For most Indians, while Pakistan has been about love and hate, China has been an enigma of sorts. They gorge on the Indianised versions of the Chinese foods; love buying cheap Chinese trinkets and gadgets and even watch dubbed versions of Chinese movies. However, China is much more than what meets the eye as is evident by Maroof Raza’s latest book, ‘Contested Lands’.
When it is about India’s neighbours like China and Pakistan, I always remember a joke I had heard a long time ago. Once, all the countries decided to visit God in his heaven to ask for favours for their respective lands. The Russians complained that their winters are so cold that they can hardly breathe while the Africans cry about the hot desert and scorching summers. Similarly, some countries complain about the excessive rains while others bemoan the kind of citizens they have. Suddenly one of them looks at India and says, “God, you have really been partial to India haven’t you? You have given it a varied climate, plenty of sun and rains, fertile lands and intelligent people!’ Hearing this, every body starts fighting with God. God smiles and says, “Quiet my children! It is true that I have given India everything. But then I have also given them very nice neighbours too.
So what is our equation with China? A majority of Indians survive on cheap Chinese goods (some don’t even know that they buy goods made in China). While the match between India and Pakistan elicits the nationalist sentiment, there is very little that creates that kind of passion in the mind of an Indian where China is concerned. Yes, there was some furore over TickTock and banning Chinese apps and more during the recent Doklam standoff, not much has been done for the issue.
Most of us are unable to even fathom the world politics around the relationship between India and China. Why does USA keep telling India that China is building up bases near the Indian border or why do we have skirmishes with China every now and then? These and many other questions made me read the recently released book ‘Contested Lands’ by Maroof Raza, a former Army officer and a well-known media commentator on global military and security issues. The book was an eye opener and so was the candid tet-e-tat with the author.
An old-time friend or foe
In your book you have stated that Nehru considered China an ‘old time friend’ and wanted to build friendly relations with India’s aggressive neighbour. Infact in the Panchsheel Treaty which was signed between India and China in 1954, India accepted Tibet as a part of China and gave up its extraterritorial rights over Tibet and legitimised the Chinese claims over Tibet when the entire non-communist world was condemning China’s occupation of Tibet. India also surrendered its three extraterritorial Indian Army outposts, stationed since 1904, under the treaty of Lhasa, when it agreed to withdraw its troops from Yatung, Gartok and Gyantse in Tibet. Moreover, India also offered China the India-run post and telegraph facilities in Tibet. The question is why wasn’t Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru not interested in liberating Tibet or siding with them?
From what I understand, firstly Panditji had a belief that being friendly to a new emerging country like China is a better way to establish new equations with China. He was happily oblivious of China’s historical animosity towards India. Please remember in the initial years when China came into being, Lord Mountbatten was the head of Indian state. So, China saw India as the extension of the British Raj and Britain was also talking in terms of India being centre of the commonwealth and the dominion status that they wanted to extend to India like they had Australia and Canada.
The second was Nehru in his idealism believed that if you are nice to a new country which is still finding its feet, it was a better way to go about building better future relationships and ensuring your security with your large neighbour. At that point in time, he had no idea about Mao’s ambition to take over Tibet. He felt that Tibet was a buffer enough. China and Nehru both were engaging with the Soviet Union. So, he thought that both India and China were in the same boat. It is typical of people who are western educated to become anti-west.
Nehru was running the policy for foreign relations. Gandhi ji was known for non-violence and Nehru wanted to be known for non-alignment. So, he thought his way was the right way. When you are so obsessed with your vision you don’t tend to look right or left. He went for a visit to China and came away from there with all sorts of false promises by the Chinese. Nehru was in a way like what our prime minister Narendra Modi is today. He was so powerful that no one could stand up to him including Sardar Patel. So, he must have told the latter, to handle the integration of the states and let him handle the foreign affairs. Mao Zedong (President of PRC (People’s Republic of China)) wanted to cut Nehru down to the size because his profile was becoming larger than life in the international arena. Today, Modi is also being seen by the Chinese in a similar light. Who knows what will happen in the future but I am just saying that there seemingly are similarities.
