as well as extensive radar cover and transport aircraft. And as for the question of who was going to fly these aircraft, the letter was, in fact, specific: the Indian government asked for the loan of US pilots and ground crews until such time as the necessary Indian crews could be trained.

The stakes, Nehru’s letter went on to state, were not merely “the survival of India, but the survival of free and independent governments in the whole of… Asia.” This revelation of Reidel’s is dynamite, especially coming from Nehru who, despite his long-standing Non-Aligned position, now seemed to be reiterating President Eisenhower’s famous “Domino Theory”, and inviting a US military presence into Asia (at just about the time that the Vietnam War was first beginning to hot up).

Kennedy and Nehru did not, as it happens, share a particularly good relationship. When they had met, the year before, Nehru had rubbed the young Kennedy the wrong way by appearing to be condescending and preachy. But the situation was too serious to let something like bad chemistry get in in the way; the US saw the Chinese attack as the Mao Tse Tung’s most dangerous action since the Korean War, ten years before. Kennedy, therefore, responded swiftly to New Delhi’s appeal by air-lifting emergency supplies for the Indian army, and a dialogue was immediately initiated for the next steps.

Holding back the Pakistanis

There was, however, a serious complicating factor that would have to be tackled straightaway. Pakistan, a close US ally at the time, seeing India diverted by the Chinese attack, perceived a unique opportunity for itself to step in, occupy Kashmir and close that matter once and for all.

Fortunately for India, though, the US ambassador in New Delhi, JK Galbraith, considered this to be military blackmail, and told Washington to “for god’s sake, keep Kashmir out” of the scenario. Washington, in turn, bullied Pakistan into backing off, reminding President Ayub Khan that his country was a member of the US anti-communist alliance, and that the US would therefore not tolerate him taking advantage of a communist Chinese attack on India. Khan reluctantly agreed, but he never forgave what he saw as a great US betrayal.

But most frightening of all was the timing of this: incredibly, it was all happening at precisely the same time that the US was eyeball-to-eyeball with Russia over the Cuban missile crisis, and the world was on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. Indeed, the Chinese had carefully timed their attack on India based on their fore-knowledge of the Cuban crisis, and the calculation that the Russians and Americans would be too preoccupied with each other to interfere in a Sino-Indian conflict on the other side of the globe.

But, as it turned out, they were wrong on that score.

More startling revelations

By November 20, India’s situation looked desperate. The Chinese army, led by officers who had humbled the US forces in Korea, were using some of their tested Korean tactics in NEFA and Ladakh, with devastating effect. They now seemed poised to slice off the entire North-Eastern part of India, east of Siliguri, and Kolkata itself was under threat.

But by now Western arms supplies were pouring into India. According to Reidel, not only were US and British aircraft flying in military aid around-the-clock, but 10,000 US servicemen had actually landed in the country, and Canada and Australia had also been enlisted, just as they had during the Korean War. Moreover, a US aircraft carrier group had been moved strategically into the Bay of Bengal. These revelations, too – assuming they’re true – are dynamite, and one wonders why one didn’t know about all this before.

Meanwhile, discussions were going on between India and US for a massive military aid program. India had asked for $1.3 billion worth of aid (close to $10 billion today), which the US baulked at. Finally, a package of $500 million (approximately $3.5 billion today) was tentatively agreed upon.

At this point China suddenly surprised everybody by ending its invasion and unilaterally withdrawing its forces. As US ambassador JK Galbraith noted with relief in his diary, “Like a thief in the night peace arrived”.

The theory so far has been that this withdrawal was because China had achieved its objective, taught India a lesson and personally destroyed Nehru in the bargain. But Reidel suggests a new theory to us: that the withdrawal was because China’s leadership, surprised by the US’s prompt response to the situation, was worried that it might now decide to up the stakes and actively enter the conflict on India’s side – and it was not willing to take that risk.

That is certainly food for thought.

Discussing a nuclear deterrent!

