Print edition : July 13, 2012

R.K. Nehru demolished the myths of China's betrayal and Jawaharlal Nehru's romanticism, and his contribution needs to be acknowledged.

We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality.

- Thomas Macaulay

Thanks to most of our retired armymen, a large number of journalists and, most of all, loud, aggressive television anchors vying with one another for television rating points (TRPs), the Indian public has been induced into an almost perpetual state of heightened chauvinism. The instigators would put Nicholai Chauvin to shame. This is not a matter to be ignored for they could not have gone as far as they have unless they were fed by high officials, civil or military, perhaps both. A senior anchor of a leading channel could not have gone near the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh without official help. He proudly boasted, Behind me lies the McMahon Line. That is a measure of the crass ignorance of very many TV anchors. In the print media, journalists have to go through a grind before they are given a column. The poor man did not know a very basic fact the McMahon Line is our border in the north-eastern region. It does not extend even to the middle sector, let alone the western sector.

Not that journalists in the print media are not willing to jump on the bandwagon. In May, two journalists of a reputed daily cited precise figures of China's transgressions allegedly more than 500 since 2010, giving exact figures for each year. Whoever gave that to them? You can guess. Recently, one daily picked up the 1987 incident in the north-eastern region and played it up. On April 1, 2010, China's Ambassador, Zhang Yan, pleaded politely for an end to the war of words.

Altogether, we have a repeat of the anti-China phobia that contributed to the constriction of Jawaharlal Nehru's political capacity to settle the boundary dispute. But with one major difference. He himself made no small a contribution with his speeches. His White Papers undermined the diplomatic process. Having fed the public on a load of untruths, he began using the boundary question for political mobilisation to thwart the opposition parties, which sensed an opportunity to oust him from power, with the help, doubtless, of his critics within the Congress.

One hopes The Hindu will continue its very useful column This Day That Age and not emulate those contemporaries who revel in dumbing down. One entry of July 21, 1961, published 50 years later, last year, revived sad memories, not least of this writer's error in accepting official accounts of encounters and statements on the boundary dispute. Along with the vast majority, I attacked R.K. Nehru's mission to China as a gesture of appeasement in my column in Indian Express and in my first book, Our Credulity and Negligence. It took long to correct the mistake, thanks to protracted visits to the National Archives, as I have explained in my book India-China Boundary Problem (1842-1947). What emerged from the R.K. Nehru Papers in the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library in New Delhi is a portrait of intellectual integrity, courage and foresight. The writer is deeply indebted to the NMML.

A lone soldier on guard along Pangong Tso, Asia's largest brackish water lake. The Line of Actual Control passes through it. A section of the lake east of the LAC is controlled by China but claimed by India.-LUV PURI

Ratan Kumar Nehru's contribution deserves to be acknowledged fully now, however belatedly, especially since what he said and wrote is so strikingly relevant today. He demolished the myths of China's betrayal, of Jawaharlal Nehru's romanticism and others to which very many ardently cling today, partly out of ignorance, partly to score points in partisan politics, and partly because chauvinism holds them in its grip and they enjoy its embrace.

R.K. Nehru belonged to the Indian Civil Services. He was one of India's most successful ambassadors to China and enjoyed easy access to Prime Minister Zhou En-lai and others from 1955 to 1958. He served as Secretary-General of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) from 1960 to 1963.

The entry, mentioned earlier, which was published in The Hindu on July 21, 2011, for the event 50 years earlier, read thus: Mr R.K. Nehru, Secretary-General of the Indian External Affairs Ministry, said in New Delhi on July 20 that during his recent talks with the Chinese Premier, Mr Zhou En-lai, border disputes between India and China were discussed. The Secretary-General said the Chinese leaders expressed a desire for establishing friendly relations with India. He added that during his talks in Peking [now Beijing] and Shanghai, the entire India-China relations came up for review. He also had general talks with the Chairman of the Chinese Republic, Mr Liu Shao-Chi.

He arrived in Beijing on July 13 via Ulan Bator where he had gone to attend the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Mongolian Communist Party. He was received by the head of State Liu Shao-Chi the very next day. Earlier, on June 30, Prime Minister Nehru had said that R.K. Nehru had no instructions to negotiate, which was right. But, to allay disquiet, he said may be meeting people. It fooled nobody. The border dispute erupted into the open in 1959. In April 1960 Zhou En-lai came to New Delhi to settle it and presented pre-eminently fair proposals. They provided, in effect, for recognition of the McMahon Line and the status quo in the Aksai Chin in Ladakh (see the writer's article Maps and Borders, Frontline, October 24, 2008). He was rebuffed.

