As a student in Paris, halfway through my mid-career journalism course, I discovered Dien Bien Phu. On my way to and from the Citè Universitè where I lived at the Maison de l’Inde, I was curious about the long queues that wound through the commercial area of the metro station, which were clearly not for travel tickets.
In fact, there were multiplexes in the metro station and the French were going crazy for two movies showing there, both set in Indo-China – L’Amant and Dien Bien Phu.
The first was the semi-autobiographical story of a French teenager and her wealthy Chinese businessman lover who ran after crowded houses. But it was the latter, about the 57-day siege of the French headquarters in Indo-China, located in Vietnam, that really broke the box office.
Eventually I joined the queues and saw both. The first was poignant enough, but it was Dien Bien Phu, a name I had never heard before, that was memorable and stuck in my mind for years afterwards.
The French had occupied Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos since the 1930s, and in 1954, after the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, they were forced to leave the region in a hurry.
While the film about the evacuation of French troops and civilians through the eyes of an American journalist was fascinating and memorable enough, what turned out to be more important is how small and wealthy Vietnam defeated not one, but two powerful empires – the French and the Americans. almost 20 years later.
Shortly after the French exit, the Americans invaded Vietnam in an attempt to stop the spread of communism in Indo-China. They occupied all the Indo-Chinese peoples, wasted a lot of resources, sacrificed the lives of thousands of soldiers in a futile war and finally had to come out as ignominiously as the French, without any decisive victory in the region.
Thus, when the Foreign Minister of India, S. Jaishankar said we can’t face China because it is a bigger nation than ours, I just wanted to laugh. That statement told me two things: the red-eyed man with the enormously puffy chest is really just a bully and, like all bullies, ultimately a coward.
And, secondly, how brave and dedicated to the nation Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru really was. He wanted peace with China. Hindi-Cheni bhai-bai and the principle of Panchasheel in our foreign policy with China were after all his formulations.
Yet when China dropped all pretense of friendship and suppressed our forces in Ladakh – as it does even today – Nehru did not hesitate for a second to go to war with the great neighbour.
We were in a nascent stage of development and all alone as both the US and the UK refused to supply us with any more weapons. We didn’t even have the Soviets on our side at that time, although this war pushed India into the arms of the USSR and eventually brought us Soviet-made aircraft, warships and other weapons for future use.
Today, Narendra Modi’s government, benefiting from Nehru’s policies, has declared friendship with Russia and is supporting that nation in its war with the tiny and equally powerful Ukraine, which has fought bravely for a year with all of Russia’s air and sea power. also.
And we, who declare ourselves to be a powerful nation, do not have the courage to push China even just on our land that they illegally grabbed?
India’s war with China in 1962, born out of the betrayal of our hand of friendship, forced China to retreat behind the McMahon Line and restore our territory to its original position. That looks like a victory to me. But to regain our territory, we had to have the courage to show China our place, and the Dragon did not dare to violate the LAC (Line of Actual Control) for decades afterwards.