The fighting may have ended in late November 1962, but there were fears that the war was not necessarily over, and that with the thawing of the Himalayan snows the Chinese might be back the following spring.

Hence, 1963 saw a significant upswing in India’s relations with the US, diplomatic as well as military; as Kennedy was to say, “I can tell you that there is nothing that has occupied our attention more than India in the last nine months”. US pilots were training in India, along with along with British, Canadian and Australian pilots, and the US Secretary of Defense was actually discussing with Kennedy the scope of the US commitment to defend India – and whether it would extend to the use of a nuclear deterrent or not.

Meanwhile, the $500 million US military aid package to India was to be finalised by Kennedy on November 26, 1963. But just four days before that could happen, Kennedy was assassinated, and his successor, Lyndon Johnson, postponed the decision.

The deal was to come up for finalisation once again on May 28, 1964, but it seems to have been fatally jinxed: just the day before, Nehru died in New Delhi, and the Indian team that had arrived in Washington to sign off on it had to return home abruptly.

And so, once again, the deal was postponed, with President Johnson now coming under increasing pressure from Pakistan, who threatened to terminate US access to the Peshawar air-base, from where it had been operating vital spy flights since the 1950s.

Fascinating questions

By now, however, the climate in New Delhi was changing under the new Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, who had begun to look, instead, to the Russians for military support. And so the chapter was quietly closed.

The fact that India did not ultimately sign that arms deal with the US was a “lost opportunity in Indo-American relations”, as the then US ambassador noted regretfully. Kennedy had, since the very beginning of his presidency, given thought to the question of who would take the lead in Asia in the long term, India or China, and the developments of 1962 could have – who knows? – led to an economic partnership with the US to set up India as a counterweight to China.

Reidel’s book gives rise to many fascinating questions. And foremost among them is probably this: what if Kennedy and Nehru had not both died when they did, and India had indeed been drawn into a Western-led military alliance as a key member?

What would have happened, for example, when the Vietnam War suddenly blew up a couple of years down the line?

What would India’s stance have been then?

There are some questions that are just too complicated to wrap one’s head around.

JFK’s Forgotten Crisis, Bruce Reidel, Brookings Institution Press.

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As corporate India changes from strait-jacketed to stylish, here’s how you can stay on-trend

For men and women, tips to make your office style game strong.

Office wear in India tends to be conservative. For men, the staple blue or white shirt and dark trouser arranged in a monotonous assembly line has been a permanent feature of the wardrobe (a tactic shrewdly administered to ensure minimum time is spent shopping). For women, androgynous work wear has been ever reliable and just as dull.

But camouflage is of no use in the corporate jungle anymore. The Indian office is no longer a place for dull, unthinking conformity, it is a place that expects vibrancy in thought and action. With a younger workforce and a greater mix of multinationals and jobs, there is a greater acceptance of edgier trends. Men are stepping away from their blues and greys and women are reshaping their workwear to be more interesting and distinctly feminine. As corporate India is proving its mettle on the global stage and to itself, it’s also growing confident in expressing individuality and style in the formal work environment. From clothing to office décor and fashion accessories to work tools, the workplace is becoming a place to display merit as well as taste.

Work clothes have shed their monochrome and moved into the light of technicolor. Bright colours have steadily become popular as Pantone’s annual colours of the year show us. For the corporate warrior who wants to be stylish here is our pick of trends worth considering.


Statement jacket. A statement jacket is one that doesn’t merely stand out in a crowd, but blows it open for you. How do you recognize one? You’ll know it when you see it. Most statement jackets have a non-traditional color. They could also have subtle prints on them if you want to go funky.

Technicolor socks. Multicolored socks (or hipster socks as they are known in some quarters) peek out every once in a while and brighten things up in the workplace. From polka dots and caricatures to geometric patterns, you can choose a pair to suit your mood or your workplace. A great way of telling people you don’t take fashion rules seriously (except these ones).

