Annexation of Tibet by China in 1950
Continued from “The Presidential Election of Congress in 1946”
The Chinese official New China News Agency announced on 25 October 1950 that “The Chinese Army had been ordered to advance into Tibet to liberate the people of Tibet; to complete the unification of China; to prevent Imperialism from invading an inch of the territory of the Fatherland, and to safeguard and build up the frontier regions of the country”. Till such time, Tibet was a peaceful independent country with no trace of imperialism. By the time this cryptic announcement was made to the world, the poorly-armed Tibetan Plateau was already overrun and the small Tibetan force surrendered before the People Liberation Army (PLA) by 19 October 1950.
The Chinese Communist government led by Mao Zedong came in power in October 1949 in China after a bloody civil war of over three years that forced the badly bruised and defeated Chinese Nationalist Government (ROC) to retreat from the Chinese mainland to the present day Taiwan. The communist supremo Mao Zedong with the formation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) had simultaneously opened his mind that the mission was incomplete without the integration of Tibet asserting Chinese sovereignty over the land. Before the official declaration, China had already despatched some 40,000 battled-hardened People PLA troops into the eastern Tibet on 7 October 1950 to accomplish the task.
Although Tibet was poor and isolated but the people considered themselves as independent despite the Chinese claims of suzerainty and/or sovereignty over them from time to time. When the Communist Army entered Tibet, China was already engaged in the Korean War and India never expected such a Chinese adventure in Tibet under these circumstances. Tibet appealed for help but India under the premiership of Jawaharlal Nehru was shaky and unwilling; instead India advised the Tibetans to negotiate a peaceful settlement with China. In fact, the Indian Prime Minister (Nehru) was a sinophile with unshakable faith and admiration for the Chinese culture and leadership, particularly Mao Zedong who could easily be described as history's greatest mass murderer. According to 'The Black Book of Communism' by Stephane Courtois et al, an estimated 65 million people were killed in Mao's persuit of establishing communist rule in China.
Tibet had historically and traditionally played a buffer between the China and India. Even the British were sensitive about this fact for the British India’s strategic defence during their time. The sudden removal of this buffer was bound to bring geo-political change in the region and presence of the PLA on the other side of such a long, largely undefined and undemarcated border was bound to be a cause of concern for the Indian government and army as well. But India remained in a quandary and negligent mode in handling the situation
A Brief Tibetan History
Lying between China and India, the extensive yet relatively low mountain ranges to the east of the Tibetan Plateau mark the border with China, and the towering Himalayas towards Nepal and India form the west border and barrier between Tibet and India. Tibet is often nicknamed as "the roof of the world". Tibetans have been a martial race yet a peaceful civilization after the population largely endorsed Mahayana Buddhism despite a history of Mongols and Chinese invasions along with the claims of suzerainty and/or sovereignty over this vulnerable land in the last millennium. During the last four hundred years or so, Tibet had largely exercised autonomy and independence under the Buddhist Dalai Lamas or their regents. However, their autonomy and independence was disputed both by the earlier Chinese Nationalist Government and later by the Communist People's Republic of China in the twentieth century.
At the beginning of the 20th century, both the British and Russian Empires were competing for supremacy in the Central Asia. Unable to establish diplomatic contacts with the Tibetan government and worried about the Russian influence, the British Indian government sent a military expedition led by Colonel Francis Younghusband to Lhasa (Tibet’s Capital) in 1903-04 to force a trading agreement and to prevent Tibetans from establishing a relationship with the Russians. Younghusband’s expedition against the weak empire was successful and the Dalai Lama was made to sign an agreement known as the Anglo-Tibetan Treaty of 1904 granting Britain certain trading rights and a guarantee against concession to other foreign powers.
The British had simultaneously positioned a small garrison in Lhasa exercising a direct influence over the foreign policy of Tibet. This arrangement also assured that Tibet acted as a sort of buffer zone to protect the northern borders of the British India. This treaty was further ratified by the Anglo-Chinese Treaty of 1906. Lord Curzon urged the British government in England to secure de-jure international recognition of Tibet as a sovereign state but the latter didn’t find any harm in the pravailing concept of nominal Chinese suzerainty over Tibet and the status quo prevailed. Britain was then at the peak of its power and China was considered a weak country. Tibet was independent for long and the said suzerainty of China over Tibet remained nebulous and nominal.
