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India-China Relationship

 

THE NEHRU YEARS REVISITED

Giri Deshingkar

40

“Nationalism is good in its place but it is an unreliable friend and an unsafe historian. It sometimes distorts the truth, especially when it concerns us or our country.”[1]

-Jawaharlal Nehru

Relations between the two Asian giants, India and China were at their best, at least on the surface, during the Nehru years. They came to be at their worst also, at the end of the Nehru years. How did this come about? Indian historians and analysts generally attribute the best of motives to Nehru and they are convinced that China had the worst of motives vis-a-vis India. When elaborated through examples, it almost becomes a genetic theory of behaviour. If Nehru is criticised, it is for his innocence and gullibility and, of course, for listening to wrong advice. If the Chinese are “praised”, it is in the same perverse way as some Arabs may praise the Israelis, for their cunning, ruthlessness and perfidy. In contrast to the almost uniform Indian view, the view from the Chinese side is not so clear cut. Nehru is seen as a bourgeois leader, no doubt, to be dealt with wary circumspection. But his motives are not central to Chinese thinking; they are one factor among many, The British imperial legacy, the US design against China, Soviet machinations in the later period and the internal power struggle in China itself become equally important factors.·

Some caveats when discussing the relations between the two states of India and China are in order. Jawaharlal Nehru was only one actor, albeit the most important one. The others included his peers such as Vallabhbhai Patel, S. Radhakrishnan Moraji Desai, Govind Ballabh Pant and Krishna Menon. Then there were the invisible actors: B N Mullik, the head of this Intelligence Bureau, and officials of the Ministry of External Affairs, the military chiefs and the ambassadors accredited to China. Above all, there were the files of the British Raj which Nehru must have consulted from time to time.

During Nehru’s initial years in power he was more or less the sole maker of China policy. But after 1958 in additional to the different views of his colleagues within his own party, he was subjected to increasing pressures from the opposition leader as well as the news media. The role played by such foreign powers as the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union must remain largely in the realm of speculation until the documents on foreign affairs are released for scholarly examination. In fact, the denial of access to all archives pertaining ‘to China from 1911 onwards, far beyond the conventional thirty year rule, makes analysis of India-China relations very tentative. The situation for scholars looking at the Chinese side is much worse; even secondary sources are scarce.

Vallabhbhai Patel’s view on China stood in stark contrast to Nehru’s. He was not only a nationalist, but also a staunch anti-communist, hence he saw a conflict with China as inevitable. In fact, he clearly conceived China as India’s national enemy (in addition to, of course, Pakistan). Some of Patel’s concerns must have been shared by Nehru because he took steps to extend India’s security perimeter to the northern borders of Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim. He also immediately started pushing India.

administration right up to the McMahon line and sent military aid to the new government in Burma to fight communist insurgency in its northern part which bordered on India. But Pate1 died in 1950 and thereafter foreign policy became almost exclusively Nehru’s domain.

While the other leaders became active only in the late fifties when Nehru’s China policy ran into difficulties, Mullik, Chief of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), carried forward Patet’s legacy. Mullik was uncompromisingly anti-communist. He had direct access to Nehru, perhaps as a result of his work done in Kashmir. He took Pakistan and China as India’s direct enemies and persuaded Nehru to accept them as such as far as intelligence work and covert actions were concerned.[2] He fought his own private war with China through Tibetan refugees, through the rebellious Khampas inside Tibet and through the establishment of IB posts along the bordes.[3] As far as published accounts go, not once did Nehru disagree with Mullik intelligence assessment, nor did he ever object to the IB’s overt and covert actions.[4] Nehru’s talks to the intelligence community, as reported by Mullik, carried an entirely different message from the Asian ‘bhai-bhai” stance he adopted in public.[5] The Kongka Pass incident of 1959, which became the turning point in India-China relations was engineered by Mullik; his Army and External Affairs Ministry colleagues frontally accused him and the IB of “aggression” and “expansionism”.[6] But this did not deter Mullik al all; he pursued his private war with China until the two armies clashed in 1962. Although a mere civil servant, he must be counted as a major contributor to the making of Nehru’s China policy. In fact, it is difficult to say whether the tail was wagging the dog or whether Nehru had a split-level approach towards China.

This essay does not allow enough space to discuss the contributions of Nehru’s collegues in the government and the party nor can it discuss the role of his critics in the Opposition and the media.[7] But the importance of files pertaining to “frontier affairs” must be mentioned however briefly. It is through these files (and partly through Mullik’s mindset) that the British imperial legacy lived on during Nehru’s years and well beyond. Nehru made some departures from the imperial legacy such as giving up British Indian rights in Tibet. But, while not exactly playing the “Great Game” (which emphasised the north-western frontier), he nevertheless accepted the British imperial view that the defence of India began at the topographical frontier, i.e., the Himalayan high crest in the north. This is why despite his respect for nationalism, soon after the Chinese communists came to power he concluded treaties with Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim which reaffirmed the British imperial arrangements.[8] He also viewed Tibet as a buffer state just as the British did. Hence the distinction between “suzerainty” and “sovereignty”; it meant nothing to the Chinese and only made them suspicious. And hence the importance given by Nehru to “autonomy” for Tibet when he would have rejected outright similar autonomy for the north-east or Tamil Nadu.

