Nehru's China policy

Published : Jul 22, 2000 00:00 IST


Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Second Series, Volume 26; Edited by Ravinder Kumar and H. Y. Sharada Prasad; Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, Distributed by Oxford University Press; pages 650; Rs.500.

"INDIA today seems to be the victim of three traumas: Kashmir, the Aksai Chin, and poverty. To try to resolve the first two by vast military expenditure can only divert her funds and energies from the struggle against poverty... India is, in fact, faced with the alternatives of the Himalayas as one vast radar screen or the initiation of an active foreign policy to re-open talks with Pakistan and China. To settle for the present stalemate is to condone a military active frontier across Asia." When Doroth y Woodman wrote these concluding lines to her erudite work Himalayan Frontiers in 1969, she half-expected that India might follow the second option. Emotions ran high even in 1969. It was only when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi accepted a copy of h er book as a present from her, that Dorothy Woodman felt re-assured that it would not be banned. This, despite a pronounced empathy for India which she shared with her friend Kingsley Martin.

Thirty years later, chauvinism has acquired a saffron hue. In this clime, old China-baiters felt it was safe to crawl out of the woodwork. None other than the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, single-handedly damaged a growing friendship with China in 1998. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's famous letter to President Bill Clinton, citing China in justification of the nuclear tests that year, made matters worse.

The setback has been overcome as President K. R. Narayanan's visit to China demonstrates. Its considerable success is not diminished one bit by a reminder of the obvious, namely, differences persist in Sino-Indian relations, especially on the boundary di spute. The Vajpayee Government has not the foggiest notion of how to set about resolving them other than constant reiteration of familiar and false assertions. Addressing a public meeting at Karamsad in Gujarat, the birth place of Vallabhbhai Patel, on A pril 11, Vajpayee said, to quote a report by Manas Dasgupta in The Hindu (April 12, 2000): "Without naming China, he said besides Pakistan a third country was keeping a part of Jammu and Kashmir under its control and during talks to resolve the Kashmir tangle, the areas under Occupation of China in addition to the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir would also come under focus" (emphasis added).

This is shocking. The Prime Minister knew that the President was due to visit China shortly and that it had taken effort to overcome the effects of his own gaffe in 1998. He was referring not only to the Aksai Chin and other areas in Ladakh but also to t he ones which India has accused Pakistan of gifting to China. What message did his formulation - "during talks to resolve the Kashmir tangle, the areas under Occupation of Chinese in addition to the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir would also come under focus" - convey to China? Its factual premise is false and cannot be validated by constant repetition. Pakistan only wrote off claims on old obsolete British maps. It acquired from China 750 square miles of territory administered by China (vide the write r's Lessons for India. Sino-Pakistan boundary accord; Frontline; January 24 and 31, 1997).

This is the first time that a Prime Minister has said that this issue will be raised "during talks to resolve the Kashmir tangle." As it is, no progress has been made in even coming to grips with the substance of the boundary dispute with China in any of the three sectors or on defining the Line of Control (LoC) there. Why add one more sector now? Practising demagogy to please an audience at an obscure place is no way to approach so sensitive and vital an issue. One is reminded of Disraeli's comment on Gladstone on July 27, 1878: ''A sophisticated rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity." It is reassuring to know that Vajpayee does envisage "talks to resolve the Kashmir tangle." How does he propose to set about it and when?

Indians impatient at the impasse on the border dispute with China tend to overlook one important fact. The Chinese are close observers of the Indian scene. They know that: (1) India has not made up its mind on the concessions necessary to clinch a deal w hich must necessarily be a compromise and (2) that since the dispute erupted in 1959, no Indian Government has felt itself strong enough to be able to sell such a compromise to the people. Statesmen educate public opinion about the realities and courageo usly depart from policies which proved sterile and harmful. Politicians prefer safety and survival. The national interest matters little to them.

