The commonsense question is this: How can China have any more claims south of the line it created of its own volition in 1962?
MJ Akbar | 26 Jun, 2020
(Illustration: Saurabh Singh)
THE EVOLUTION OF Jawaharlal Nehru’s China-submissive policy on Tibet began long before India’s Independence. Its origins lie in his deep friendship with Marshal Chiang Kai-shek, leader of Kuomintang China between 1928 and 1949, and concepts of an India-China relationship enunciated by Chiang’s ideological and political mentor Sun Yat-sen, father of the historic 1911 revolution that overthrew the ‘barbarian’ Manchu Qing dynasty and ended 2,000 years of imperial rule. This projected friendship, however, came at a price. For Chiang, as much as his rival and successor Mao Zedong, the complete integration of Tibet with China was a non-negotiable article of faith. Both believed that their border with India traced a descending arc from Aksai Chin in the west to south of the Himalayas in Arunachal Pradesh, or ‘South Tibet’ in Chinese parlance. Chiang Kai-shek never hid or disguised this conviction. It was up to India and Nehru to accept a future on these terms.
Reunification was at the top of the ‘Three Principles of the People’ which Sun Yat-sen established as the basis for the revival of a shattered China: Minzu (nationalism), Minquan (democratic rights) and Minsheng (welfare state). Chinese nationalism was placed in contradistinction to ‘ethnic nationalism’ and meant the merger of five broad groups into a single national consciousness based on common blood, language, customs and livelihood. Mongol, Tibetan, Manchu and Uyghur Muslims had to set aside their ‘deviations’ and merge along with the larger Han identity into this ‘revived’ consciousness. The strength of China, according to this thesis, lay in unity. Tibetan independence was dismissed as a British imperial construct, with the Communists later condemning ‘splitting slave-owners’ like the Dalai Lama as stooges of Western imperialism. Chiang, and later Mao, believed that Nehru, as a radical foe of colonialism, would view geography through a Chinese eyeglass.
Sun Yat-sen could not immediately implement what he preached. The road to power is rarely smooth for a revolution. Sun Yat-sen abdicated as provisional president in 1912, believing that he had done his duty by overthrowing the dynasty. His ideas were quickly shredded by leftover elements of the ancient regime, one of whom, Yuan Shikai, even briefly called himself emperor.
On August 25th, 1912, Sun Yat-sen launched his party, the Kuomintang, which went on to win the first elections, albeit with only 2 per cent of the population voting in a limited franchise. His candidate for prime minister, Song Jiaoren, was assassinated on Yuan’s orders, his banned party shifted its base to the south, and he went into exile in Japan. China disintegrated further as warlords retained their control over large parts.
In 1915, Sun Yat-sen married—a second marriage—his secretary Soong Ching-ling, who was three decades younger. She was the daughter of Charlie Soong, who had gone to America to train as a minister in the Methodist church but returned to make a fortune in banking and printing. Charlie Soong’s three daughters, Ai-ling, Ching-ling and Mei-ling, were three of the most remarkable sisters in any political history. The eldest married HH Kung, the richest man in the country; the second wed the icon of modern China; and the third became the wife and, arguably, dazzlingly attractive architect of Chiang Kai-shek’s fortunes.
Sun Yat-sen returned to China in 1917. He was only 51, and full of renewed ardour. Far more important, however, was that he returned with a new strategy. Reunification was still his core objective, but he realised that he needed more than words. The threat and use of coercive military action was essential to tame those who would not listen.
That remains the central strategy of the Chinese state while its reunification process continues into the 21st century. As Mao Zedong later put it, negotiations may, or indeed may not, constitute nine fingers of the Chinese hand, but the tenth finger was military force. The Communists added a new dimension by turning the army into a wing of the party rather than the country.