As the imperial legacy claimed more and more of Nehru’s imagination, it got reflected in Indian official cartography. The 1950 new Indian map showed the McMahon line as “undemarcated”[9]; for the middle and western sector, the legend said “boundary undefined”. In that map, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan were shown outside India. But in the map published in 1954, the McMahon line was shown as a firm boundary and so were the boundaries in the middle and western sectors. In this map, Sikkim and Bhutan were shown within India’s northern border with a legend explaining that they were so by “special treaty”. These changes were not discussed in Parliament;[10] we do not know whether they were discussed within the Cabinet. By 1959, the Indian boundary claim in the western sector had become as firm as the McMohan line but this time after Parliament’s approval. Now it was a matter of officially and overtly filling out the boundary with Indian armed presence. It looked to the Chinese that the British imperial “Great Game” had been resumed.

There were glaring asymmetries in the way India and China looked at each other, Perhaps as a result of Western scholarship, English educated Indians had developed an “orientalist” view of China. To Western scholars, the “Orient” or Asia was a cultural continuum, particularly because of the Buddhist connection. In the English educated Indian mind, however, it became “Indianisation” of China. This perspective gave a distorted picture of India’s place in China’s world-view. In reality, Buddhism started on the periphery of the Chinese society and by the time it acquired a large number of adherents, it had become so transformed that it ceased to be Indian. Politically, Buddhism was strongly opposed by the Confucian mandarins who thought it subverted Chinese values. The much talked about “missions” were from and to the peripheries of both societies and by the early fifteenth century they had stopped altogether. But westernised consciousness in India took such contacts to be between nations.[11] Hence the myth of India and China being Asian sister-countries[12] a myth given currency not only by Nehru but many others.[13]

The Chinese communists also adopted the myth during the “bhai-bhai” days.[14] But their ancestors rarely ever showed any interest in India whatsoever except to acknowledge the remote origins of Buddhism in the “Western Heaven”.[15] Until the early fifties, Chinese scholars had not produced a single work on India as a country.[16] “India” entered Chinese consciousness as the land from which soldiers of the British Indian Army came to loot and kill; it was from where opium came.[17] All state-to-state contacts were with British India where Indians were not the decision-makers. They saw Indians in China as “zou gou” (running dogs) of the British. Through translated works, they came to know that Buddhism had disappeared from India, that India had first gone under Islamic rule and then western “barbarian” rule.[18] Public affairs, which were central to Chinese thinking, were mismanaged by Indians. Chinese thinkers when debating the Western challenge to China cited India as a negative example. They would deal with the West in their own way, decidedly not as India had done.[19]

Such asymmetries formed the psychological substratum of Indian and Chinese leaders when state-to-state contacts began in the late forties. Jawaharlal Nehru’s view of China had three principal latent characteristics: He nursed a pan-Asian sentiment ever since his student days in Britain. He felt proud when he heard the news in 1905 that Japan, an Asian country had defeated Russia, a European country. His pan-Asian sentiment, particularly with regard to China, was exuberantly expressed at the Brussels Conference of 1927 and twenty years later at the Asian Relations Conference of 1947. In Brussels, he wanted Indians to follow the “notable example” of the Chinese.[20] And at “the New Delhi Conference, he repeatedly spoke of “we Asians”, fellow Asians” advancing together.[21]

Unfortunately for Nehru, however, the leaders of other Asian countries and colonial territories were barely conscious of Asia as anything more than a geographical term; they certainly did not share any sentiment of “Asianness”. No eminent Chinese leader, communist or non-communist, ever did. Nehru probably did not realise that for East Asians particularly, Japan was not an Asian brother but a deadly enemy even before the turn of the century.[22] Apart from Nehru no other Asian leader seems to have thought of holding a pan-Asian meeting.

The second element in Nehru’s thinking was India as the bridge between the East and the West. At the Asian Relations Conference, he described India as the “meeting point” between the West and East.[23] The perception came about undoubtedly as a result of his westernised upbringing and western education to be later fused with his Indian nationalism. His personal feeling that he was a man of both worlds made him believe that India, too, was a bridge between those worlds because of its geographical location, the history of having received Islamic and Western cultures and also having “sent” Buddhism to the rest of Asia. Nehru’s perception of India’s role made him offer himself as a mediator between the US and China. He sought to interpret Chinese policies to American leaders and vice versa. Despite resistance from both ends, he doggedly pursued the mediatory role. He did this during the Korean War and then during the Vietnam conflict after 1954.[24]

But the perception of India’s role among the Chinese leaders was quite different. They used India only as a channel of communication with the US; the only other channel available to them was the Soviet Union but its efficacy depended on US-Soviet relations at any given point of time. That is why they used India to convey the warning to the US that China would enter the Korean War if the US threatened to carry the war beyond the Yalu rivet. But when they realised that the warning conveyed through India did not carry credibility in Washington, they became more cautious about using the Indian channel. Later, during the Korean Armistice negotiations they often expressed their dissatisfaction with India’s mediation, While Indians tried their best to appear neutral to both sides, the Chinese, often suspected Indians to be partial towards the US.[25] They appeared to trust Indians more later since they accepted India as the Chairman of the Control Commission over Indochina. But India never earned China’s complete trust as a mediator.

