Zachariah’s report

Print edition : March 16, 2018

K. Zachariah was the first Director of the Historical Division of the Ministry of External Affairs. It prepared in 1951, under his supervision, a comprehensive and objective paper entitled “Studies on the Northern Frontier” based on the archives. It discussed the history and circumstances in which different lines of the frontier were suggested. Just when Zachariah was retiring in 1953, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru decided to draw a new line unilaterally to show India’s new frontier in Kashmir. His memorandum of July 1, 1954, directed that “all our old maps” which differed with his line be examined and where necessary “withdrawn”. Senior officials, including one who became Foreign Secretary, were put on the job of getting them burnt. The new line was “not open to discussion with anybody”.

Zachariah was briefly succeeded by J.N. Khosla. S. Gopal served as Director from 1954 to 1966. He, along with Jagat S. Mehta, Joint Secretary, ardently supported the Nehru line, each trying to outbid the other in seeking the leader’s affection. The sport was continued with a different set of actors under Indira Gandhi and continues now under Narendra Modi.

Jammu and Kashmir became part of the British Empire in 1846. The British sought repeatedly and energetically to seek a boundary accord with China but were rebuffed. Two Boundary Commissions failed. Various lines emerged.

1. W.W. Johnson of the Survey of India drew a map in 1865 which reflected the aspirations of Kashmir’s rulers. He pushed the boundary to the north; the Kuen Lun line. It was ridiculed and discarded.

2. It was adopted, however, by General Sir John Ardagh, Director of Military Intelligence, in a memorandum on “The Northern Frontier of India from the Pamirs to Tibet” dated January 1, 1897. Written from a purely strategic viewpoint, it was shot down in India by all the officials concerned, culminating in the Viceroy’s letter to London dated December 23, 1897 (see A.G. Noorani India-China Boundary Problem, 1846-1947, Oxford University Press, pages 96-99 for the debate).

3. On March 14, 1899, Britain formally proposed to China a detailed line in a note presented by its Ambassador Sir Claude M. MacDonald. It left the Aksai Chin in China. The Indian Officials’ Report (1961) by S. Gopal and Jagat Mehta put a dishonest interpretation on it and was censured by scholars. It reflected India’s embarrassment. It could have solved the dispute in 1960.

The India Office said in 1924 “there is no officially recognised line”. The British were clear “any boundary line that we may draw can only be arbitrary, until it has the consent of the Chinese authorities”. That was in 1896 ( ibid., page 218). In 1954, Nehru acted unilaterally. India persists in this approach. Zachariah’s report, if published, would have exposed the silly game.

The citizen is entitled to a copy under the Right to Information Act. No defence secrets are involved. It is pure history.

A.G. Noorani

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