Every year, the Indian Army celebrates Cho La Day on October 1 to commemorate the bravery of Indian troops who gave a bloody nose to the Chinese PLA troops.
Every year, the Indian Army celebrates Cho La Day on October 1 to commemorate the bravery of Indian troops who gave a bloody nose to the Chinese PLA troops during clashes at the Cho La pass in 1967. This was the last time that a skirmish between soldiers of the two armies turned violent resulting in 200 Indian and 300 PLA troops being killed in battle. More than 50 years have passed since the incident.
The current Galwan clash on June 15, 2020, which resulted in the loss of life of 20 Indian soldiers and more than 40 PLA troops is a grim reminder that skirmishes that start with fistfights and stone-pelting can degrade into bloody clashes. The incident at Cho La was preceded by heavy fighting between the Indian and Chinese armies between September 11 and 14, 1967, over the construction of an iron fence by India in the Nathu La sector to prevent Chinese incursions. Black Cat Division at the time was headed by Lt Gen Sagat Singh, later hero of the 1971 war that liberated Bangladesh.
China’s fatal mistake
China had been encouraged to press home its perceived advantage over India after the 1962 conflict and Indo-Pak war of 1965. It felt that India was on the back foot and could be bullied into ceding more of its territory, a fatal mistake also made by Pakistan when it initiated a war against India in 1965 based on similar false assumptions. The foolhardiness of China to challenge Indian troops has to be understood in the context of a few incidents that occurred just before the clashes.
Two Indian diplomats at the Indian embassy in Beijing had been indicted by the communist government on false charges of spying, which was rejected by India. When the two diplomats returned to India, they were given a hero’s welcome and the Indian public, especially in New Delhi trashed the properties of the Chinese embassy in India, to the extent of bringing down the Chinese flag and tearing it apart. Also, during the course of the Indo-Pak war of 1965, PLA troops as is their want had transgressed into India and killed three armed personnel in the vicinity of Tsaskur on September 19, 1965. China also attempted to take over Nathu La in 1965 but Lt Gen Sagat Singh rebuffed their attempts.
All these episodes, coupled with the aggressive and revisionist attitude of the CPC government in China against India had led to a situation where India was always termed as the aggressor despite all incidents and transgressions being initiated by the Chinese. The Indian army sustained heavy casualties on September 11, 1967, due to the openness of the terrain and the suddenness of the assault which came in the form of murderous MMG fire by the Chinese. However, from September 12-14, India gained ascendancy over the Chinese using precise but deadly artillery fire and hand to hand fights in selected places. On October 1, 1967, the Chinese attempted to intrude into the Sikkim side of the China India border but due to the bravery of the Indian troops and their accurate fire, were forced to withdraw up to three kilometres beyond Cho La after sustaining significant casualties.