The only result was a decision to ask the officials to examine the data historical, administrative, the maps, and so on. The Chinese Report was almost perfunctory. The Indian Report was a disgrace. Its main authors were Jagat Mehta and S. Gopal. It wilfully misrepresented the British offer made in a Note of March 14, 1899, presented to China by the ambassador Sir Claude M. MacDonald, and this was noted by scholars abroad. The note suggested a line in the west which was a fair compromise, leaving most of Aksai Chin to China. Incidentally, the Sino-Pakistan boundary agreement of March 2, 1963, follows this line. According to official Indian maps, until they were revised by Nehru in 1954, the entire boundary in the western and middle sectors was undefined (see the maps; they were published in the two White Papers on Indian States and reproduced in Maps and Borders). Precisely for this reason, no scholar of repute outside India accepts its claim that Pakistan ceded the Shaksgam Valley to China. On the contrary it received 750 square miles from China across the watershed in the Hunza region. This was envisaged by Lord Curzon, the Viceroy, in 1905 as an amendment to the Note of 1899. It is unthinkable that Nehru, S. Gopal and Jagat Mehta were ignorant of this well-known record.

As ever, Nehru's attitude was ambivalent. He wanted to settle. He did not want to compromise. R.K. Nehru was sent to sound out China's leaders and he accomplished the task most ably, as this writer found in the interviews he conducted.

Kashmir as it was shown on the official map as on August 15, 1947. The yellow colour wash is not extended to the entire State.-THE HINDU ARCHIVES

He met Zhou En-lai as well as the Vice Premier and Foreign Minister in Shanghai on July 16, for six long hours. Ambassador G. Parthasarathi's presence could not have been of much help. On his return, R.K. Nehru reported to the Prime Minister on July 21.

Interviews with people in the know elicited some details. Zhou En-lai pointed out that China could not recognise the McMahon Line per se. His proposal envisaged its acceptance as part of a package. He complained that Nehru had never spoken of the Aksai Chin earlier and did so only in 1959 and 1960. The six points he had offered Nehru were a good basis. A solution must not be one-sided. There is a historical dispute on the McMahon Line, but despite it we are ready to discuss it and are not making it a precondition. After the Officials' Report India had been insisting that China accept its demands, Zhou En-lai complained to R.K. Nehru. We have refrained from criticising India publicly. We do not want to increase [ sic] the controversy. He went through the stages of China's occupation in the entire western sector from the western extremity, in the Afghan tri-junction, eastwards. China had ceded territory in that area. Why cannot India do likewise in Aksai Chin?

Three documents provide a fuller picture of R.K. Nehru's views on the boundary dispute. They were at complete variance with the views of Prime Minister Nehru. (1) An undated paper India & China: Policy Alternatives. (2) A paper entitled Our China Policy: A Personal Assessment dated July 30, 1968. (3) The transcript of his interview on July 1, 1971, by B.R. Nanda, Director, NMML, in its Oral History Programme.

His analysis was rigorous and his reasoning clear and cogent. A policy implies a planned course of action. Although complete success cannot always be assured as there are too many imponderables in the situation, even partial success generally depends on a correct and realistic assessment for the nation's internal and external environment, timely adjustment to changing realities and effective execution of the policy. If execution is bad, a good policy may fail, but no amount of good execution can make a bad policy good. Therefore, it is necessary to consider first how policy was made in India.

Nehru was resolved to maintain peace. The policy evolved on the basis of this assessment had two aspects: first, restricting the area of tension by rejecting alignment with either bloc, while maintaining friendly relations with both, offering India's good offices for the settlement of dangerous disputes and seeking cooperation for peaceful development; and secondly, enlarging the area of peace by supporting the demand for the ending of colonialism, emphasising the need for the satisfaction of legitimate national grievances and encouraging cooperation among the less-developed and newly independent nations, most of which were facing the same internal problem.

Some additional precaution was, however, needed after the Chinese occupation of Tibet. As India could not afford to have a hostile neighbour on two fronts, peaceful, or friendly, relations with China became a fundamental interest of India.

Why did policy fail?

R.K. Nehru squarely posed the vital question and proceeded to answer it. Why then, it will be asked, did the policy fail? If the formulation was not unsound, was the execution of policy defective? This is not an easy question to answer as many internal and other factors which may have influenced the Chinese policymakers are not known. All that is known is that for many years there have been deep divisions in the Chinese leadership over both internal and external questions. It is possible, but not certain, that if the group which we would be inclined to regard as more moderate had gained the upper hand, the course of events might have been different.