In 1921, Sun Yat-sen assumed power as head of a military government in Guangzhou with the title of Grand Marshal, and prepared for military operations against warlords of the north. By this time, Mahatma Gandhi had changed the nature and direction of India’s freedom struggle, turning a still largely elitist Congress into the primary vehicle of a mass movement. Sun Yat-sen recognised this as the ‘awakening of India’. The British Empire, he declaimed, was a third-rate state without India. “India and China,” he asserted in 1923, “are the backbone of the oppressed peoples of Asia.” Together, they could support a post-colonial structure across the continent. This became a tenet of Kuomintang foreign policy. The need for cooperation was heightened when the British sent Indian troops to support the northern warlords in 1925.
In September 1951, Zhou Enlai provided an opportunity for closure with a statement that there was no territorial dispute with India. But Nehru decided that it would be better to let sleeping boundaries lie
Once again this plea for cooperation came with the Tibet rider. In 1924, Sun Yat-sen delineated his map of a Sino-Indian future which hid nothing and remains an evocative exposition of the Chinese definition of India’s limits and China’s ‘civilisational’ space. His speech at Kobe University on November 28th, 1924, helps explain the Beijing view of Nepal and South Asia even a hundred years later.
The danger signals were blinking in high voltage, and everyone looked the other way.
THE NEPAL SYNDROME
“There are two small countries situated to the north of India, namely Bhutan and Nepal,” said the Chinese leader. Tibet was not considered a third country to India’s north since it was part of China. “These countries [Nepal and Bhutan] are small in size,” he continued, “but are inhabited by a brave, strong, and warlike people…Nepal was, in fact, a great Power in Asia” which never paid tribute to Britain.
But this did not mean that Nepal was independent. Here follows a sentence which should open a few eyes: “Nepal considered China as her suzerain state and up to 1911 Nepal sent annual tribute to China via Tibet…China has degenerated during the last several hundred years, yet Nepal still respects her as a superior State…Nepal has been influenced by Chinese civilisation, which, in her eyes, is the true civilisation, while that of Britain is nothing but the rule of might.”
Later, the father of modern China, and an icon revered in both Beijing and Taipei, repeats this claim that Nepal was a tributary state of China, and that status continued: “So Nepal even now willingly respects China as a superior State.”
While the future is fraught with possibilities, there might be more than one explanation for Mandarin being taught in Nepalese schools at Beijing’s expense.
In the 1920s, however, Britain could be reviled but not ignored. As long as the Raj existed, Tibet would remain independent, a buffer between empire and China. It made sense to befriend a rising Congress star with a predilection for foreign policy and a worldview that placed imperialism and colonialism as implacable enemies of subjugated people.
AN ENCOUNTER IN BRUSSELS
The first international conference which Jawaharlal Nehru attended took place in 1927 at Brussels. The theme was perfectly suited to his left-leaning heart. The International Congress against Colonial Oppression and Imperialism had, with good reason, Britain at the top of its agenda while it kept a beady eye on the ‘rising imperialism of the United States’ in Latin America (the phrase is from Nehru’s official report to the Congress party). The three nations designated to lead the world out of oppression were China, Mexico and India. China was doing its bit already with partial funding of this conference.
Nehru was in his element at Brussels. As member of the presiding committee, he helped set the day’s agenda. He was among the inaugural speakers, and was appointed to the executive committee of the League Against Imperialism and for National Independence. One of his colleagues on the committee was Soong Ching-ling, now widow of Sun Yat-sen, who had suddenly died of ill health in March 1925.
Nehru described the Chinese delegation, which included Liao Huanxing and Xion Guanguan, as “very young and full of enthusiasm”. He signed a joint declaration with the Chinese on the importance of cooperation and said in his speech at the conference: “The noble example of the Chinese nationalists filled us with hope, and we earnestly want as soon as we can to be able to emulate them and follow in their footsteps.” The bonhomie of Brussels warmed into an important friendship with Chiang Kai-shek’s China over the next two decades.