At the Bandung Conference in 1955, Nehru decided to adopt a low profile for himself and to promote Zhou Enlai and the new Chinese state on the international scene. It is doubtful if Zhou saw it that way. He was too sophisticated to reject Nehru’s helping hand but he proceeded to behave as a leader in his own right and to establish direct contacts with other leaders, including those of Pakistan.[26] China, Zhou indicated, did not need any one to mediate for her.

The third aspect of Nehru was his strong streak of unilateralism. Just as he was unilaterally pan-Asian and “unilaterally” often a self-appointed mediator, his views on the India-China border question were declared as the final truth without conceding any legitimacy to the Chinese views or actions. Without a Chinese surrender on major issues Nehru was not prepared to consider even minor concessions. In his eyes the McMohan line became “final”, “map or no map”. Later, the boundary in the western sector also became final.[27] The depiction of the Himalayan states on Indian official maps, too, was a unilateral decision. His pronouncements on Tibetan autonomy also bore the same mark. Nehru’s unilateralism was not just limited to China. In his other policies, too, he seldom bothered to consult his cabinet colleagues; the unreserved support he extended to Krishna Menon and his request to the US for an “air umbrella” are glaring examples of his unilateralism.[28] It is doubtful whether he consulted any of his colleagues when approving Mollik’s covert actions.

The Chinese on the other hand, always recognised that the border was not a settled issue; they wanted negotiations and suggested mutual concessions. On Tibet, they took Nehru’s view into consideration when signing the 1951 agreement with the local government of Tibet. Whatever else may be said about Chinese evil motives, bad faith, duplicity, etc., they did not adopt a unilateralist stance even after 1959.

Of these three latent elements, Nehru’s pan-Asianism suffered rapid erosion after he came to power. Already at the Asian Relations Conference he had become aware of the fact that there was little Asianness shared by the participants. Each country had its own preoccupations. They could agree about decolonisation but little else. The Chinese delegate (of the Kuomintang government) strongly protested against Tibet being shown as an independent country on the Conference map: that map had to be withdrawn. Most countries remained suspicious of Japan. Nehru’s pan-Asian sentiment must have suffered a below.

During the subsequent years, as the Cold War progressed, there was nothing to encourage Nehru’s sentiment. Asian countries were deeply divided by ideology and irridenta. This became all too apparent at the Bandung meeting. Both the New Delhi and Bandung meetings were held at India’s initiative; no other country in Asia carded forward the idea. A second Bandung was never held. Nehru no longer spoke of Asianness; he probably ceased to believe in it.

Simultaneously with the erosion of his pan-Asianism, Nehru began to pay more attention to realpolitik. He consolidated the northern border, occupied Tawang and concluded treaties with the Himalayan states. He rejected the notion of a plebiscite for Kashmir. Despite his earlier dislike of communism in the Soviet Union, he dramatically improved relations with that country, perhaps in response to the new alliance relationship between Pakistan and the US. It is this change from idealism to realpolitik which made him more receptive to the advice tendered by Mullik of the IB.

While the above mentioned latent elements underlay Nehru’s thinking and style of diplomacy, his explicit foreign policy framework also had three elements: nationalism, non-alignment, and peaceful co-existence. He sought to fit the new Chinese state into this framework.[29] But once again, there was asymmetry in the understanding of all these concepts. By nationalism Nehru meant the new nationalism of the decolonised countries; he thought that his new nationalism would be free of the European inheritance of war, rivalries and blocs. New nations would spontaneously opt to be nonaligned vis-a-vis the Cold War participants in the Old World; non-alignment did not submerge national independence and sovereignty as the alliance system did. As for peaceful co-existence, Nehru believed that modem wars were caused by rival universalist ideologies like capitalism and communism. New nationalism like China’s would rise above the extra-Asian communist ideology, just as India would rise above capitalism. Together the two would show the Old World and America how to co-exist peacefully despite differences in social systems.

Together, India and China would reshape the world order. To Nehru, the Chinese appeared to acquiesce to his framework. But, in reality, they perceived things quite differently. Whatever the substratum of Chineseness in the thinking of the communists (which they never articulated), they perceived everything in ideological terms. Indian bourgeois nationalism under Nehru could, for them, become a component of the “United Front” against imperialism and colonialism. The bourgeoisie was always double faced and wavering; its anti-imperialist face was acceptable.[30] Non-alignment did not make any sense to them; they believed that in the titanic struggle between imperialism and socialism, it was necessary to “lean to one side”. At the same time it was necessary to win over-as many countries as possible in the front against imperfalism. The non-aligned group offered an attractive target; they would reserve their differences with its members and seek common ground. Peaceful co-existence made even less sense. War and peace for the Chinese were class issues. So long as international class struggle existed, war was inevitable. When war between the two systems came, the new bourgeois nationalists would appear in their true colours.[31] Until then, their anti-colonialism would serve the United Front.

