Isn’t it time India forgot the humiliation it suffered at the hands of China in 1962 in a short but startling war? The blame lies as much on India as on China. The first point to remember is that our leaders had little knowledge and less understanding of China and the psychology of its leaders. India just had no experts in international affairs in mid-20th century.We were an ignorant nation.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru literally was considered the ‘only’ expert in the field though, till around 1950, the United States, much less China were not on our global radar. Indian academicians were blinkered. Their knowledge, such as it was, was confined to Britain as the Imperial Power and to a lesser extent to the Commonwealth. The rest of the world hardly existed. India’s attitude towards China was fractured. On the one hand it was respectful. It maybe remembered when, at the organisation meeting of the United Nations held in San Fransisco in 1945, India was offered Permanent Membership of the Security Council, it was politely turned down with the suggestion that China deserved the honour better. It was the first stupid thing the Nehruvian leadership did. India paid for it in subsequent years. At the same time Nehru seemed to be besotten with China as the land to which Asoka sent a batch of monks to propagate the Buddhist faith. But, by and large, Nehru’s attitude towards China seemed to many to be patronising. He had little inside knowledge of China which, in the forties, was in a state of civil war. Worse, his closest adviser on international affairs was VK Krishna Menon, a more arrogant and self-centred individual it would have been hard to find in the fifties. Both considered themselves know-alls.
India had become free in 1947. China had finally got over from its civil war with the Communist regime finally established in 1950. Nehru must have thought that India was in the lead and could teach China a thing or two. In the Indian political mind, China could only be a junior partner. Thus, when in April 1955 the first Afro-Asian Conference was held in Bandung, lndonesia, Nehru was noticed patronisingly introducing the Chinese Foreign Minister Zhou En-lai to other Afro-Asian leaders, something, one came to learn of later, Chou resented. Nehru, no doubt, meant well, but it is apparently, failed to understand Chinese sensibilities. Within India itself, leading political stalwarts, notably Congressmen were in the process of evolving a sound approach towards strengthening national security and the role of the Army in it. The Gandhian non-violence hangover had affected some leaders and the Army suffered to some extent because of it. What was worse, Krishna Menon made a poor Defence Minister and hurt the morale of top officials. Favouritism was running rampant in the Army and few dared question it.
Worse, as Brigadier RS Chikhara stated in Deccan Herald (October 22), while General Thimayya, Army Chief was in favour of extablishing a new defence posture vis-à-vis China, Krishna Menon, supported by BN Mullick was decreeing that attraction should be focused mostly on Pakistan. The Army was starved of weapons, equipment, training and clothing. Menon was a disaster. There was no unified thinking in the highest policy-making centre.
According to Wajahat Habibullah, former Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), Delhi even gave maps to China “with serious contradictions on the lay-out of the MacMohan Line” leading Chinese officials to believe that the land occupied by Indian forces was actually Chinese by right. China offered cease-fire and peace talks, albeit from position of strength, according to Brigadier Chikhara, offering mutual withdrawal to positions 20 kms either side of the claim line, giving India an opportunity to bide time and recoup, but Nehru refused to negotiate; His response was even more foolish. Poorly informed, he said: “I have asked the Army to throw the Chinese out.” It is to the credit of the Chinese that they had given as much as three months’ warning to India of an impending military action which India ignored. A meeting had been arranged between Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Hanfu and a former Indian Ambassador to China, BK Nehru in Geneva in July 20, 1962 and between Chinese Foreign Minister Chen Yi and India’s Defence Minister Krishna Menon about the same time. Both the meetings turned out to be inconclusive. War had become inevitable.
Mao Tse-Tung has been quoted as saying that India must be “taught a lesson”. Our leaders failed on three counts: One, understanding Chinese psyche, two, exhibiting innocence of Chinese military capabilities and three, lacking talent in negotiating. To that one may add arrogance at the topmost level. Unfortunately, if India has not understood the Chinese psyche, neither, it seems, has China understood India’s. The time has come for both to understand each other better. As matters stand, major border and territorial disputes remain to be solved. Beijing still claims Arunachal Pradesh to be part of its territory. There has been a row between Delhi and Beijing over oil exploration in the South China Sea. China continues to be unhappy with New Delhi’s asylum to the Dalai Lama and for long it has been supporting the Pakistan Army with arms, equipment and nuclear technology. When will all this stop?
Interestingly signals it would seem, are being sent by Beijing, if The Global Times, published under the auspices of The Peoples Daily of China (October 24) are to be believed, for improved Sino-Indian understanding. According to reports, the paper carried a glowing tribute suffused with uncharacteristic sentimentality to the “profound culture and diplomatic wisdom” of both countries, going to the extent of recalling Rabindranath Tagore’s description of China as a “brother country”.
According to The Global Times, as reported, India and China “should become inseparable strategic partners”, that China is indebted “to India’s sages who brought the country’s ancient culture to China”, that Buddhism has “contributed greatly to China’s unification” and saved it from collapse, that the border issues are only a small part of Sino-Indian relations and that the anniversary of the 1962 China-India conflict should become a starting point for an enduring relationship of cooperation and amity between the two countries.
Does The Global Times fully reflect official Chinese views? Yes, say some experts. What Sino-Indian relations suffer from most is a trust deficit. How can this be overcome? The media only recently quoted China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei as saying that “China is ready to work with India in the spirit of looking forward” calling upon both countries to “boost trust, enhance communication, expand cooperation and deepen the China-India strategic cooperative partnership for the benefit of both the countries and both peoples.” Are they just words, words, words? Shouldn’t we make an effort at least to try whether China truly means them? On to you, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.