The idea that germinated in Nehru’s mind was the prospect of India and China becoming the backbone of a pan-Asian alliance. This would develop and expand into an Afro-Asian and then worldwide alliance of the “Third World” which became a central plank of his foreign policy, leading to the birth of the non-aligned movement in 1961.
After his mentor’s death, Chiang Kai-shek took over his party and army, and split the alliance with the Communists fostered by Sun Yat-sen, setting off the friction that would lead to civil war. By 1928, his forces had entered Beijing. He chose Nanking as his capital but the consolidation of China was again interrupted, this time by the Japanese invasion of 1937.
All through the 1930s, Nehru promoted multi-faceted relations with China, which he described as ‘India’s sister in ancient history’ in a letter to his daughter Indira Gandhi. For him, the partnership was politically astute and a civilisational imperative. When the Japanese invaded on July 7th, 1937, Nehru led the Indian campaign to support China. As president of the Congress, he announced a China Day on September 26th, 1937, called for a boycott of Japanese goods and appealed for donations to the Chinese war effort. In 1938, the heroic medical team led by Dwarkanath Kotnis left for the Chinese front, earning plaudits from both Kuomintang Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists. This culminated in an invitation to visit China in 1939.
In August, Nehru left by an Air France plane, Ville de Calcutta, for Hanoi, and later sailed up the Yangtze to reach the wartime capital, Chongqing. Chiang Kai-shek welcomed him as “an intimate friend”. From his base, Mao sent a telegram inviting the Indian leader to Yan’an. Much to his regret, Nehru could not go as he had to cut short his visit after Britain unilaterally made India a belligerent in the war without consulting Indians. (Mao, interestingly, approved of Gandhi’s decision to keep the Congress out of World War II, while Chiang wanted full Indian cooperation. Mao only joined the Allies after Germany declared war on the Soviet Union.)
Nehru complained after the 1962 defeat that he had been stabbed in the back by China. This was incorrect. He had been stabbed from the front because his vision had become befogged by unreal objectives and transcendent rhetoric
In Chongqing, Nehru’s personal equation with Marshal and Madame Chiang took on a much warmer hue. He proposed a seven-point programme for India-China friendship that included exchange mechanisms for cooperation in cottage industry, culture, politics and universities. Chinese delegates were invited to All India Congress Committee (AICC) sessions. Chiang wanted to send a delegation to India consisting of Soong Ching-ling, Wang Jingwei and Ku Meng-yu. That is when the British stepped in. They refused to give visas. But they could not stop statements and letters. Both Chiang and Mao protested when Nehru was interred in 1941; and both Ching-ling and Mei-ling wrote to Nehru when he was imprisoned after the Quit India movement in 1942.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was reluctant to host Chiang Kai-shek when the Chinese leader, appointed commander-in-chief of the Allied forces for Southeast Asia after Pearl Harbour, wanted to visit India in early 1942. His mission was intended to be helpful. He wanted to break the deadlock between the Raj and Gandhi, using his friend Nehru as a plausible intermediary. This would enable India to play a full hand in the war, then at a critical phase as Japan’s seemingly invincible machine, having wept through East Asia, put India in its sights.
Churchill could not stop Chiang, but the mission failed. As the British archly noted in their official record, Nehru clung to his friends like nettle during the Chiang visit. China’s first couple also met his sister, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, who would play an influential role after 1947 as India’s envoy to Washington and the United Nations. She and Soong Mei-ling became good friends.
The complex interplay between friendship, utopian ideas and the demands of national interest would reach centrestage of this political drama in less than five years.
THE RAJ AND TIBET
Lieutenant Colonel Sir Vincent Arthur Henry McMahon demarcated the eastern border between British India and Tibet, confirmed by both countries at the Simla Convention in 1914. Tibet was represented by Lonchen Satra. China repudiated the draft agreement of April 27th and its representative, Ivan Chen, refused to sign the final document on July 3rd, 1914. McMahon’s own career became controversial when in 1917 he was forced to resign as High Commissioner in Cairo after the Russians stepped out of World War I and revealed details of the Sykes-Picot agreement between Britain and France, carving up Arab lands between their empires after the war, instead of giving Arabs what they had been promised in return for their support.
