An Australian journalist, Neville Maxwell, created turbulence by targeting Nehru’s China policy and its impact on the India-China war in 1962. But most of the shocking revelations reported by the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat Report are already in the book Foundations of Misery in the chapter “Himalayan Blunder” published months back by Rajnikant Puranik. We are giving stunning facts about the war given by the author in his book as a series.
The maps of the Survey of India were showing the northern borders till 1954 like the British had been showing: Dashed/broken-line for the McMahon Line to indicate it was roughly defined but not yet demarcated, that is, marked on the ground consequent to a ground survey; and other portions of the northern borders as “Boundary Undefined”. Map annexed to a ‘White Paper on Indian States’ released in July 1948 by the Ministry of States under Sardar Patel also did not show these borders as clearly defined, unlike the McMahon Line. The controversial area in this part was Aksai Chin.
In 1958, an official Chinese magazine published maps showing parts of India within its territory. Taking note, Nehru wrote to Zhou in December 1958 objecting to the Chinese map and requested corrections as per the Indian map that he enclosed.
January 1959: In response to Nehru’s letter, Zhou (Chou) wrote advising Chinese position on the border issues: Sino-Indian border was never mutually agreed and delimited; Xinjiang-Tibet road passing through Aksai Chin was well within China’s territory; that although the McMahon Line was a product of British cartographic aggression and was illegal, not having been agreed to by China, yet China was willing to consider it with appropriate adjustments; ground survey and consultations with neighbouring countries was necessary for them to change their maps; and that they didn’t wish to change the maps on their own—perhaps casting aspersions on India’s unilateral changes.
August 1959: The fact of Xinjiang-Tibet road passing through Aksai Chin became public leading to an uproar in India. Although, the reports on the road were available to India since 1954, the government had kept it under wraps. There was a clash at Longju, claimed by both the countries as theirs, in NEFA—now Arunachal Pradesh—in which the Chinese pushed back a small contingent of Indian soldiers.
September 1959: Zhou responded to Nehru’s letter of March 1959 contesting his justifications on India’s border claims and accusing India of illegal occupation of certain Chinese territories and even intrusions beyond the McMahon Line, as in the case of Longju.
December 1959: China suggested maintenance of the status quo pending formal delimitation of the border and withdrawal of the armed forces of the two sides by 20km or so on either side, and stoppage of patrolling by the armed forces.
China for resolving its border disputes went to Yangon/Rangoon and settled its boundary with Myanmar/Burma roughly along the McMahon Line in April 1960.
Zhou Enlai, Marshal Chen Yi, Foreign Minister, and a big official Chinese delegation then visited Delhi to settle the border dispute. The Chinese position was the same as what Zhou had earlier conveyed in writing to India on several occasions. However, China was reportedly willing to accept the McMahon Line as the boundary in the east—with possibly some adjustments and a new name—like they had done with Myanmar/Burma provided, in return, India dropped its claims over Aksai Chin.
Unfortunately, adhering to his stated position, Nehru declined.
Finding the deadlock, Zhou then suggested steps similar to his letter of December 1959 to diffuse the situation till an amicable settlement was reached. Nothing came of these.
Chou had come with high hopes after having settled the borders with Burma, but left disappointed—he articulated Chinese position in a press-conference at Delhi before leaving and expressed his disappointment. Their delegation next went to Nepal and settled the borders with them too amicably. Reportedly, Zhou found Nehru’s adamant stand on Aksai Chin inexplicable and unexpected for several reasons: In Chinese opinion, India had no valid and legal ground to lay claim on it; it was of no strategic importance for India; it was barren and nothing grew there; and it did have importance for China on account of the connecting road.
Reportedly, General Thimayya had himself stated in 1959 that Aksai Chin was of no strategic significance for India, nor was it of any economic significance; and there had been doubts if the area belonged to India.
Rajnikant Puranik, (The writer is author of Foundations of Misery, Part 1, 1947-64)