At the articulated level, it was a remarkably crude ideological analysis. But the innate Chineseness of Zhou Enlai took away much of its edge when it came to diplomacy and negotiations.

Nehru thought that in recognising the People’s Republic of China soon after it was established, he was acknowledging the new nationalism in China, not its communism. So he ignored China’s professed ideology and the crude negative ideological statements about India and himself. He translated all Chinese ideological rhetoric in nationalist terms. Its sharpness, he believed, stemmed from the fact that Chinese nationalism was misunderstood and isolated by the rest of the world. He would reduce that isolation by befriending China and mediating between China and its ideological adversaries.

But the Chinese leaders never forgot that Nehru was a bourgeois leader. They never admired his nationalism but thought that his anti-colonialism only temporarily concealed his own colonial impulses towards Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan[32] and Tibet. Buddhism having disappeared from India, the argument about “cultural affinity” between India and Tibet, sounded absolutely spurious to Chinese ears. For Chinese leaders, the Indian revolution was yet to come and Nehru was an impediment in its path. Nehru showed his true colour in his counter-revolutionary policy against the communist revolutionaries in India. He was opposed to the socialist transformation of Tibet and chose to join the US imperialists and Kuomintang reactionaries to counter it. Nehru was, the Chinese eventually concluded, the true heir to the British imperialist legacy.[33]

Even so, it may be said that the Chinese leaders did not frontally challenge Nehru’s foreign policy framework; otherwise the challenge would have come immediately. After Patel’s death Nehru adopted a political, not legal, approach towards China. This gave him much flexibility in dealing with bilateral issues.[34] His initial belief was that Chinese communism was radically different from the European variety.[35] Its signification could be hastened by reducing China’s isolation. So, he refused to brand China as an “aggressor” in the Korean War and promoted the case of China both in the United Nations and in the nonaligned group. Against this background the Chinese had no difficulty in acquiescing to his overall policy framework.

On the India-China border, Nehru did not take a legal stand until 1959. While he unilaterally declared that the McMahon line was India’s border, he never explicitly claimed that it was a legal boundary that it had been accepted by the Chinese or that it was legally binding on China. He was more ambiguous about the western sector; he did not initially say that the line there was “firm”, “identifiable” or “non-negotiable”. This is perhaps why, despite the knowledge that China had built a road through Aksai Chin, he did not lodge any diplomatic protest. (Even at their talks in 1960, Nehru did not raise India’s claim over Aksai Chin.) In fact, up to 1958. India and China went on consolidating their control over areas in the eastern and western sectors respectively, and neither objected to what the other was doing.[36]

During all these years the Chinese maintained that there was no territorial dispute with India. Such statements are taken by Indian historians as examples of Chinese duplicity. Perhaps because Nehru also thought that the time was not yet “ripe” to adopt a legal approach to the whole issue, he too did not press for any clarifications from China. (K M Panikkar has been blamed for this but the ultimate decision was always Nehru’s). So China did not need to confront the problem. It is not that China had a border policy which it wanted to conceal from India to mislead Nehru. China had no border policy at all vis-a-vis any of its neighbours. The Kuomintang government of China had a clear policy which it maintains even today: had that government been in power the border problem would have arisen right away. But during the first decade of their rule, the communists had yet to make up their minds about China’s historical claims precisely because they claimed theirs to be a revolutionary govemment.[37] Theirs was a political, not a legal approach. By the time they came to power, Outer Mongolia, Korea and Vietnam were already independent states. The disputed areas along the Sino-Soviet border were under the control of their Soviet ally. The Chinese leaders were very uncertain as to what to do about pre-revolutionary historical claims.[38]

Under the circumstances, they seem to have decided to accept accomplished facts of history, but as de facto control, not as legal claims. This is why while tacitly accepting India’s de facto control up to the McMahon line[39] and also the de facto independence of Outer Mongolia, they did not recognise the validity of the Simla convention. They took their time to recognise the juridical independence of Outer Mongolia and delayed the conclusion of border treaties with Burma, Nepal and Afghanistan. All this was a radical change from the traditional Chinese position but Nehru does not seem to have comprehended it. On the other hand, the Chinese hastened to extend control over what were not accomplished facts of history; the independence of Tibet had not been recognised by any state and the western sector of the India-China frontier had remained a no man’s land.