But there was no ambiguity in British minds, till the last days of the Raj, about the independent status of Tibet, despite the fact that Chiang Kai-shek was a critical ally in World War II. One story from the sixth volume of the Transfer of Power papers is sufficient to illustrate this.
On March 3rd, 1946, the penultimate Viceroy, Lord Wavell, reported in his cable to London that an official mission from Lhasa had called on him, laden with gifts and formal letters for both him and King George. Wavell noted that Chiang Kai-shek’s ambassador in Delhi (the name is not mentioned in the British records but we can surmise that it was Lo Chialuw) had attempted to force himself into the delegation and gatecrash the lunch, arguing that Tibet was part of China. He was snubbed with a ‘stiff’ letter pointing out that he had not been invited. The only unusual part of the lunch was that it had to be rushed since the Tibetans did not want to miss the start of the Delhi races.
This was the policy that Nehru sought to subvert, and then reverse, even before he became Prime Minister of independent India, in late 1946 and early 1947.
The world, ravaged by a devastating war on the one side and dislocated by the surge of anti-colonial sentiment on the other, was in a fluid phase. In India, the trauma had begun. The Muslim League was on a rampage after the Great Calcutta Killings of August 16th, 1946, described in its pamphlets as the beginning of a ‘Jihad’ for Pakistan. A gruesome reaction followed in Bihar and Noakhali in Bengal.
In the first week of September, Nehru was sworn in as head of an Interim Government as part of the process towards freedom. Strangely, at the top of Nehru’s mind was not an immediate conference on national unity, but one on Asian amity. Within days of taking a transitional office, Nehru announced that an Asian Relations Conference would be convened in March 1947. It was obvious to him that China’s presence would be vital to its success. The organising committee, exercising a latitude which included Georgia in the west and both Jewish and Arab delegations, invited Tibet as well.
A livid Chiang Kai-shek threatened to stop the Chinese delegation from attending. The first moment for clarity on Tibet had come. After all, the organising committee was Nehru’s creation. It was following the prevalent international consensus on Tibetan independence. Lhasa had an independent government. But Nehru demonstrated, in his first test, that for him relations with China were more important than the freedom of Tibet. He buckled.
He sent word through KPS Menon that Tibet’s status would not be raised at the meet. Chiang Kai-shek relented, and the four participants from Lhasa were given instructions to keep quiet.
Both Chiang and Mao believed that their border with India traced a descending arc from Aksai Chin in the west to south of the Himalayas in Arunachal Pradesh, or ‘South Tibet’ in Chinese parlance. Chiang Kai-shek never hid or disguised this conviction. It was up to India and Nehru to accept a future on these terms
This was not enough for the Chinese. Chiang undermined Nehru’s desire to make India the permanent host of pan-Asian gatherings. Another leader might have taken diplomatic umbrage, at least temporarily. But Nehru continued to stretch the elasticity of concessions to China during the next 10 years over Tibet in public, and over the United Nations Security Council seat in private, with a generosity that can only be described as mind-boggling.
THE COST OF BROTHERHOOD
India became the first non-socialist country to recognise the Communist government in Beijing after Mao Zedong seized power in late 1949 and Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan. In May 1950, Nehru sent an ambassador to Beijing who, till the end of his tenure in September 1952, seemed more comfortable justifying Communist China’s actions to Delhi than conveying India’s concerns to Beijing. KM Panikkar was an Oxbridge historian drafted into the foreign service; his left-leaning formulations were consistent with the anti-colonial sentiments of progressive opinion in that age. The problem was that when this clashed with India’s national interests, the compromise was often at the cost of the latter.