Notwithstanding these treaties, the Chinese Manchu Imperial Government invaded Tibet in 1910 to assert greater control on Tibet forcing Dalai Lama to flee to India. However, the Manchu dynasty was soon overthrown in a revolution in 1911, Dalai Lama returned to Tibet in 1912, regained his power in Lhasa in the changed situation and the Chinese garrisons were driven out. There was yet another attempt by the Chinese to capture Tibet but they were stopped this time by the British Indian Government insisting that such an attempt would be treated as a violation of the Anglo-Chinese Treaty of 1906. While not disputing their suzerainty claim, the British held that they cannot permit the forcible assertion of full sovereignty over a state which has independent treaty relations with the British Government.
The Tibetans with Dalai Lama as its spiritual head proclaimed full independence in 1913. The British Government hosted a tripartite convention of Britain, Tibet and China in Shimla in April 2014 whereby Tibet was categorised in the inner and outer regions; under this arrangement, a Chinese Resident was to be re-established in the inner region and the outer region was to be kept completely autonomous. China also agreed not to send troops again to outer Tibet or make any attempt to convert Tibet into a Chinese province.
An agreement was also reached at Shimla Convention in 1914 on the boundary between India and Tibet from the eastward of Bhutan to Burma which was then the part of British Indian Government. This boundary was later known as the McMahon Line after the name of the British administrator Henry McMahon. The British Indian Government and Tibet also signed a declaration not to recognise the Chinese suzerainty over Tibet unless the Chinese gave a substantial quid pro quo by admitting the Tibetan autonomy and fixing a frontier. This was, however, not ratified by the Chinese side till the responsibility was handed over to the Indian Government in 1947 after independence with British not accepting suzerainty of China over Tibet. Now the Chinese argue that they never accepted Mcmahon Line as they didn’t endorse Tripartite Shimla convention.
After Shimla Convention, Tibet functioned as an independent country. The British reportedly again wrote to China in 1921 that “they did not feel justified in with-holding any longer recognition of the status of Tibet as an autonomous State, under the suzerainty of China, and intended to deal on this basis with Tibet in future”. During the World War II, Tibet remained neutral, and it did not join China which was directly engaged in war. It also resisted any Chinese effort for opening up communications through Tibet. A Tibetan Trade Mission is also known to have traveled abroad in 1947 on Tibetans own passport.
Thus in effect, Tibet was never a part or full-fledged province of China in history. In twentieth century, it proclaimed its independence and the position remained unaltered till the World war II and after. During the course of history, initially Mongols and later Chinese claimed suzerainty over the peaceful Tibetan plateau which was more or less nominal and challanged by the Tibetans whenever they were strong and the Mongol or Chinese Government was weak. Except for two short periods of direct Chinese rule through conquest, Tibet had been independent most of the years. According to the last British officer-in-charge in Lhasa, there was not even a trace of Chinese authority in Tibet after 1912.
Indian Response to Chines Occupation
The year 1950 is remembered for two major events in Asia; one was the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet in October and the other was the onset of bitter Korean War that engaged giant nations like USA and China too. I have consciously given precedence to Tibet invasion by Chinese because it was happening in the vicinity of the India while the latter had hardly any stakes in the Korean Peninsula at that time. Logically and by all means, India should have concentrated its attention at the situation evolving in Tibet and left Korea to get sorted out by the other world giants but the opposite happened thanks to the then visionery Prime Minister who was also Foreign Minister of India.
All available information on the subject from various sources suggest that the Tibetan crisis was handled rather in an ad hoc and haphazard manner while politically and diplomatically India fully engaged herself with the Korean War. The credit for this squarly goes to none other than Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru himself. Needless to mention, as had happened in Kashmir by declaring unilateral ceasefire in 1948 when the Indian forces were advancing, internationalising the issue and introducing Article 370 in the Constitution, Tibet lost its independence bringing a perenial and constant theat at the doorstep of the nation for all time to come.
Pt. Nehru, while downplaying the Tibetan crisis, was heavily involved in Korea siding politically and diplomatically with the very aggressor country (China) responsible for the violation of the sovereignty and oppression of the Tibetan people. Many independent experts and observers have opined that Nehru sacrificed national interest at home in pursuit of international glory abroad while dealing with the Tibetan and Korean situations. This was particularly bad for India because now she was destined to directly share a long arduous yet officially undemarcated boundary with a giant expansionist neighbour.