The adoption of an explicitly legal stand by India in 1959 forced China to make legal counter-claims. The rebellion in Tibet in the same year also made ambiguity very dangerous from the Chinese point of view. Above all, in the Sino-Soviet ideological dispute China decided to take the mantle of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism away from the “revisionist” Soviet Union. China could no longer even tacitly accept such concepts as nationalism, non- alignment and, more particularly, peaceful co-existence. “Soviet revisionism” was openly endorsing Nehru’s concepts and both had to be exposed. This probably explains the crudeness of the Chinese attacks on India. Nehru became a “reactionary”, a “compradore”, a ‘running dog of imperialism” and his entire foreign policy framework was challenged by Beijing. By 1960, the Chinese were convinced that Nehru wanted to keep the border dispute alive by escalating both territorial claims (now in the western sector) and preconditions (China must withdraw first).[40]

Chinese ideological crudity was matched by Nehru’s racial-cultural explanations of Chinese behaviour. If Mullik is to be believed - no one in authority in India has yet repudiated him - Nehru was stressing China’s Smperialistic tendencies” as early as 1950.[41]  In fact, he asked Mullik not to be misled by the open professions of his own government vis-a-vis China. In 1952 Nehru told Mullik that China had “always been an aggressive country”. He had added that the “war between the two cultures was not over… and would go on for a long time”.[42] Friendship with China was an expedient until India was strong enough to take on China. Chinese economic power combined with its large population, Nehru said in a briefing to the IB, was an “explosive” missile; it would become a danger to the whole world in the next couple of decades.[43] By 1960, he was saying all this publicly. China now became a “danger to the whole world”. It was an “aggressive, arrogant and expansionist neighbour”. After the 1962 war, he spoke of “Chinese-ism” as the “tradition of expansionism”[44].

Nehru’s colleagues, most opposition leaders and the media were even more unsophisticated; they resorted to outright racist slurs. All the Western steriotypes of “Mongoloid hordes”, “human wave tactics”, “cheapness of Chinese life” gained currency in India. Chinese food habits were derided as barbaric. The Chinese were described as “sly, wily, untrustworthy”, etc.[45] Later, as the tension mounted, a law was passed in India declaring all persons of Chinese extraction, regardless of their nationality, as enemy aliens. (It possibly stands in the books even today). Some Chinese in India were rounded up and detained in camps.

After 1959, it is difficult to say who formulated India’s foreign policy. It was, at any rate, no longer Nehru’s exclusive preserve. Nehru came to be constantly accused of “appeasing” China and was forced to adopt an increasingly hard stand. Whether he intended it or not, his tough stance vis-a-vis China earned him US support and financial aid.[46] He was aware of the intensity of the Sine-Soviet dispute and reasonably confident of Soviet neutrality in the India-China dispute. His reading was that China had become a pariah state, devoid of any friends whereas India could count on several powerful ones. His persistent judgement that China would not resort to war, that it would not dare, was not altogether wrong, given Nehru’s assumptions. He always maintained that an India-China war would be a world war, even a nuclear war.[47] This judgement made him test the Chinese resolve. It made him issue even intemperate statements about “throwing out the Chinese”. The victory in the war over Goa also reinforced his confidence. Moreover, he knew that China was passing through extremely difficult times because of the failure of the Great Leap Forward, the three drought years of 1959, 1960 and 1961 and the withdrawal of the Soviet aid. The morale of the Chinese Army was low. China was at its most vulnerable point. It was simple realpolitik to press one’s advantage.

Nobody pointed out to him the other side of the coin. China had taken the great risk of entering the Korean War when it was very vulnerable. It had once again taken such a risk at the time of the Quemoy Crisis. China had also defied the Soviet Union at perilous risk to its own economy. Nobody told Nehru either that the Indian Army was not prepared to take on China, that it was incompetent even if better equipped than the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

Chinese acts appeared very aggressive to India while China thought it was merely resisting India’s “Forward policy”. But at that time, China felt severely threatened “from all four sides”. During the fifties the US had encircled China all around its southern perimeter. The Soviet Union, too, threatened from the north. India could become a possible opening. Hence, the Chinese leaders were actively thinking of adopting as conciliatory a line towards India as was possible. The proposal to do so came from Wang Jiaxiang, an important official connected with foreign affairs, in February 1962, as war clouds were gathering thick and fast. Wang’s proposal vis-a-vis India is worth quoting:

“As for the India-China border question, …we should continuously and endlessly repeat: that China and India must be friends; that there is no objective basis at all for any conflict between India and China: that the India-China border dispute is the troublesome legacy handed down from the time imperialism ruled over both China and India in the past; that the border dispute must be solved on the basis of mutually empathetic understanding and through negotiations: and that it can indeed be solved.

If we say so and also act accordingly, it means that we hold high the banner of China-India friendship, hold high the banner of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and hold high the banner of resolving the China-India dispute through negotiations.

Of course, relations between countries are not determined purely by the subjective efforts (of only one side). In the final analysis, they are determined by the nature of each country, by the class to which the power holders belong, the policy line of that social stratum, the relationship between the strengths of the countries and the benefit and harm (arising out of this) as well as the nature of the contentious debate and its scope and so forth ….