Kashmir as it was shown on the map in 1950, with the colour wash. The maps were published under the authority of India's Surveyor General, Brigadier G.F. Heaney.-THE HINDU ARCHIVES

In the handling of this question, mistakes were made by both sides. The Indian official view was that an agreement on Tibet should be linked with a border settlement. The view of the officials was, however, not accepted and it was decided that the Chinese should be asked to change their maps, while steps were being taken to make Indian possession effective. This policy failed for a variety of reasons, while the Chinese were building a road in Aksai Chin which was shown in our maps as Indian territory. However, until 1960, we ourselves were not sure that the territory belonged to us and we were thinking in terms of giving up our claims as part of a satisfactory settlement. It is a pity, therefore, that an attempt to reach a settlement was not made earlier. It cannot be said that the Chinese were not anxious to reach a settlement. Several constructive moves were made, but due partly to their continued incursions and other claims which had obviously been made for bargaining purpose and partly to the pressure of public opinion in India, Nehru found it impossible to initiate negotiations. Step by step, the situation deteriorated to the point of large-scale hostilities.

Indian opinion was also divided. Coming to the immediate situation, he wrote: There has been a nationwide demand for a review of our China policy. Three schools of thought have emerged in the course of the debate. According to one, we should lock the door against China by breaking off relations, recognising Taiwan, repudiating our acceptance of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet and seeking American military assistance against China. Another school has suggested that we should not merely open the door, but seek negotiations with China. A third school, representing government's policy, would keep the door open without taking any further steps to normalise relations.

He recalled that during his visit in 1961, Zhou En-lai suggested the return of the Ambassadors to their respective posts. The undated paper ended with this comment: We should give up the idea that some trend towards greater flexibility is either detrimental to our national interest or inconsistent with our national indignity [ sic; dignity?] (emphasis added throughout).

There was a fuller exposition in the paper of 1968 containing his personal assessment. It was written in the wake of the Soviet decision early that year to supply arms to Pakistan. In 1953, our experts had advised us that our claim to Aksai Chin was not too strong. This opinion was reversed in 1960 after a more thorough study, but I have no doubt that if border negotiations had taken place in 1953, some settlement might have been reached on the basis of Chinese acceptance of our border, subject to some adjustment in Aksai Chin and one or two other places. Nehru was agreeable to such adjustments being made as part of a satisfactory overall settlement.

The map showing India's northern frontier as in 1950 when the Constitution came into force.-THE HINDU ARCHIVES

In all of Nehru's earlier statements about the border, the emphasis was mainly on NEFA [North-East Frontier Agency]. To the best of my knowledge, nothing was said about Aksai Chin where the Chinese at that time seemed to be building a road. Could this not have created the impression that we were less interested in, or were doubtful about our claim to, Aksai Chin, and would be prepared to trade it for the abandonment of other Chinese claims? Why did the Chinese make an announcement of the building of a military road? This is not their normal practice and it is hard to believe that in 1957 they thought the time ripe for precipitating a crisis. Was it to test our reactions, or because of their conviction that they were not violating our territory? In 1958, when we lodged our protest and subsequently when the aggression was denounced in Parliament, we were still not sure about our rights in Aksai Chin. In fact, the experts were doubtful whether a protest should be lodged at all. Nehru's decision, however, was that as our maps showed Aksai Chin as our territory, a protest should be lodged.

There is a factual error. S. Gopal told Neville Maxwell that in November 1959 he told Nehru, after a research trip to London, that India's claim to the Aksai Chin was stronger than China's. ( India's China War, page 118). Maxwell added: Gopal's role emerged in conversations with the writer at the time and subsequently cited with permission ( ibid; footnote 121, page 519). That explains why having admitted in August-September 1959 that the Aksai Chin was disputed territory, Nehru did a volte face and asserted India's sovereignty over it. Gopal made the same claim to Steven A. Hoffman ( India and the China Crisis, page 83). The MEA's Historical Division's Report in fact was written in 1951 by its Director K. Zachariah, who retired that year. It is entitled Studies on the Northern Frontier. It should be published, if need be by invoking the RTI Act. Gopal became Director in 1954 and stayed on until 1966. Suffice it only to say that not one, but not one independent scholar of eminence supports Gopal's conclusion. The MEA as well as the Army HQs were as sceptical as B.N. Mullik recorded ( The Chinese Betrayal; pages 205, 243 and 244). R.K. Nehru regretted the Prime Minister's brusque rejection of China's Note of May 16, 1959, which spoke of the undesirability of either side facing two fronts. Here follows an account of crucial import.