India had inherited treaties and obligations on Tibet from the British after the independence. At that time, Indian Missions were active and operational at Lhasa and Gyangtse, Tibet’s transactions with the outside world were conducted mainly through India. Thus to a considerable extent, India was responsible for the security, stability and foreign issues of the Tibetan people. According to Chinese notification on 25 Ocrober 1950, their action was intended to ‘free Tibet from the imperialist forces’ while there was not even an iota of imperialist presence in the otherwise peaceful Himalayan land.
Nehru did mention that he and the Indian Government was ‘extremely perplexed and disappointed with the Chinese Government’s action…’ He also cribbed that he had been ‘led to believe by the Chinese Foreign Office that the Chinese would settle the future of Tibet in a peaceful manner by direct negotiations with the representatives of Tibet…’ The paradox was apparent in his utterances because, reportedly, only about a year before the Chinese invasion of Tibet, Nehru had openly expressed his fears of a possible Chinese invasion of Tibet. Such mixed signals from the only other immediate stakeholder would certainly have encouraged China to take this adventure.
Many analysts and experts feel that after independence Nehru was too busy in own image building as a non-aligned leader and a mature statesman of international repute. Norwithstanding above, his fascination and leanings towards communist ideology, and more particularly Communist China, are not a secret now. Afterall, is it not a fact that the very communist regime of Mao Zedong was responsible for the booldshed and slaughter of millions of people in their persuit of power and establishing communist government in China very recently? During the Korean War, Nehru’s India is known to have even voted against the United States’ proposal in the Security Council citing China as aggressor in Korean War. Many written accounts of the corresponding period suggest that the Indian premier was more interested in recognising and furthering the Chinese interests internationally rather than engaging domestically to safeguard India’s long term geo-political and strategic interests in the region.
Much have been written about the communist leanings and role of Nehru’s two key advisors i.e. Krishna Menon and KM Panikkar. The latter while seving as the Indian ambassador in China virtually became a spokesman for the Chinese interests in Tibet. Such was his fascination and leanings towards the Communist China that at one point Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Patel was obliged to remark: “My own feeling is that at a crucial period they managed to instil into our Ambassador a false sense of confidence in their so-called desire to settle the Tibetan problem by peaceful means.” When the Chinese troops were marching ahead into Tibet, Panikkar’s pretension was reportedly remarkable, when he said there was ‘lack of confirmation’ of Chinese move in Tibet and to protest the alleged invasion would tantamount to an interference by India.
Nehru endorsed Panikkar’s position when he allegdely wrote, “Our primary consideration is maintenance of world peace…Recent developments in Korea have not strengthened China’s position, which will be further weakened by any aggressive action (supposedly by India) in Tibet.” With his broad and larger than life international ambition and image, he was apparently even willing to forego India’s national security interests in Tibet rather than taking an action at thr crucial time which may weaken China’s position in the United Nations.
Many experts of international polity hold that in 1950 India was in a reasonably strong position to defend its interests in Tibet. Besides, she could have mustered enough support of influencial Western Block while taking such an initiative. China was heavily committed in Korea, had its own vulnerabilities and could not have afforded adventure in Tibet in the event of India taking a stand to protect Tibet. China could have been stopped from taking over Tibet but the Indian top leadership clearly had other ideas in mind. Years later after the fateful event, Nehru revealed his mind in 1954 when he said, “What right does India have to keep a part of its Army in Tibet, whether Tibet is independent or part of China?”
Some Naïve Voices Ignored
Reacting on the inaction of India on the Chinese aggression and occupation of Tibet, Prof NG Ranga (real name: Gogineni Ranga Nayukulu), an Indian freedom fighter and parliamentarian, remarked in 1950, “…whether the Prime Minister could be indifferent to the gathering clouds of threats to our safety”. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee spoke in a premonition that now India would one day have to fight a war with China in Tibet. Sardar Patel was upset and wanted a tough line against China but he didn’t live long after the fateful event.
Dissatisfied with Pt. Nehru’s haphazard and reconciliatory action, Sardar Patel wrote a long letter to him expressing his concern and need for India’s firm response to China. A few exerpts from his ibid letter to Nehru are reproduced below:
“…Tibetans put faith in us; they chose to be guided by us; and we have been unable to get them out of the meshes of Chinese diplomacy or Chinese malevolence. From the latest position, it appears that we shall not be able to rescue the Dalai Lama.”