Jawaharlal Nehru was by any test one of the truly great men India has produced. One despises some even when one happens to agree with their stand on a particular issue. Nehru commands one's respect despite one's sadness at his grave mistakes. He left beh ind two terrible legacies, damnosa hereditas - the border dispute and Kashmir. The men who are stewards of the nation's affairs today are ill-equipped to resolve them and make disastrous educators of the nation. What do you make of a Defence Minis ter who revives a partisan book on the 1962 war, understandable perhaps in its time (1968), and touts it as a "masterpiece" which "should have been made compulsory reading in every high school and college in India - and in all the national languages"? Ge orge Fernandes added "the well-fostered myth that the danger to India's security comes from Pakistan has been exploded, and a new realism of India's threat perception has begun to take root in its place". This was written on December 17, 1998 in his Fore word to a Penguin edition of D. R. Mankekar's The Guilty Men of 1962. His target of course, was China.

The man's ignorance is appalling. "D. R. Mankekar was among those who were determined to find out why it all happened the way it did... a man whose competence with the pen is overshadowed only by his patriotic fervour..." It is a disservice to his memor y to attribute qualities he did not possess; for, the false attribution invites refutation that is not pleasant to make. To begin with, Mankekar was less than candid with the reader which is a grave offence. Acknowledgement of "discussions" with "offici als... and experts" without acknowledging official help by the Army in access to classified records is grossly misleading.

The profuse praise for the Chief of Army Staff, Gen. J. N. Chaudhary, apart, we learn of its genesis only from Neville Maxwell's Preface to his book India's China War. After mentioning his own access to files he wrote: "D. R. Mankekar, in his r esearch for a history of the post-independence Indian Army, was similarly given access to unpublished files and I am grateful to him for allowing me to quote from his original transcription of a crucial memorandum." It was quoted in paraphrase at p. 138 of the first edition of Mankekar's book (p. 137 of the Penguin) and pp. 73-74 of Maxwell's book in the Pelican edition (1972). Neither cited the date. We now have the full text of this document in the volume under review (pp. 481-484). It is a Note o n "Trade and Frontier with China" addressed to the Secretary-General of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Foreign Secretary. It is dated July 1, 1954.

Some dates bear recalling to provide the context. The India-China (Panchsheel) Agreement on Tibet was signed on April 29, 1954. On June 18, 1954 Nehru sent a Note on Tibet and China to the Secretary-General, the Foreign Secretary and Joint Secretary a pr ecursor to the crucial memo of July 1. He wrote: "No country can ultimately rely upon the permanent goodwill or bona fides of another country, even though they might be in close friendship with each other. It is conceivable that the Western Atlant ic alliance might not function as it was intended to and there might be ill-will between the countries concerned. It is not inconceivable that China and the Soviet Union may not continue to be as friendly as they are now. Certainly it is conceivable that our relations with China might worsen, although there is no immediate likelihood of that. Therefore, we have always to keep in mind the possibility of a change and not be taken unawares. Adequate precautions have to be taken. If we come to an agreement with China in regard to Tibet, that is not a permanent guarantee, but that itself is one major step to help us in the present and in the foreseeable future in various ways" (p. 477).

Nehru added: "Of course, both the Soviet Union and China are expansive. They are expansive for evils other than communism, although communism may be made a tool for the purpose. Chinese expansionism has been evident during various periods of Asian histor y for a thousand years or so. We are perhaps facing a new period of such expansionism. Let us consider that and fashion our policy to prevent it coming in the way of our interests or other interests that we consider important."

On July 1 came his 17-para memorandum in which he gave an important and explicit directive. Paras 7 to 10 read thus:

"7. All our old maps dealing with this frontier should be carefully examined and, where necessary, withdrawn. New maps should be printed showing our Northern and North Eastern frontier without any reference to any 'line'. These new maps should also no t state there is any undemarcated territory. The new maps should be sent to our Embassies abroad and should be introduced to the public generally and be used in our schools, colleges, etc.