Mao did not waste much time on Tibet. Between October 6th and 7th, 1950, his troops routed the militarily weak Tibetan resistance at Chamdo. A trade delegation from Lhasa was in Delhi at that time; it had no clue. The official word from Beijing over the next fortnight was “no comment” but the People’s Daily reported that Tibetan women had begun to sing “Mao is the rising sun of Tibet”, always an ominous sign. China only confirmed on October 24th that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had been ordered to free three million Tibetans from “imperialist oppression”.
Delhi protested on October 27th, more evidence that the official policy of India was still firmly on the side of Tibetan independence. The protest added that this would make it difficult for India to support China’s membership of the United Nations—yet another policy that Nehru would quickly suborn in pursuit of his romantic visions of Indo-Chinese brotherhood. The Communist regime sent a firm reply: ‘Tibet is an integral part of China, and the problem of Tibet is entirely a domestic problem of China. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army must enter Tibet, liberate the Tibetan people and defend the frontiers of China.’
This said it all. The PLA would defend the frontiers of China and the frontiers would now run along the Himalayas.
The one senior colleague to warn Nehru of dire consequences was Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who wrote a letter on November 7th, 1950 predicting that the Chinese would soon disown all border agreements with Tibet. Nehru dismissed these concerns in his reply of November 18th, 1950, saying: ‘If we lose our sense of perspective and world strategy and give way to unreasoning fears, then any policy is likely to fail.’
There was nothing unreasonable about Patel’s fears.
On November 20th, Nehru told India’s Parliament that the “McMahon Line is our boundary and that is our boundary—map or no map”. But there was now a crucial difference on the ground. That line was now a border with China, not Tibet. Since China did not recognise the independence of Tibet, it was under no obligation to accept what Lhasa had signed.
While the PLA consolidated its hold on Tibet, Beijing applied the soft touch on Delhi as it first brought Lhasa into line. Mao attended the Republic Day celebrations at the Indian embassy in 1951. On May 23rd, 1951, the Tibetans accepted the 17-point ‘Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet’ and the annexation was legalised. Tibetan delegates were initially puzzled by the first point, which asked them to ‘unite and drive out imperialist aggressive forces from Tibet’, for the only aggressive forces they had seen came from the east. They wanted to know who the imperialists were. But victors do not have to answer questions.
Perhaps the Indian mission was not reporting back to Delhi that the Chinese media was describing Nehru as a ‘bourgeois imperialist’ and ‘running dog’ of British imperialism. This too has become a familiar practice. Beijing uses a section of its obedient media to send aggressive signals while officials make official noises.
The Security Council blunder was an astonishing sacrifice of Indian national interest in the quest of some quixotic international dream. Nehru had taken the Kashmir dispute to the UN. Instead of acquiring a veto for India, he handed it to a country which has become Pakistan’s lifeline ally
In September 1951, Zhou Enlai provided an opportunity for closure with a statement that there was no territorial dispute with India. The experienced bureaucrat, Sir Girija Shankar Bajpai, first Secretary General in External Affairs but now governor of a state, asked his old ministry to seize the chance as China was likely to activate disputes later, when it might not be to India’s liking or interest. But Nehru, after consulting Panikkar, decided that raising the issue then would force China into renegotiations that might become hostile. It would be better to let sleeping boundaries lie. Nehru had clearly made a mistake.
This error, made in the public domain, was nothing compared to a colossal misjudgement made in the secrecy of private confabulations.
THE SECURITY COUNCIL BLUNDER
In August 1950, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, then in America, sent a secret letter to her brother Jawaharlal that the US wanted India to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. She says in this document, now lodged at the Nehru Memorial library: ‘One matter that is being cooked up in the State Department should be known to you. This is the unseating of [Communist] China as a Permanent Member in the Security Council and of India being put in her place.’