Plaid: Well played is well, plaid. Great for your 9-to-5 and even performs well after. Plaids, in shirts and jackets, are perhaps the most versatile tool in the corporate warrior’s armory, and straddle the fine line between formal and casual effectively. They’re also age-resistant meaning a young buck in his twenties can rock them as much as your seasoned forty-plus campaigner. Plaid, though Scottish in origin, has an Indian connection too, in the Madras checks that became popular all over the world after the World War.

Inside collars and cuffs. If you like to keep it classy but still a little edgy, nothing does it like contrast or printed insides of your collar and cuffs. After the work day, when it’s proper to roll up your sleeves, it even adds a touch of evening character.

Coloured Shoes. Alternate your staid blacks and browns with variants like burgundy, light buttery browns and ashen blues. Play with moccasins, tassel loafers and lace-ups. Go beyond leather and try suede and maybe even canvas. But do remember to take a quick course in matching.


Floral prints. Flowers are back (though one could argue that they never went out) and now they’re storming the bastion of your office. Even the traditional Indian paisley is making its way into formal wear. With the prevalence of digital printing, with a little hunting, you’ll even find beautiful florals in watercolour style.

Scarves. The first rule of wearing scarves is to rid yourself of the notion that they are to be worn only in winter. A colourful scarf paired with a monochrome top works wonders. A dozen online videos will teach you to wear it in a dozen ways. Plus, it always comes in handy when the thermostat isn’t to your liking. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw wears scarves frequently, and is a great example of how you can use it strikingly.

Pants. Yes. Pants. Experiment with different styles and you’ll be surprised how they can really spruce up a boring look. Silhouette is everything when it comes to pants. Choose from high-waisted, wide legged, pleated to ankle length pants and what not! The best part is offices rarely prescribe silhouettes, so you can always get by with some style even if your workplace demands a uniform.

Houndstooth. The houndstooth pattern is at the sweet intersection between casual and formal and can be worn to make a splash in either occasion. Whether its jackets or a dress or a simple top, a houndstooth pattern is incredibly versatile.

Chic suits. A sharp suit is a must for a modern professional’s wardrobe. And please don’t even look in the direction of black. Pastel colours or even greys with patterns are great options for suits. Uncoordinated suits are also a great option depending on how edgy you want your office attire to be.


It isn’t enough to be well-dressed in the modern workplace. A good professional is known by his or her tools and how they carry it.

Designer laptop sleeves. Your high-precision instrument deserves a cover chosen with as much care. Black Neoprene is out. Pastel monochromes, geometric patterns and bold designs are very much in. Different materials like cotton, leather and even paper are a great option.

Natural fiber or leather bags (yes kill your black synthetic one now). Briefcases are ancient and black messenger bags are done. Go for a color variant or a subtle pattern. Pay attention to the different leather finishes. Adding a few nicely done metal trims can make all the difference. But convenience and ease are top priority. If you travel a lot, get a stylish strolley and thank yourself later.

Commute pack. The urban corporate needs to be productive at all times, or at the very least, needs to be accessible. A modern commute pack should include wireless headphones, a USB battery pack (power bank) and a wire/gadget organisation pack just so that you’re always prepared.

Machine. We’ve all showed off our latest smartphones. Your work machine is way more important. And like in smartphones, a good laptop is no longer only about performance. The specifications must be top-notch but it has also become an expression of your personality. It can up your style quotient and significantly impact your experience.

Source: Dell
Source: Dell

The Dell XPS 13 is one device that achieves excellence in both form and function. With a virtually borderless infinity display that maximises screen space, and measuring a super slim 9-15mm, the Dell XPS 13 is an unalloyed delight. A sixth generation Intel® Core™ processor and the latest Intel HD graphics gives cutting edge performance for 18 hours and 14 minutes per charge—the longest battery life in any 13-inch device. The Dell XPS 13 epitomises the ethos of the modern day corporate warrior—chic and smart. To make even more of a fashion statement, you now get a free TUMI laptop sleeve worth Rs. 9000 with your XPS notebook purchase (offer valid till 31st October). For more information about the Dell XPS 13, see here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Dell and not by the Scroll editorial team.

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