“… Our Ambassador (in China) has been at great pains to find an explanation or justification for Chinese policy and action. As the External Affairs Ministry remarked in one of their telegrams, there was a lack of firmness and unnecessary apology in one or two representations that he made to the Chinese Government on our behalf. It is impossible to imagine any sensible person believing in the so-called threat to China from Anglo-American machinations in Tibet”
“… This feeling (taking India as stooges of Anglo-American diplomacy), if genuinely entertained by the Chinese in spite of your (Nehru) direct approaches to them (Chinese leadership), indicates that, even though we regard ourselves as friends of China, the Chinese do not regard us as their friends.”
“… we have practically been alone in championing the cause of Chinese entry into the UNO and in securing from the americans assurances on the question of Formosa (Taiwan). We have done everything we could do to assuage Chinese feelings to allay their apprehensions and to defend their legitimate claims… … it continues to regard us with suspicion and the whole psychology is one, at least outwardly, of sceptcism perhaps mixed with a little hostility.”
“… Their (Chinese) last telegram to us is an act of gross discourtsy not only in the summary way it disposes of our protest against the entry of Chinese forces into Tibet but also in the wild insinuation that our attitude is determined by foreign influences. It looks as though it is not a friend speaking in that language but a potential enemy.”
“… In our calculations we shall now have to reckon with Communist China in the north and north-east – a Communist China which has definite ambitions and aims and which does not, in any way, seem friendly disposed towards us.”
Actually this was a long and comprehensive letter underlining the factual threats and challenges before the country on the issues precipitating on the northern and north-eastern border consequent to Chinese action in Tibet, including its possible fall outs in the Indian north-eastern states and Burma. He had made several pragmatic suggestions including need for the military and intelligence appreciation of the Chinese threat, augmenting own defences, evaluation of the long term needs of Indian armed forces, internal security, communications, and infrastructure of rail, road, air and wireless in border areas. He even suggested Nehru to reconsider his active lobbying for the Chinese entry in the UNO in view of the Chinese rebuff on Indian response to Tibet. Neither meeting proposed by Sardar Patel in his ibid letter took place nor the issues highlighted therein were ever seriously given a thought.
China’s Security Council Membership
Now for the last several years, India along with some other countries (Japan, Germany, Brazil and South Africa) is seeking reforms in the United Nations Security Council that inter alia includes her permanent membership in the Council. The Security Council is comprised of 15 Members; of which five members namely China, France, Russia, UK and USA are permanent since its inception and the remaining ten non-permanent members are elected on a two-years term basis by the General Assembly. Ever since its creation, many significant changes have occurred during the last seven decades impacting the world politically, economically and militarily. This has not only changed the erstwhile power equation but also the countries like India are now striving for a better and definitive place in the new world order because of the country’s size, population, economy and military strength.
India being the largest democracy, second largest in population, fastest growing giant economy with fourth rank in military power indeed deserves a permanent seat in the Council. However, in today’s geo-political scenario China acts as the chief opponent and spoiler of India’s aspirations and chances internationally, whether it is the case of a permanent seat in the Security Council or the membership of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) or any representation in any other coveted international forum. This is yet another paradox of recent times because the first Prime Minister of India (Nehru) was first to recognise the Communist China (PRC) regime, supported China unconditionally during the Korean War (1950-53) to the hilt despite its aggression in Tibet, constantly persuaded international community for her entry in the UNO, allegedly compromising India’s own case of a permanent seat in the Security.
In reply to a question asked by Lok Sabha Member JN Parekh in 1955 on whether India had refused a seat informally offered to her in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), reportedly Nehru made the following statement as the Foreign Minister:
“There has been no offer, formal or informal, of this kind. Some vague references have appeared in the press about it which have no foundation in fact. The composition of the Security Council is prescribed by the UN Charter, according to which certain specified nations have permanent seats. No change or addition can be made to this without an amendment of the Charter. There is, therefore, no question of a seat being offered and India declining it. Our declared policy is to support the admission of all nations qualified for UN membership.”
Notwithstanding the denial in the Parliament, there are reliable reports to the effect that such thinking and moves were indeed on cards in the US and USSR establishments at some points of time which were nipped in the bud by Nehru’s ideology and self-righteous approach at the time. So far as the American move is concerned, it was as back as in August 1950. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Nehru’s sister and Indian Ambassador to USA, allegdly wrote to him regarding such a thinking and possible move in the US State Department about the unseating of China (Taiwan, ROC) and India being put in that place. Going by the text, it appears she was already well versed about India’s (or Nehru’s!) position on the subject because while informing the Indian Government about the development, she had already advised the US State Department to go slow in the matter as it would not be received with warmth in India.
