Shilajit Kar Bhowmik

June 20, 2020, 11:39:43   

China; our neighbour whom Pt. Nehru described as "the other great country of Asia, India's old-time friend" once again proves it is not our friend in need. The way it betrayed us in 1962 and clashed with us by claiming the lives of our soldiers just a few days ago once again proves it is never a trustworthy ally.  However, India's first Prime Minister was blind to China's jiggery-pokery despite being forewarned by friends. And this irrationality led to India's humiliating defeat.

Nehru extended a hand of friendship with China as he and the Congress had an utmost regard for the country's Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-Shek, who urged the US, to in turn, urge Britain to grant India independence. In 1949, the Kuomintang was overthrown by the communists. But India wished to continue its friendship with China. And thus, K M Panikkar, the historian was assigned the role of Indian ambassador to Beijing.

In May 1950, Panikkar was granted an audience with Mao Tse-Tung. The former was mellowed and hugely impressed by the interview. Panikkar later eulogised the Chinese overlord in the highest degree. He recalled, "Mao's face was pleasant and benevolent and the look in his eyes is kindly. There is no cruelty or hardness either in his eyes or in the expression of his mouth."

He also drew a parallel between Nehru and Mao by describing them as 'men of action' 
Few months after the Mao-Panikkar conclave, China invaded and annexed Tibet. India had to take a stand. It had close economic and cultural relations with Tibet. But a newly free and vulnerable India had to exercise caution. It could not afford to wage a war on Tibet’s behalf. Few days after the Chinese action, he told the Parliament that he was hopeful the matter would be resolved peacefully. He also believed that while China historically exercised some kind of 'suzerainty', this did not amount to 'sovereignty'.

Other members of the government advocated a stronger line. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was convinced that China had befooled Panikkar. The ambassador was living in a fool's paradise and completely overlooked the plans for the invasion. Therefore, Sardar Patel sent a letter to Nehru on 7 October, 1950 warning him about the imminent dangers China posed for India. A pithy excerpt is given below:

"Recent and bitter history also tells us that communism is no shield against imperialism and that the Communists are as good or as bad imperialists as any other. Chinese ambitions in this respect not only cover the Himalayan slopes on our side but also include important parts of Assam."

Patel also urged Nehru to be 'alive to the new danger' from China and to make India defensively strong. He also argued that India should reconsider its 'relationship with China, Russia, America, Britain and Burma'.
In his article entitled "Nehru's neutralism brings Mao to our frontier", journalist D F Karaka wrote that annexation of Tibet showed that the Himalaya was no longer impregnable. And the Indian army was not well-trained or well-equipped to take on a determined and focused enemy. Karaka concluded by saying that India should reconsider its decision of neutrality as it may endanger its frontiers. Instead, India may contemplate on taking a lesser risk of making a military with the US and Great Britain despite its past unhappy relations with Britain or fear of American imperialism spreading in Asia.

Karaka was also left aghast by Panikkar's carelessness, who, apparently heard of the Chinese invasion of Tibet only after it was announced on All India Radio.
Nehru, obviously, took no notice of Karaka.

But he replied Patel in a note on the subject circulated to the Cabinet. He thought that 'the idea that communism inevitably means expansion and war, or to put it more precisely, that Chinese communism means inevitably an expansion towards India, is rather naïve."
In Dec, 1950 Sardar Patel passed away and Nehru had no opposition within his Cabinet to speak up against his China policy.

In the summer of 1952, a government delegation led by Nehru’s sister, Vijayalakshmi Pandit visited Beijing. She met Mao once and Chou En-Lai twice and was flatteringly impressed by both. Her romanticism led her to compare Mao with Mahatma Gandhi. 

As soon as the United States befriended Pakistan, Delhi had another reason to befriend Beijing. In a wide-ranging agreement signed in April 1954, India officially recognized Tibet as a part of China. The joint declaration outlined five principles of co-existence (panch sheel). It included mutual non-aggression and mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity.

Towards the end of 1954, Nehru visited China for the first time. He had discussions with Chou En-Lai about border questions, and with Mao about the world situation. He also advocated the cause of Tibet. The Chinese assured him in the presence of the Dalai Lama that the Buddhist state would enjoy a status which 'no other province enjoyed in the People's Republic of China'.

However, these were empty promises.
But on his return from China, Nehru addressed a mammoth public meeting in Calcutta Maidan and saying that 'the people of China do not want war'; they were too occupied by attempts to unite their country and expunge poverty.

Clearly, romanticism seized his nerves and the game of realpolitik need to be taught to him.
In 1954, Lakshman Singh, India’s trade representative used to visit Tibet every year. His wide contacts informed him about the road China built in Aksai Chin. He promptly informed New Delhi, but his version was looked down with scepticism. 

Home Minister Gobind Ballabh Pant proposed an air reconnaissance to verify the report. Nehru objected and instead, after many discussions sent Indian maps to China which depicted Aksai Chin as part of Indian territory. He also asked the foreign secretary to do it informally.

China was unresponsive. Pant persuaded Nehru to send a patrol which corroborated that the road construction was a reality and was being patrolled by Chinese soldiers. The Indian patrol was noticed. Its members were captured by the Chinese and tied to the tails of horses and dragged along the road.
New Delhi lodged a protest which was contemptuously rejected by China. 

Despite being a victim of China's snobbery, Nehru did not wish to retaliate. In 1955, he introduced Chou En-Lai at the conference of non-aligned nations at Bandung in Indonesia in 1955.

The Indian Parliament naturally foamed at the mouth. Nehru tried to mollify his critics by saying that China would never wage a war against India. If it did so, there would be a world war. 

This vacuity of Nehru cost the country dearly in 1962. He was clearly seated in an ivory tower. Thereby, he mollycoddled China excessively and failed India. 
Shilajit Kar Bhowmik
Glimpses of World History by Jawaharlal Nehru
India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha
Beyond the Lines by Kuldip Nayar


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