China, India and the lesson of Megara's burning pigs


April 4, 2012, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol. : 05 No.-18 Mar. 30 -2012 (Chaitra 17,2068)<br>

General V.K. Singh's leaked letter on deficits in India's defence has fostered hysteria. Fearsome as China's military build-up might be, it isn't clear why Indians should be fearful.


In 266 BCE, the armies of Emperor Antigonus II Gonatas laid siege to Megara, hoping to seize the small, but wealthy, city's harbours. The contest was, at first glance, hopeless: Antigonus's armies were much larger and backed, moreover, by phalanxes of battle-elephants.


Faced with certain defeat — the ancient military historian Poluainos recorded in his classic, Strategems in War — the Megarans hit upon a tactic of considerable genius. The city's pigs were doused in resin and set on fire as they were pushed out of the gates. Panicked by the sight of the burning, squealing pigs, the elephants broke ranks and fled, trampling many of Antigonus' army.


Indians panicked by Army Chief V.K. Singh's grim warnings on system-wide deficits in the country's war-preparedness might profit from the lesson of Megara's burning pigs: in war, the side with the bigger guns doesn't always win. The anxiety underpinning much of the debate provoked by General Singh's leaked letter to the Prime Minister isn't hard to miss. The rise of an allegedly-malevolent China, many in India's strategic community fear, makes the prospect of a war almost inevitable: a war that Pakistan, more likely than not, will capitalise upon.


Back in 2008, Defence Minister A.K. Anthony is believed to have issued a formal directive calling on the armed forces to prepare themselves for a two-front war. Mulayam Singh Yadav, India's former Defence Minister, even told Parliament in November 2011 that he had evidence China was “going to attack us soon.” “The attack can take place any time,” he asserted.

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