Tibet Stands Alone
You have also mentioned that “Eventually , El Salvador, not India moved the motion on Tibet, as most countries at the UN General Assembly looked to the US for direction on the Tibet issue. Washington, however asked the US delegation to take India’s directions on how to proceed against China, but India wasn’t keen to lead in this matter………. The Tibetan government found itself alone and friendless. It did not enjoy the status of a nation state as no country including India, had recognized it as such. Even Britain, which had a long history of engagement with China and Tibet and had tried to define the boundaries of Tibet and China at the Simla Conference, suggested that sufficient autonomy could be obtained with Chinese suzerainty not sovereignty.” Why was it that no country was ready to recognize Tibet as a free state?
In the 1950s no one saw China as a threat. When they did begin to see China as a threat, it was perhaps too late. Sardar Patel was dead by then. As far as US was concerned, at that time Britain was very powerful internationally and they didn’t see themselves as having done any wrongs even with the opium wars. The British were really setting the agenda at the UN even for the Americans British concocted this term called suzerainty which the Chinese dismissed but they kept hankering on it. So, suzerainty became a line that everyone in the west adopted. Also remember, when China began to occupy Tibet, the US was more occupied with the Korean war. British was concerned about the Suez crises. So, China was slowly occupying Tibet while everyone was busy elsewhere.
The book talks about the ‘Longju incident of 25 August 1959, which marked the first armed encounter between Indian and Chinese forces. It says that Longju was an Indian border post, directly located along the McMahon Line, when it was attacked by Chinese border troops forcing Indian troops to withdraw. Yet, Indian troops from Assam Rifles continued to patrol the location until the Sino-Indian war in 1962. Today it is controlled by China, but claimed by India.
“The IAF had carried out several air reconnaissance missions in that area from 1960 onwards….Even two years later, the detailed aur photography of that region- from Gilgit via the Karakpram range and westwards had been conducted not once but several times by Wing Commander ‘Jaggi’ Jag Mohan Nath, MVC. Since 1960, Jaggi Nath had filmed and reported the presence of Chinese soldiers in Aksai Chin”
It is evident that China was slowly and steadily increasing its step into India. But what was the cause of this build up which resulted in the war of 1962?
From what I can understand, China was getting quite insecure as India was becoming too close to finding their nuclear facility which was quite evident from the reconnaissance flight by Wing Commander Jaggi Nath. And if India would have known, US would have also known because people in Nehru’s office were passing on all the classified information to the Americans. Had Americans come to know about it, they would have gone with hammer and tongs to knock off that facility like Israel did with Iraq. Where Israel was in 82, America was in 52. Mao wanted to make China the world’s most respected country and he used to often say that power comes from the barrel of a gun.
Despite all these reconnaissance missions, why was it that India was caught unawares by the Chinese?
This was because Mao had planned the 62 operations in a way that he would hit India when the world was preoccupied. So, he had planned it in that one-month time where everyone was involved in the Cuban crises because this was a situation which could have resulted in a nuclear war between Russia and America. Mao attacked in 62, because after the debacle of the cultural revolution, which killed 45 million people, he wanted to give China something to be proud of and hence he attacked India. Also, he was encouraged by Russia to attack India as that time Russia was on China’s side. Nikita Khrushchev gave the go ahead to Mao and told him that now was the time to attack India. Mao was not a good leader except for his India policy. He killed 45 million people in his great experiment of the cultural revolution. I am not saying it, the historians have recorded it. He had no value for human life or anything except to make a point.
Some people feel that Nehru was too busy in his own affairs and liaisons with women to worry about India and China or other such issues.
That’s utter nonsense! He may have had affairs, so what? Find me a global leader who didn’t have affairs. Mao’s own doctor at that time gave a statement and said that Mao lived a vulgar life and every other day he had a new Chinese woman. That didn’t distract him from his agenda. Kennedy also had his own share of affairs. Most leaders have been like that. That is not the reason why Nehru didn’t see the writing on the wall.
To be continued…
This article was published in Rashtradoot Newspaper’s Arbit Section on Jan 5, 2022