"8. Both as flowing from our policy and as consequence of our Agreement with China, this frontier should be considered a firm and definite one which is not open to discussion with anybody. There may be very minor points of discussion. Even these s hould not be raised by us. It is necessary that the system of check-posts should be spread along this entire frontier. More especially, we should have check-posts in such places as might be considered disputed areas.

"9. Our frontier has been finalised not only by implication in this Agreement but the specific passes mentioned are direct recognitions of our frontier there. Check-posts are necessary not only to control traffic, prevent unauthorised infiltration but as symbols of India's frontier. As Demchok is considered by the Chinese as a disputed territory, we should locate a check-post there. So also at Tsang Chokla.

''10. In particular, we should have proper check-posts along the U.P.-Tibet border and on the passes etc. leading to Joshi Math, Badrinath, etc."

Para 8 shut the door to negotiations on the boundary - "not open to discussion with anybody". India unilaterally revised its official map. The legend "boundary undefined" in the Western (Kashmir) and middle sectors (Uttar Pradesh) in the official maps of 1948 and 1950 were dropped in the new map of 1954. A firm clear line was shown, instead. Accordingly, when in response to Nehru's demarche on the maps on December 14, 1958, Zhou En-lai squarely raised the border issue on January 23, 1959, Nehru's letter of March 22, 1959 cited a vague, irrelevant treaty of 1842 to assert that the boundary was a settled issue. (vide the writer's ''Negotiating with China''; Frontline; August 14 and 28, 1998).

Zhou's letter of January 23, 1959, it bears recalling, offered "to take a more or less realistic attitude towards the McMahon Line." He offered an overall settlement and was concerned with the boundary "particularly its western section." Steven A. Hoffma nn wrote in his book India and the China Crisis (OUP: 1990; p. 25) that "in 1953 a decision was made to reject the Macartney-MacDonald alternative and to regard the Aksai Chin as properly Indian. This decision was part of a larger policy-setting d ecision to publish official maps showing an unambiguous delimited boundary between India and China. Essentially those decisions were Nehru's. Officials advising him could have only limited influence. In 1953 the Director of the Historical Division, K. Za kariah (sic.) was in the process of retiring and being replaced by J. N. Khosla, who stayed only until 1954." His successor, Sarvepalli Gopal, served as Director from 1954 to 1966.

Sir Claude MacDonald, the British Minister in Beijing, delivered a Note to the Chinese Foreign Office on March 14, 1899 proposing a line "for the sake of avoiding any dispute or uncertainty in the future." It acknowledged that the boundaries of Hunza (in the Northern Areas under Pakistan's control) with China "have never been clearly defined" and suggested that, in that sector, both sides should relinquish their claims on each other. This is precisely what the Sino-Pak agreement of March 2, 1963 accompl ished. It followed broadly the line proposed in the Note. It proceeded to define the boundary eastwards from the Karakoram Pass down to "the eastern boundary of Ladakh... a little east of 800east longitude". Had Nehru accepted such a line in March 1959, instead of refusing to settle, only the Aksai Chin would have gone to China.

A lot would have been saved - territory, blood and bitterness. The McCartney in the oft-quoted hyphenated duo was George Macartney, the British representative in Kashgar, whose reports to London prodded furious thinking on the boundary.

Surely, if the boundary had been fixed in 1842, as Nehru claimed this exercise would not have been necessary. Beijing did not respond to the offer of 1899. London went on to regard the line as a boundary, reject it, revert to a more ambitious one of Janu ary 1, 1897 (the Ardagh Line) and try various modifications.The long and short of it was that the boundary was undefined. Calcutta had its own doubts about London's ventures.

On June 10, 1873, a cartographer at the India Office, Trelawney Saunders prepared for the foreign office a map which roughly followed the Karakoram range as the boundary - which every Viceroy favoured.