John Foster Dulles, then Secretary of State, anxious to move in this direction, was persuading influential columnists to build public opinion along these lines. Nehru quickly sabotaged this effort, and Pandit passed on word that the American effort to make India a permanent member would not be received with much warmth in India. Nehru wrote to her: ‘In your letter you mention that the State Department is trying to unseat China as a Permanent Member of the Security Council and to put India in her place. So far as we are concerned, we are not going to countenance it. That would be bad from every point of view. It would be a clear affront to China and it would mean some kind of a break between us and China. I suppose that the State Department would not like that [India rejecting the offer], but we have no intention of following that course. We shall go on pressing for China’s admission in the UN and Security Council.’
Nehru accepted that India was entitled to this seat, but ‘not at the cost of China’. He would not countenance taking India into the Security Council because of China’s claim. He had to keep his rejection secret, because there would have been a public outcry against such a suicidal decision. It is perfectly reasonable to surmise that Nehru’s Cabinet might not have agreed with him.
In 1955, Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin made a similar suggestion. Sarvepalli Gopal, official biographer of Nehru, writes that the Indian Prime Minister insisted that priority be given to China. He added that he had previously rejected such an American offer, obviously making a virtue of his actions.
This was an astonishing sacrifice of Indian national interest in the quest of some quixotic international dream, whether we see it in the context of 1950 or 2020. Nehru had taken the Kashmir dispute to the United Nations. Instead of acquiring a veto for India, he handed it to a country which has become Pakistan’s lifeline ally. Nor is it that China ever felt the need to reciprocate. Seven decades later, China remains the principal obstacle to India’s membership of the Security Council.
The high point of this China-submissive diplomacy was the Panchsheel (Five Virtues) Agreement of April 29th, 1954, more accurately called the ‘Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between the Tibet region of China and India’, signed by Indian Ambassador N Raghavan and Deputy Foreign Minister of China, Zhang Hanfu. In retrospect, they seem variations of a single virtue: non-aggression. This meant in hard reality that India could not interfere in Tibet, while China, at any time of its choosing, could challenge the boundaries by claiming that Indian territory was part of Tibet. It is pertinent to note that even before the ink had dried on the Panchsheel deal, Beijing published maps showing Aksai Chin as a part of China even though borders had not been delineated, let alone demarcated.
While on the streets of India, the ancient sister civilisations turned into a brotherhood (“Hindi-Chini bhai bhai”), China used the next eight years to shift the narrative, strengthen its capabilities and prepare for a war that would solve its problems, destroy Nehru’s credibility, and dent India’s reputation. According to Jonathan Ward, author of China’s Vision of Victory (2019), Mao said he wanted war because India had to be “taught a lesson” and described the war itself as “rational, beneficial” and “courteous”. 1962 was certainly the oddest instance of courtesy since Cain settled his problems with his brother Abel in the Biblical era of Adam and Eve. (Ward was quoting from Chinese official records and diplomatic archives.)
Nehru, and his Defence Minister after 1957, VK Krishna Menon, never adequately explained why they believed China would never go to war, and why they left the Himalayas defenceless. Nehru was always eager to take the most positive interpretation of China’s intentions. YD Gundevia, an admirer who became Nehru’s foreign secretary, recalls in his memoirs that in August 1948 he brought a message from Burmese Prime Minister Thakin Nu that a defence pact between India and Burma would help both in any future confrontation with China. Nehru got so angry, Gundevia recalls, that he began to shout. “He must be crazy,” said Nehru. “Does he want to provoke China? What is China going to do with Burma? It’s nonsense. It is real nonsense. I will explain to him [Thakin] when he comes.” There was no defence pact, of course.
A throwaway remark reveals that by the mid-1950s Nehru was certainly aware of the Chinese build-up. This comment was made in 1954 during the parliamentary debate on rice supplies through India to Chinese troops in Tibet, without the knowledge of the Dalai Lama, as yet another favour to China.
