INDIA: The Shade of the Big Banyan

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Ready Troops. The question that was not often raised was whether India's armed forces could do the job. On paper, India's 500,000 man army is dwarfed by Red China's 2,500,000 troops.

But foreign military observers regard the Indian army as thoroughly professional, and well able to handle almost any task assigned it. The rank and file are northerners and mostly from that cradle of warriors, the Punjab. The Indian army officer sometimes appears to be the very, very model of the British tradition: he has probably attended Sandhurst, speaks with an Oxford accent, plays polo and cricket, wears a mustache and carries a swagger stick. The first-rate Indian air force uses British twin-jet Canberra bombers and French Mystere jet fighters —all obtained by purchase, since Nehru believes that military aid would compromise India's traditional neutrality.

If war comes, China's numbers are not likely to be an overwhelming advantage, for any fighting along the 2,500-mile mountainous border would undoubtedly be limited to units smaller than battalions. Neither the Indians nor Chinese could push any real strength up into or through the Himalayas on the existing roads over the high passes, which are scarcely adequate for yak caravans and cannot handle trucks, much less tanks.

On the Chinese side of the frontier the terrain is equally bad. In fact, the only satisfactory invasion route into India from the north is the one that has been trod since time immemorial by Aryans, Greeks, Huns, Mongols and Persians: from central Asia, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, and down onto the Punjab plain. But that would involve the consent of Russia, as well as war with Pakistan. At the moment the Soviet Union is insisting on its friendship to India and is urging restraint upon Red China.

Vote of Confidence. Just three weeks ago, Prime Minister Nehru stunningly and surprisingly emerged from the cocoon of indecision. With brusque firmness, he sent a note to Peking rejecting Premier Chou En-lai's proposal that both the Indian and Chinese border forces withdraw 12½ miles from their present positions. Nehru's counterproposals were for a "no man's land" in the disputed areas, which would result in getting almost all Chinese troops out of Indian territory. Nehru added sharply that "the cause of the recent troubles is action taken from your side of the border," and bluntly told Chou En-lai that "relations between our two countries are likely to grow worse."

At the opening of Parliament, Nehru further dazzled and delighted Indians by warning that "any aggression" against the small states of the Himalayas would be considered as aggression against India, and won cheers with his pledge that "if war is thrust upon us we shall fight with all our strength!" He even took time out to give support and tribute to Defense Minister Krishna Menon and won for them both an overwhelming voice vote of confidence.

The very newspapers that had been accusing Nehru for months of dereliction of duty cried their "unreserved agreement" with Nehru's policy. The Indian Express, formerly his most savage critic, promised that "in his new, bold and unequivocal stand, Mr. Nehru is assured of the unstinted support of all parties and of the people."