Till about the 1950s India did not really have any foreign policy experts. The one supposed expert was Jawaharlal Nehru, well-read, well-travelled and reportedly knowledgeable about world affairs. In VK Krishna Menon, who became his Defence Minister he had a fellow expert who had spent a life-time in Britain, was in close touch with British political leaders and on those grounds considered a man to be trusted in the formulation of policies concerning international relations. Their concepts were largely Anglo-centric. Nehru had travelled thro’ Europe and even visited Moscow. He was well aware of Nazism, Fascism and the evils of Imperialism and had great sympathy for China’s fight against western colonialism.
Even when the Civil War was still being waged in China, in a broadcast in 1946 Nehru spoke of “China, that mighty country with a mighty past, our neighbour (which) has been our friend through the ages whose friendship will endure and grow”. He was soon to learn that friendship with China is a chimera, a thing of Nehru’s fertile imagination. Time and again, after Mao came to power (and India was the second nation to extend diplomatic recognition to it) he consistently dismissed Nehru and his colleagues as “running dogs of imperialism”. China showed little respect either for Nehru or for India. Despite India’s efforts to please China and to plead its case—against the will of the US and its allies—for rightful permanent membership of the UN Security Council, China showed no gratitude.
When in 1945 India itself was offered Permanent Membership of the Security Council, it was Nehru who declined the honour, maintaining that China deserved it more. Friendship with China has invariably been a one-way street, An excellent study of Sino-Indian relations up to the mid-sixties is Sudhakar Bhat’s India and China published in 1967, reading which should relieve us of our delusions. If Shri MK Narayanan wants to know “why there is so much hype” in the Indian media over alleged Chinese military incursions into India territory, he should remember the resounding slap on India’s face in 1962 administered by Mao Tse-tung to teach India “a lesson”, while India was singing “India-China, bhai bahai”.
Since when India has sounded frightened of China as a child is of a menacing ghost. The Indian psyche has been deeply hurt and it will remain so for a long time. Never mind at what cost China grew to be a power. Never mind China’s disdain of India. The first Chinese attack against post-independence India was when its troops stormed the thinly manned Indian police outpost in NEFA in August 1957—exactly fifty years ago—and killed two Indian frontier policemen. To mention all these is not to promote enmity towards China. It is to face grim reality. One respects the Government of India’s desire not to sound provocative, but for that reason do we have to be supine towards Beijing all the time? And refuse to learn from history?
God alone knows how strongly India wants peace. India has never consciously gone to war against any nation in its long and turbulent past. It has respect for all people, all religions, all cultures. From Nehru onwards India has been respectful of China’s traditions and rich past. But it behoves the Government of India not to be seen as frightened and consequently attempting to stop all mention of hurt done to India. That reflects poorly on us. Two things must always be kept in mind: India wants peace not just to placate any country—including Pakistan—but for its own sake. India has to be politically alert. What one wants to know is whether Delhi is underplaying the Chinese threat. Is it true that President Pratibha Patil has dropped her plans to undertake an official visit to China? Is it true that at a closed door session, two senior RAW officials said Chinese incursions should not be overlooked as China had ‘bigger designs’? Word is being passed that our Air Force is a third of China’s. A war with China, in any eventuality is illogical, irrational and unrewarding.
According to The Times of India (September 17) China’s Foreign Ministry, in response to a questionnaire sent it by the paper has said that the relationship between China and India is stable and that “the mutual trust is growing”. The Ministry’s response reportedly goes on to say that the time is now actually favourable for resolving the border dispute once and for all. Beijing’s indication that it is inclined towards settling the decades old territorial row is welcome. But in Delhi there reportedly are two views on how to deal with China resulting in a high-level meeting of officials being postponed. On the one hand, Sino-Indian trade relations are increasing by leaps and bonds. On the other, doubts are being expressed about China’s intentions. It is not enough for China to say that mutual trust between it and India is growing and for India’s External Affairs Minister SM Krishna to declare that the country’s border with China is peaceful.
China must show with deeds and not merely with words that when it speaks of “mutual trust”, it means it. Sending troops to paint a few rocks in red along the Ladakh border sends wrong signals. When Indian Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor says that there have been several border violations by Chinese troops in the past few months, are we to ignore him? Can the Indian media be blamed if it interprets these events as a sign of Chinese hostility? If a couple of television channels have gone bonkers in recent times it only reflects the fears and sentiments of the average Indian. Shouldn’t the Government come clean on where it stands, clearly and unequivocally, instead of constantly blaming the media? The media, surely, would be most willing to help in the process of reconciliation, if that has been worked out between Delhi and Beijing.
What is intriguing is that, judging from media reports nobody really knows where India stands. There are many ways to push India into a corner and Sino-Pakistan relations in the matter of nuclear weapons and missiles are only too well known. Also known is the fact that China has been investing huge amounts of money in countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. How come we have estranged even Sri Lanka which is next door to us? When China attacked India in 1962, India felt betrayed, not just by China itself, but by its own leaders. VK Krishna Menon had to resign under ignominious circumstances and Nehru’s death was hastened. The Prime Minister never was the same again. After all the India-China bhai bhai euphoria, India came a cropper. The unspoken message that the Indian media is sending is that let not there be repetition of 1962. One slap on the face is enough. Another slap may not be taken lightly.
(The writer is former editor of Illustrated Weekly and a senior columnist.)