On collision course

My own view which I placed before our Prime Minister early in 1961, soon after I returned from Cairo, was that we were drifting towards a collision with China for which we did not seem to have made adequate preparations, that it was in our interest to prevent a junction of forces against us between China and Pakistan and that the view which seemed to be prevalent in our Ministry, that a negative attitude towards China would bring to us the full support of the USA and the Soviet Union, because of their own differences with China, seemed to me overoptimistic. My suggestion was that we should have quiet talks with the Chinese leaders at the diplomatic level with a view to finding some way of solving the problem, or at least dealing with the reports of the experts which had been put in cold storage by the Chinese, while on our side, they had been debated in Parliament and the Chinese had been denounced as expansionists and aggressors.

Prime Minister Zhou En-lai of China at the National Physical Laboratory in New Delhi, on November 29, 1956. Second from left is R.K. Nehru. He was one of India's most successful ambassadors to China and enjoyed easy access to Zhou En-lai and others from 1955 to 1958.-THE HINDU ARCHIVES

I was authorised to visit China in July 1961. Contrary to the general belief that the talks were infructuous', this is how they were described by the Prime Minister in Parliament I think the visit was of some value. Obviously, no one could have brought back a Chinese surrender on a silver platter! The Chinese leaders, however, showed a keen desire for a reduction of the growing tension. Their suggestion was that quiet talks at a diplomatic level which I had initiated should be continued either on the basis of the reports, or on the basis of new proposals. Chou En-lai was anxious that we should appoint an Ambassador for this purpose. Among the proposals tentatively put forward by the Chinese were that on the basis of recent administrative control', they should accept our sovereignty over Southern Ladakh', over NEFA, subject to some adjustments, and that, on the same basis, we should accept their claim to the northern areas, i.e., Aksai Chin and Lingzitang. After considerable discussion, they said that they would be prepared to recognise our treaty rights' in Bhutan and Sikkim and they conveyed the impression to me that as part of an overall settlement, they would recognise our sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir also. Their main concern was that quiet talks should be continued, that the exchange of acrimonious notes should be reduced and that further military movements on both sides should be stopped until this question was settled.

While the Chinese may have had motives of their own making these proposals, I thought that it was in our interest to explore the possibilities further, both in order to gain time while we were building our strength and in order to prevent China from drawing closer to Pakistan. The Chinese had said that Pakistan was making some moves in this direction, but they attached greater importance to a settlement with India. There must have been hawks as well as doves in the Chinese leadership at that time, but it seemed to me that the old state policy' of avoiding an enemy on two fronts had not been abandoned. The pressure of public opinion was so great that the Prime Minister not only rejected these talks as infructuous,' but decided on a forward policy for which we are militarily unprepared.

We had a clear enough warning that the forward policy would lead to armed conflict. Many notes were sent to us by the Chinese on this subject. Chang Han-fu also spoke to me about this when I met him in Geneva in July 1962. My suggestion to the Prime Minister was that unless we were prepared for a serious military encounter with the Chinese, it would be better to initiate talks, as proposed by the Chinese in 1961, if only to gain time. It was not too late for such a move even in July 1962, but the mounting demand in Parliament for strong action, fed by China's aggressive language and activities, came in the way of any new initiative.

After the 1962 war, China could have continued to occupy Tawang, but it did not. She has confined her occupation to an area in which her strategic and political interests are greater than ours the Aksai Chin.

Reconsider facts

In a section marked confidential in the 1968 paper, R.K. Nehru concluded: We must reconsider the facts in regard to our relations with China. There is a good deal of misunderstanding in regard to the facts. China did not give us an assurance that she had accepted our border. We ourselves were not clear about the border in the western sector until 1960 although we were accusing the Chinese of aggression'. The Chinese showed genuine anxiety to have negotiations with us. It was we who refused to hold negotiations on an acceptable basis. Withdrawal from Aksai Chin as a preliminary step could obviously not have been accepted by them unless we were prepared to take some similar step in NEFA.

Our forward policy, unsupported by adequate preparations, inevitably provoked a reaction. The attack of 1962 was an overreaction. However, the Chinese were prepared until 1965 to discuss the Colombo proposals with us. We insisted on the prior acceptance of the proposals.

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