There is much that is not commonly known about the shocking aspects of the 1962 India-China War, so shocking indeed that S Gopal, Nehru's official biographer, was constrained to comment: “Things went so wrong that had they not happened it would have been difficult to believe them.” The Henderson-Brooks report covered only the limited aspects their authors were tasked with. The book “Foundations of Misery” by Rajnikant Puranik in its chapter “Himalayan Misadventure” details all the aspects of that avoidable war. We are serialising that chapter.
What was the main motivation of Nehru in so fixing the borders?
Nehru and his colleagues thought they were very wise and clever: if they presented clear borders to China, as unilaterally determined by them, it would work as a fait accompli, and China would acquiesce to them; and in case China suggested some minor corrections, they might consider the same. Unfortunately for them, the new China under Mao-Zhou was too smart and too strong and ambitious and self-respecting to be brow-beaten by mere cartographic claims.
Nehru and group had also tried to claim that with the signing of the Panchsheel, which contained the clause of respecting each other’s territory, China had implicitly agreed to the borders that India had shown in its maps. But, there was a catch there. Panchsheel was signed in April 1954 when the Indian maps brought out after independence were in vogue—that showed the Ladakh and certain other boundaries as undefined—the new, revised maps having been brought out only after July 1954!
Why the Intransigence?
What would beat anyone is this: Even if India had fixed the borders unilaterally, why was Nehru so adamant on that position? Why couldn’t he have been reasonably flexible and negotiated it in a spirit of give and take? There might have been several reasons for it.
Reason One: If we remained firm, China would finally come round to accepting our position.
Reason Two: Once we physically occupy the positions as per our map, China would have no choice.
Reason Three: There may be minor skirmishes here and there, but China would not attack.
But, how reasonable were these assumptions?
If wishful thinking substitutes hard reality, and if one wishes to make convenient assumptions that would fit-in with one’s pipedream-like strategy, anything is possible.
Nehru, the historian and an international-affairs expert, should have known that with the ascendency of Peoples Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, which in the very next year annexed Tibet despite the global uproar, the power balance across the Himalayas had reversed—the powerful British to the south of the Himalayas were replaced the newly independent fledgling India, while the weak China to the north of the Himalayas was replaced by the ambitious and determined PRC. Further, when even a very weak China during its lean period in history refused to be bullied into acceptance of unilaterally-drawn borders by the then super-power Britain, why would a strong, determined China meekly accept unilaterally-fixed borders by a weak India!
Reason Four: Nehru felt he couldn’t go back on the maps, altered at his instance. It would mean retracting from repeatedly stated position and published maps, resulting in loss of face. So, a single, special individual could not lose face even if ultimately the country and crores of Indians lost face!
The original sin was changing the maps unilaterally in 1954. Once the new maps were published and made public, the government bound itself to those positions, undermining its own flexibility in border negotiations. Legally also, no territory could then have been ceded through negotiations by a government without going through the complex constitutional and legal process. Nehru would have undermined his own position if he had later stated that the borders were actually not well-defined in certain sectors, even though the new Indian maps published during his time showed them as clear and well-demarcated.
If I go back on our position, I may even have to give up power and resign—thought Nehru. That’s the problem with many self-proclaimed democrats. They do not wish to give up power. Nehru had ruled for long. Why keep sticking to one’s post. Give others a chance if you are a genuine democrat. But, no. Not only do you yourself wish to continue, you want to relinquish power only to your descendents. You couldn’t risk your power by stating the honest position publicly. Nation can take risks, but not the individual.
Incidentally, this is what Nehru himself admitted in the Parliament later, “I saw no reason to discuss the frontier with the Chinese Government because, foolishly if you like, I thought there was nothing to discuss.”
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