However, we should never underestimate (Chinese) subjective initiative; otherwise it will do us IW good. It seems that there will be advance and there will be retreat, there will be attack and there will be defence, there will be contention and there will be yielding, reins will be tight and they will be loose. It seems all these are methods which will not be found wanting in external struggle.”

This internal and secret proposal, part of a much larger proposal on Chinese foreign policy initiatives, was circulated among the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party. After two of Wang Jiaxiang’s senior colleagues had endorsed it, the proposal was sent to Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yi and Liu Shaoqi who did not disagree with anything said in it. The proposal was then circulated to members of the party’s Secretariat. Finally, it reached Chairman Mao Zedong who also did not think that there was anything the problem with it.[48]

Could the war have been avoided? Around 1976 Mrs. Indira Gandhi, when reminiscing about India-China relations seemed to think so. Once again, a full quotation which the Chinese publishers have chosen to reproduce, is in order:

“In 1953, we visited China. We saw Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong. Mao had never been to India; I heard later on that he was waiting for an invitation to him from us. If we had invited him to visit India, a lot of things, perhaps, would have been quite different. Had we known then that he had such thought, he would have become the most welcome and respected guest in this country.

I liked Zhou Enlai. He was extremely knowledgeable. He was the only person we met in China who had travelled abroad. He was extremely experienced and mature in foreign affairs. He was a cut above the others in understanding matters.”[49]

Whether or not she was right, there is no doubt that during the mid-fifties, more consultations between India and China, rather than unilateral assertions and actions, could have given a very different turn to the course of India-China relations. An agreement extremely favourable to India in the eastern sector (without bringing in the McMahon line or the Simla Convention) was a distinct possibility.[50] But the opportunity was missed. Similarly, by 1956, the Chinese had been implementing their 1951 Agreement with the Tibetan local government. China had already withdrawn 9 per cent of Han cadres from Tibet and also some troops from Lhasa. China was considering the withdrawal of all troops from Tibet if there was internal peace there.[51] But Khampa rebel attacks started and escalated from that year. Nehru surely knew - Mullik certainly knew - the American CIA and the nationalist regime on Taiwan were aiding the rebels. He did nothing to stop them; he certainly did nothing to curb the anti-communist activities of the Tibetan refugees in India. After 1959, India’s support to the Tibetan rebels was all but open. But all this did not achieve any purpose. It did not lessen the suffering of the Tibetans because Chinese oppression was stepped up. It also harmed the cause of Tibetan autonomy.

It would seem that even if we grant all the compulsions on the Indian side once the border dispute became open and bitter - Nehru’s publicly committed positions, pressure from the Opposition, the ferocity of Indian public opinion - there was enough room to cool tempers without appearing to be appeasing.[52] “The new posts set up in the western sector during March

April 1962 and which led to firing by Chinese troops were not necessary at the time. It is not that Nehru was left with no flexibility. He was prepared to negotiate but chose to impose too many preconditions; almost in all instances he wanted the Chinese to withdraw first as a price for talks. He did so in the belief that when it came to a show down, China would make the concessions Nehru so badly needed vis-a-vis his domestic critics. The Chinese probably did not understand Nehru’s domestic compulsions. Even if they did, they looked at the whole Indian government; Nehru was not central to their thinking.

As Wang Jiaxiang’s proposal shows, there were no compulsions on the Chinese side to go to war. Indeed, the opposite was the case. Military preparations were, of course, made by the military professionals as a contingency exercise but the decision to initiate action rested with Beijing. According to Wang Jiaxiang’s memories, there was only one person, Kang Sheng, who opposed Wang’s proposal. However powerful Kang may have been, he could not have overruled others. So, the only conclusion one can come to is that all the signals from New Delhi were interpreted in Beijing as a determined preparation for war against China. Once that conclusion was reached, the Chinese decided to take pre-emptive action. And when one dose of such action in October 1962 did not produce results, they administered a second one in November.

It is quite extraordinary that until the war actually came, Nehru refused to believe that China would go to war. But once it had taken place, his judgement came exactly to the opposite conclusion: he did not believe that the ceasefire declared by China would last; he thought the war would go on for several years.[53] Chinese withdrawal to the McMahon line was assessed as temporary because of climatic and extended supply lines. (Actually, the Chinese supply lines in the western sector where there was no withdrawal were just as extended and the weather was just as cold). Military actions were interpreted in purely military terms: their political import was not comprehended in New Delhi at all. The Chinese message was: China accepts the Indian claim in the east; India should accept the Chinese claim in the west. That remains the broad Chinese position even today.

Granting the worst of motives to the Chinese leaders, Nehru’s China policy must be reckoned as having failed. He could not solve the border problem with China nor could he avoid armed conflict with that country, At the end of his tenure, his tacit assumptions lay in ruins. There simply was no Asianness outside the westernised segment of Indians, waiting to be tapped for friendship and cooperation. India was never accepted as the bridge Nehru thought it was destined to become. Instead, it was India which was seeking the mediation of the Colombo Powers in the India-China dispute after 1962. Nehru died a broken hearted man but without realising that he had been self-righteous. He admitted to having lived in a world of his own making but that was a protestation of innocence in the face of Chinese perfidy. He believed that his practice of realpolitik was wholly moral; the Chinese practice of the same craft was wholly immoral.

