General Vishwa Nath Sharma was the first chief of army staff, or COAS, who began his career in the post-Independence Indian Army. He retired in 1990, and is currently 90 years old. As a lieutenant general, he was the general officer commanding-in-chief of the Eastern Command from June 1987 to May 1988. His tenure coincided with what is known as the Wangdung incident with China. The incident, which began in June 1986, is named after a small village in the Sumdorong Chu area of the Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh, and is considered the third Sino-Indian military conflict. Wangdung lies close to the Thagla Ridge—the Indian Army’s occupation of the ridge was the precipitating factor of the first Sino-Indian conflict in 1962—and hosted a subsidiary post of the Intelligence Bureau. The People’s Liberation Army of China occupied Wangdung in the summer of 1986.
On 16 September, Sushant Singh, a journalist and a former army officer, spoke to General Sharma at the latter’s Delhi residence. Sharma told Singh, how, as the army commander, he refused to follow the orders of the Army Headquarters and General Krishnawamy Sundarji, then the COAS, to vacate the forward positions occupied by the Indian Army opposite the PLA.
Sushant Singh: What happened in Wangdung and the Sumdorong Chu area in the 1980s, where the standoff between Indian and Chinese troops lasted years?
General VN Sharma: In 1986, what happened is that in the area of Sumdorong Chu, there is a small village of about 4 kheti huts [temporary huts made of straw], Wangdung—it’s not much to talk of. Tibetan yaks used to come, graze over there, graziers used to build a little kheti hut and live in it in the night, when it was summer time. We had a listening post of the Intelligence Bureau there. Sometime in 1986, the IB post, comprising two to three men and a radio set, came away for the winter because it was full of snow. In June or July 1986, they tried to go up back to the Wangdung village area and the Chinese were in occupation with a company worth of troops, to say, “Get away from here, this is Chinese territory.” They [the IB] came running back from there, about thirty kilometres further south where we had a brigade, at Khinzemane. And the man commanding Khinzemane was a chap called Brigadier Bhupi Malik, 5th Gorkhas [5 Gorkha Rifles, an infantry regiment]. I knew him very well because when I was in the MO [military-operations] directorate as a major general, he was a colonel under me.