Nehru's Note of July 1, 1954 had the same effect as his secret Note to Sheikh Abdullah on August 25, 1952. There would be no negotiations with Pakistan on Kashmir (vide the writer's ''A Tale of two States''; Frontline; June 23, 2000) and with Chin a on the boundary. "As I have said above, we need not raise the question of our frontier. But, if we find that the Chinese maps continue to indicate that part of our territory is on their side, then we shall have to point this out to the Chinese Governme nt. We need not do this immediately, but we should not put up with this for long and the matter have to be taken up." This is what happened.

The volume contains records of five sessions of Nehru's talks with Zhou En-lai in New Delhi from June 25 to 27, 1954. (Nehru returned the visit when he went to China in October that year.) They discussed the situation in South-East Asia especially in Lao s, Cambodia and Vietnam, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Afghanistan, West Asia, Thailand and much else. But in that friendly atmosphere he did not raise the boundary issue. The July 1, 1954 document must be read in the context of the events preceding it.

Nehru was a very complex person. Instructions to officials for talks with China, which he approved on January 27, 1952, stated: "One of India's interests in negotiations with China on Tibet was the affirmation of the McMahon Line and the rest of the fron tier with Tibet." The Aksai Chin did not loom in his border consciousness then, significantly. On June 16, 1952, Nehru wired to India's Ambassador to China, K. M. Panikkar: "We think it is rather odd that in discussing Tibet with you (on June 14) Chou En -lai did not refer at all to our frontier. For our part, we attach more importance to this than to other matters. We are interested, as you know, not only in our direct Frontier but also in frontiers of Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim, and we have made i t perfectly clear in Parliament that these frontiers must remain. There is perhaps some advantage in our not ourselves raising this issue. On the other hand, I do not quite like Chou En-lai's silence about it when discussing even minor matters." Note the indecisiveness so characteristic of Nehru.

Panikkar persuaded (June 17) Nehru not to press the border issue. Nehru agreed on June 18: "In view of what you say, it will be desirable not to raise the question of our frontier at this stage."

Yet Nehru's doubts nagged him. In a Note to the Foreign Secretary (July 25, 1952) he wrote: "I appreciate the reasons which Panikkar advanced... But I am beginning to feel that our attempt at being clever might overreach itself. I think it is better to b e absolutely straight and frank." This was the advice which Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai had given him. He was the first secretary-general of the MEA (1947-52) and Governor of Bombay (1952-54). He had counselled making recognition of the boundary part of a g eneral settlement on November 21, 1951.

However on September 6, 1952 Nehru wrote to the Foreign Secretary and to Panikkar: "On reconsideration, I accept Shri Panikkar's advice that we should not make specific mention about the frontiers." Panikkar was in Delhi then on his transfer from China.

Ironically, Nehru had never had a good opinion of Panikkar. In breach of propriety, he had run down Panikkar in a talk with the American Ambassador Chester Bowles after dinner on November 6, 1951. The reader will forgive the cablese in Bowles' report to the U.S. State Department: "stated that his China views were very different from Panikkar's. He stated Panikkar usually succumbed to whatever situation he was in. In fight for Ind freedom Panikkar had represented some of most reactionary princes in Ind a nd pleaded their cases with apparent conviction. Had been sent to China not as leftist Amb to new Commie regime but as man whom Pri Min believed wld get along with Chiang Kai-Shek. When Commies took over, Panikkar's views, as in past, had changed abruptl y, and today tended dangerously idealise Chi scene. For this reason Panikkar was being sent Paris where he wld have opportunity talk with others and perhaps absorb some of our own fears of Sov expansionism. Pri Min jokingly stated that after 2 months in Paris Panikkar might change into ardent opponent of Commie viewpoint. Pri Min emphasised he did not accept Panikkar's present views about Chi nor was he in any way blind to potential dangers which might be developing in China" (Foreign Relations of th e United States; 1951; Vol VI, Part 2; page 2188).

In a Note of May 12, 1954, after the Panchsheel Agreement, Nehru said: "I agree that we should establish check-posts at all disputed points wherever they may be." Next came his Notes of June 18 and July 1, 1954 - and the new map.