Asian nationalism during the Nehru years turned out to be no different from nationalism of the Old World; it was, in fact, much worse, because of territorial disputes, internal repression and adherence to universal ideologies, often for selfish ends. Non alignment gathered many adherents from among the newly independent countries but in the context of the India-China dispute, they became non-aligned vis-a-vis both. Nehru’s judgement that one could not be non-aligned vis-a-vis China sounded bizarre; it made sense for India but not for the entire non-aligned group. In any case, when the military situation became serious, Nehru turned to the West (and even Israel!) for military support. He almost took India into the Western military bloc. That he resisted from doing so showed his strong personal faith in non-alignment but other Asian and African countries drew their own lessons. After Nehru’s death, the concept was transformed into vaguely defined ‘Third Worldism”; member states could now belong to one military bloc or the other.

The first joint declaration on Panchsheel, the Five Principles of Peaceful co-existence, Nehru believed, committed China to the third element of India’s foreign policy i.e., peaceful co-existence. What is more, Nehru found an ally in Nikita Khrushchev who also supported it. However, there was a tremendous difference of interpretation between Nehru and Khrushchev on one side and the Chinese on the other. Nehru and Krushchev took the term to mean peaceful co-existence between the capitalist and the socialist systems worldwide whereas the Chinese interpreted the term much more narrowly. For one thing, peaceful co-existencewas only one among the Five Principles and it applied only as long as the four other principles were also applied faithfully. Moreover, it applied between countries. particularly neighbouring countries, not social systems. This is why China made such joint declarations with only its neighbours. Nehru thought that with that declaration ‘all problems” between India and China were “solved”. In Chinese eyes, the problems could be solved by working out mutual benefits (mentioned in Panchsheel) but they were not actually solved. China took Nehru’s unilateral stance on the border and Tibet as a violation of two principles : mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty and mutual non-interference in internal affairs. But what really determined the fate of peaceful co-existence was China’s ideological dispute with the Soviet Union. In any case, Nehru too had come to the conclusion that peaceful coexistence with an “imperialist and expansionist” China was impossible.

Committed nationalist scholarship has its uses: it helps the process of nation - and state-building and it can help mobilise and people for defence and development. But as Nehru has himself pointed out in the quotation cited at the beginning of this essay, it distorts truth. In India-China relations, truth was distorted on both sides. Jawahartal Nehru left behind two legacies : friendship with China and bitter enmity towards China. India and China cannot live in enmity forever. Distorted truth becomes an impediment in the solutions to problems. If Nehru’s former legacy is to be restored, we must reorder India-China relations once again on the basis of all the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. Recently, a beginning seems to have been made by both India and China in that direction.



[1] See his Glimpses of World History (Delhi : Oxford University Press, 1982) p. 443.

· In this essay, I refer primarily to the perceptions of the leaders of the People’s Republic of China. The leaders of the rival Chinese regime on Taiwan did not take an ideological view of Nehru or India but they remained convinced of the Chines case on Tibet and on the India-China border question. They blamed the “Chinese Communist bandits” for being aggressive but approved their action in “defending” the border against India’s “expansionist” acts.

[2] B.N. Mullik, My Years with Nehru The Chinese Betrayal (Bombay: Allied Publishers, 1971). pp. 84-85.

[3] Ibid., pp. 178.

[4] Ibid.

[5] There are scattered references to this throughout Mullik’s book.

[6] Ibid., pp. 240-45.

[7] A very substantial body of literature is available on this subject. Most such writings started around 1959 and the stream tapered off only towards the end of the sixties.

[8] He made it clear that an attack on Nepal would be regarded as an attack on India. See Sarvespalli Gopal, Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography, Vol.. II (Oxford University Press, 19&i), p. 68. We do not know if he got the concurrence of the Nepal government before making such a statement.

[9] Nehru asked China not to send troops into Tibet. Ibid, p. 105.

[10] See Mb-a Sinha, “China: Making and Unmaking of Nehru’s Foreign Policy”, China Report (Delhi), Vol. 15, No. 2, March-April 1979, pp. 5164.

[11] For an extended discussion of the Buddhist connection, see K.P. Gupta. ‘The Making of China’s Image of India”, pp. 39-40.

[12] See Jawaharlal Nehru, op. cit.. pp. 28, 328.

[13] Prominent among them was the poet Rabindranath Tagore. He established the Cheena-Bhavana for researches into India-China “historical relations at the Visvabharati University, Santiniketan during the twenties.

[14] They constantly spoke of ‘2000 years of friendship” between India and China. But it was a political construct, not a historical fact.

[15] The region of India was also called ‘Tian Zhu” or The Land of Heavenly Bamboo but it was neither a geographical nor a political expression.

