A report in India’s Economic Times notes that the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) wants Indian schoolchildren to closely study and learn more about the 1962 war between India and China. India, led by Jawaharlal Nehru and the Indian National Congress at the time, lost the war. Even today, India’s defeat in 1962 continues to persist as a source of embarrassment, informing Indian strategic thinking toward China. The RSS is closely ideologically aligned with many members of India’s current ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government—Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched his political career in part with a boon from his role as a pracharak (campaigner) for the RSS.
The RSS’ reasons for supporting broader education on the war are varied. According to one RSS official who spoke to the Economic Times, the primary motivation behind is to “acknowledge it and learn the lessons from it and move on.” Additionally, the group is looking to highlight the accomplishments of the Indian military during the war, attributing India’s ultimate defeat to the policies pursued by the Congress government of the time: “We can tell the children about one of the most embarrassing episodes of our history by highlighting the gallantry of our troops. The war could be used to instil pride and also serve as a crucial lesson in diplomacy.”
The RSS’ ideology is fundamentally rooted in Hindu nationalism, and the thought of prominent Indian political thinkers like Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Madhav Golwalkar. These thinkers—particularly Savarkar—emphasized India’s martial prowess and unity as the cornerstone of a strong, independent country. For the RSS and Hindu nationalists, the 1962 war has long been seen as a product of the failure of government policy. The long-classified Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report on the causes of India’s defeat in the war leaked last year, confirming this to an extent. India’s previous defense minister, A.K. Antony, had told the Indian parliament that the report could not be declassified because its contents were “not only extremely sensitive but are of current operational value.”
The Economic Times highlighted examples of certain cases the RSS sought to emphasize about the performance of Indian soldiers during the 1962 war:
At Rezang La, at an altitude of 18,000 feet in Ladakh, 120 soldiers of the Indian army fought a 5,000-strong battalion of better equipped Chinese army till the last man and the last bullet. Major Shaitan Singh was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra, the highest gallantry medal.
In the Tawang war, Subedar Joginder Singh showed similar valour as he held back the Chinese invaders at Bum-La even after he and his men had no ammunition left, and advanced only with bayonets fixed to their guns. He was taken a prisoner of war and believed to have died in enemy custody. He too was decorated with Param Vir Chakra.
Beyond including a history of the 1962 war, the RSS has long pushed for the inclusion of the Hindu epics, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, in the national school curriculum.
“History is a subject that should invoke a sense of pride in India and also a study of events that we should take lessons from. The Chinese aggression is one such episode and is likely to be included in history books,” another RSS member noted. The RSS’ push for broader education on the 1962 war is a sign that India’s Hindu nationalists won’t be eager to forget the country’s defeat in 1962. However pragmatic Modi’s recent overtures toward China have been on the border disputes between the two countries, India continues to reflect on the causes of its defeat in 1962.