Indeed as far back as on December 10, 1952, Nehru had instructed the Indian Ambassador to China, N. Raghavan: "Our attitude to the Chinese Government should always be a combination of friendliness and firmness. If we show weakness, advantage will be take n of this immediately. This applies to any development that might take place or in reference to our frontier problems between Tibet and Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Ladakh and rest of India. In regard to this entire frontier we have to maintain an attitude of firmness. Indeed there is nothing to discuss here and we have made that previously clear to the Chinese Government."

What it adds up to is this. Nehru approved instructions to Panikkar drawn up in late 1951, early 1952 by Bajpai and K.P.S. Menon; approved also their breach by Panikkar whom he did not respect; and when the consequences of this "attempt at being clever" emerged in 1959, he behaved as if the issue had been settled in 1954.

It is time that the myth about an "idealistic" Nehru with "romantic" notions about China being "deceived" by that country is abandoned. Nehru erred not on the score of appeasement but arrogant self-righteousness and inflexibility. This approach governed his policies in Kashmir and towards Pakistan as well.

In later years he regretted Sheikh Abdullah's dismissal from the Premiership of Kashmir on August 8, 1953 and his imprisonment for long years. Two Notes of July 31, 1953 to M.O. Mathai and the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) Director B.N. Mullick and other ma terial in an earlier Volume (24) leave no doubt that he had ordered it. But, he flatly denied the fact to the President (August 9), to Parliament (August 10), the Chief Ministers (August 22) and, worst of all, even to his daughter, Indira Gandhi ( August 9).

This Volume contains a record of Nehru's talks with the Sheikh's son, Farooq Abdullah, on August 17, 1954. Extracts from this fascinating document reveal a lot:

2. He spoke about his father and said that, if his father had committed any error, he should be told what this was so that he could remove any misunderstanding. Anyone can commit a mistake and it was possible that his father had done so. Possibly, there was misunderstanding. In any event, it is desirable that there should be a frank talk so as to remove any misunderstanding. He suggested that some responsible person might pay a visit to his father in prison and have a frank talk with him. Shri Rafi Ahme d Kidwai's name was suggested for this purpose. Farooq also suggested that Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed might be present then. He pointed out that this could be done without much fuss. Someone could visit Kashmir by road and stop on the way to see Shaikh Abdul lah.

3. He then said that Shaikh Abdullah naturally brooded over these past events, as a person in prison always looks back to the time of his arrest. This was the main occupation of his mind. He was unhappy that, after twenty years of friendship with him, I should have dropped him in this way. It was due to him that I should point out his errors, whatever they were, and discuss them with him.

4. It was absurd, he said, that anyone should think that Shaikh Abdullah was in favour of Kashmir going to Pakistan. Anyone knowing the present state of Pakistan could not possibly suggest this.

11. He told me that conditions in Kashmir were very bad although superficially they might not be seen. There was great bitterness. The reports of deaths owing to police action in August last year as put out by the Jammu and Kashmir State Government were completely wrong. He himself had seen at one place 30 persons being shot down. This was stated as three by me in Parliament here.

12. I spoke briefly to Farooq and told him that it had always been a matter of distress to me that Shaikh Sahib was imprisoned. Even so, my respect for him did not diminish. But, sometimes, circumstances were such that a person got entangled in them and it was not easy to extricate him. Kashmir was important enough in itself, but had become an international problem, and a false move might have far-reaching consequences. In present circumstances, the Government of India could either support the Jammu and Kashmir Government or not support it. We decided to support it for obvious reasons. We could advise them, of course, in any matter, but the responsibility and discretion rested with them about all such matters.

One wishes the editors had published it in full instead of the selected extracts. They confirm what was long suspected. The Sheikh's dismissal and imprisonment, besides being unconstitutional and immoral, was unnecessary as well. The disastrous consequen ces of this panic decision are still with us. But, of course, these Volumes are not only about problems such as these. They cover a host of issues and very many of Nehru's comments are of current relevance. We shall not see the like of him again. That is no reason for seeing him exactly as he was, warts and all.

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