[16] See Yuan Chuanwei, ‘Indian Studies in China” (unpublished paper).

[17] Literature on the opium trade is extensive. Most textbooks on the history of Modern China also discuss the deployment of Indian soldiers during the Opium Wars and the Boxer uprising.

[18] See, F.W. Drake, China-Charm the World Hsu Chi-yu and His Geography of 1848 (Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1975), p. 102.

[19] Ssu-yu Teng and John K. Fairbank, China’s responses to tie West (1975) pp. 152-53. Kang Youwei, who had spent soma time in India, was particularly contemptuous of India and Indians.

[20] See his speech at the Brussels Congress, Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vol. II (Delhi Orient Longmans, 1972) p. 272-7 6 .

[21] See Jawaharlal Nehru’s Speeches (New Delhi: Publications Division, 1967) pp. 297304.

[22] Nehru sympathisad very much with China’s struggle against Japanese imperialism. Hence the despatch of the Indian medical team to China. But he did not understand how bitterly the Chinese disliked the Japanese.

[23] See, Jawaharlal Nehru’s Speeches, op. cit.

[24] S. Gopal cites numerous examples of Nehru’s attempts at mediation between not only the US and China but also between the US and the Soviet Union. See his Jawaharlal Nehru : A Biography, Vols. II and Ill.

[25] Ibid., Vd. II, pp. 138-75.

[26] Ibid., pp. 227-43.

[27] He made a number of such statements. For a sample see Lok Sabha Debates, 2nd Series, Vol. XIX, pp. 4629.32.

[28] John Kenneth Galbraith, Ambassador’s Journal (London : Hamish Hamilton, 1969). pp. 406551. All these chapters covering the border war and thereafter are extremely illuminating.

[29] For the following analysis of the framework of Nehru’s foreign policy, I draw largely on Mira Sinha’s article cited in note 10 supra.

[30] The literature on the concepts of the United Front both in the domestic and the international context is too extensive to be quoted. But specific references to Nehru are found, after he ceased to be a reliable partner in Chinese eyes in two major articles. See Editorial Department of the Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily), “Revolution in Tibet and Nehru’s Philosophy”, Renmin Ribao, 6 May 1959 (trs. New China News Agency); and “More on Nehru’s Philosophy in the Light of the Sine-Indian Boundary Question”, Renmin Ribao, 27 October 1962 (trs. New China News Agency).

[31] These views are laid out in extenso in The Great Polemics (Peking: People’s Publishers, 1965).

[32] India’s unhappiness about the development of independent Chinese relations with Nepal was very well known to China.

[33] See Renmih Ribao, 24 April 1959.

[34] See Mim Sinha, op. Cit.

[35] He expresses this belief at the Brussels Congress. See Selected Works, op. cit. see  also, S. Gopal, Vol. II, op. cit., p, 64.

[36] Mira Sinha, op. cit.

[37] They probably were thinking of imitating Lenin’s policies immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution.

[38] Zhou Enlai’s statement about Chinese maps being old Kuomintang maps and the new government not having had the time to revise them is quoted by Indian scholars as yet another example of Chinese cunning. It seems to me that they genuinely did not, know how to go about revising them.

[39] S. Gopal, citing an unpublished document, says that Zhou Enlai tdd the Burmese leaders that China would accept the McMahon alignment as a de facto boundary. See, S. Gopal, Vol. III, op. cit., pp. 33.40.

[40] Interview with Neville Maxwell, The Sunday Times (London), 19 December, 1971.

[41] B.N. Mullik, op. cit., pp. 64-85. Mullik repeats this throughout his book.

[42] Ibid., pp. 178 ff.

[43] Ibid., p, 243.

[44] See his interview to The Saturday Evening Post, 19 January 1963.

[45] A. daily proramme. “India and the Dragon”, on All India Radio save currency to such views. The Indian newspapers were full of such articles and news items.

[46] This becomes abundantly clear from Galbraith’s journal, op. Cit.

[47] S. Gopal. Vol. III, pp. 204-14.

[48] My working translation from Chinese. The ellipses are as in the original. See, Wang Zhongli, Liming yu Wanxia (Daybreak and evening twilight), (Beijing: Publishing House of People’s Liberation Army, 1986) pp. 394-95.

[49] My working translation from the Chinese translation. Emphasis is mine. The implication of what Mrs. Gandhi is saying is that things went wrong somewhere after the mid-fifties and neither Mao nor Zhou were to blame for what happened. See. Ya Nanze. Gandi Furen Zishu (My Truth), (Beijing : Contemporary Pubfishers, 1995). p. 72.

[50] See note 39, supra.

[51] See G. Ginsberg and Michael Mathos, Communist China and Tibet (The Hauge; martin Nijhons, 1974), pp. 113-15.

[52] Zhou Enlai was determined not to go back to China without achieving some agreement. But he was decisfvefy rebuffed in Delhi.

[53] S. Gopal, Vol. Ill, op. cit., pp. 23739.

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