In one more remarkable instance of appeasement, India agreed to supply rice for Chinese troops in Tibet after a request from Beijing during a severe shortage. Ever determined to add to the political balance of goodwill, Nehru complied. According to one account, a foreign prince holidaying in Kalimpong first revealed that goods were going by mule track to the PLA from India, but mistakenly believed that they were military supplies. Nehru admitted that 1,000 tonnes of rice had been sent, although others have put the figure at 10,000 tonnes. Be that as it may, Nehru certainly misled Parliament when he claimed that the rice was supplied because of famine in Tibet. There was no famine, and in any case, the staple diet of Tibetans was tsampa or roast barley. Nehru insisted that the “humanitarian” supplies would continue. What made him angry was the report that India was sending military material. As he said, the Chinese “had far more supplies than we possessed”.
If this was true of 1954 and 1955, why was no effort made to redress the imbalance? Instead, under Defence Minister Krishna Menon’s watch, defence production was downgraded, which amounts to virtual criminal negligence. At the time of freedom, India had the best defence production facilities in Asia, with Japan having been defeated and disarmed. But when in 1957 Nehru initiated a ‘forward policy’ on establishing border posts, this was not complemented by sufficient equipment or even adequate clothing needed for mountain warfare. By December 1959, influential Americans like Senator John F Kennedy were predicting that India’s competition, not cooperation, with China for Asian pre-eminence would become a decisive struggle during the 1960s.
The Chinese were far better prepared for this struggle. On January 23rd, 1959, Zhou Enlai had stepped up the ante by pointing out that no agreement had ever been concluded between the “Chinese central government” (as distinct presumably from a Chinese ‘regional’ government in Lhasa) and Delhi. This was precisely what Bajpai had warned about in 1951. Zhou added, in a coup de grace, that he had not raised the border dispute before (including in 1954 when India formally surrendered on Tibet) because “the time was not ripe”.
By 1959, the acrid smell of bitterness filled the air and by April 1961, BN Mullick, the director of the Intelligence Bureau, was warning that the Chinese were planning to advance. But Menon remained compulsively complacent. Nehru initiated a debate on foreign policy in Rajya Sabha on August 22nd, 1961 saying that India was not thinking of a long war in the Himalayas, and that diplomats would persuade the Chinese that their claims were wrong.
The long road of strategic concessions and defence indifference had to end in the capitulation of 1962. Nehru complained after the defeat that he had been stabbed in the back by China. This was incorrect. He had been stabbed from the front because his vision had become befogged by unreal objectives and transcendent rhetoric.
A COMMONSENSE QUESTION ON AKSAI CHIN
In 1962, after the humiliation on the battlefield, a relatively unknown Congress Member of Parliament, Mahavir Tyagi, entered the world book of anecdotage when he stood up in Parliament in response to Prime Minister Nehru’s effort to minimise the loss of vast tracts in Aksai Chin by saying it was so barren that not a single blade of grass grew on its rocky expanse. Tyagi took off his Gandhi cap, bowed his pate and pointed out that not a single blade of grass grew on his bald head either, but was that any reason to hand it over to someone else?
India’s defeat in 1962 was comprehensive. The war began with a massive Chinese invasion across chosen fronts on October 20th, and ended only when China announced a ceasefire on November 20th. Within another 10 days, China withdrew to a self-defined ‘Line of Actual Control’. India, unable to prevent the advance, had no say in the retreat. China retained 2,500 square miles in the west.
The commonsense question is this: How can China have any more claims south of the line it created of its own volition in 1962?
If it did not occupy the Galwan Valley then, to give only one example of many, what rationale, or indeed the famous Maoist ‘courtesy’, enables it to claim anything more south of the LAC? India was in no position to impose anything in 1962. China was, and did. Common sense indicates that, at least as far as China is concerned, the matter should be considered over. The only nation with any possible grievance after 1962 is India. The Line of Actual Control is in effect a line that China drew.
Is the truth about the China border policy elsewhere? Is its strategy to nibble away, to eat what it can from a neighbour’s plate each time it considers the ‘time to be right’, to repeat Zhou Enlai’s phrase? History is witness to a different proposition. Times change.
China’s assessment about the ripe moment was right in 1962.
China’s assessment about the ripe moment in 2020 is wrong.