On the second occasion, it seems there was a similar offer from the Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin in 1955. However, Nehru’s considered opinion was that it was a legitimate interest of China (PRC) and she must be given her right place in order to reduce international tensions. Integrating the PRC into the international community by conceding the right of the Chinese seat in the UNSC was central theme and objective of Nehru’s foreign policy. He even considered that such a US move was to create a rift between India and China. It is apparent, contrary to the provocative policies and actions of the Communist China (PRC) in furtherance of own expansionist interests among the slogans of friendship and brotherhood, the Indian Prime Minister opted to stick to his own idealism, self-righteousness and international image building at the cost of the India’s national interest.
AG Noorani, a well-known Indian lawyer, constitutional expert and political commentator, has defended Nehru’s refusal of the Soviet offer saying it was more of a “feeler to test India”. S. Gopal, well known historian and son of the Ex-President S. Radhakrishnan, wrote in his book Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography : “He (Jawaharlal Nehru) rejected the Soviet offer to propose India as the sixth permanent member of the Security Council and insisted that priority be given to China's admission to the United Nations.” Similarly, Shashi Tharoor, erstwhile UN official and Congress leader, too in his book on Nehru has mentioned that the Indian diplomats who had seen files swear that the country’s first Prime Minister had declined the US offer. Nehru is believed to have consistently maintained that the permanent seat, till then held by Taiwan (ROC) , be offered to Beijing instead; and that the seat was held with scant credibility by Taiwan.?
There are documents, claims and counter-claims about India getting or not getting feelers or offer of a permanent seat in the UNSC from the USA and USSR during 1950 and 1955. Basic facts are that when during the Chinese Civil War (1946-49) communists led by Mao Zedong (PRC) forced the Chinese Nationalists (ROC), the latter fled from the Chinese mainland and relocated to Taiwan (Erstwhile Formosa). Taiwan had a total area of about 36,193 sq km with a population of about eighty lakh in 1950. As a founding member of the United Nations, the ROC represented China at the United Nations until 1971, when finally the seat was granted to the PRC. The USA and UK, the most powerful nations during the time, remained undecided for very long about the legitimacy of the communist government in the mainland China.
Against this background, it makes sense that the Western democracies would have been more interested to deal with by giving space to a vast democratic and secular country like India compared to the autocratic Communist China (remained unrecognised for long) or a tiny and weak Taiwan (ROC) that represented China till 1971 in the UNSC. Amiss on Nehru’s part was that he forgot that the destiny of the nations is not decided by (often fake) idealism, moral righteousness and emotive appeals; instead, nations are best served by keeping long term geo-political interests, diplomacy and obtaining power equations in view.
Fateful Years of Betrayal
Before comimg to this topic, the author would like to address the issue what he call as the ‘author’s moral dilemma’. Should he take India’s side and endorse her actions because he is an Indian national? Should he not appreciate or be critical to Chinese actions for the same reason? The answer to both the questions is an emphatic ‘No’. An author should be fair to all entities, characters, circumstances, events and occurances irrespective of any personal consideration.
The fact is Tibet was a free land barring the isolated instances of invasion or forceful occupation by Mongols and Chinese empires during its history. It was never a part of the Chinese mainland and if it was occupied by China in 1950, it was because of its inability to defend against the powerful enemy and because the international community, mainly India, did not come forward to help it in time. It’s a simple case of the might is right otherwise the Chinese claim over Tibet is not tenable legally, logically or by any other means. To put it in a different way, should a powerful India be justified if it stakes claim over the countries in the region just because the Great Ashoka’s empire stretched from the parts of Afghanistan to Burma along with the mainland?
Despite some sane voices like Sardar Patel’s, Pt. Nehru apparently never suspected that China could ever wage a war against India. He pravailed because he was an undisputed leader then. But many unpleasant things contrary to his thought and vision did happen. India was attacked on 20 October 1962, the Chinese forces made swift progress in the Indian territory in Aksai Chin in the north and NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) in the north-east. Ill-prapared Indian army was no match for them to offer any viable resistance in any sector and in the fast developing scenarion, Chinese side declared a unilateral ceasefire in about a months time after achieving their strategic war objectives.
To describe it in Brigadier JP Dalvi’s own eye-witness account whose fateful brigade was routed and he along with other officers taken as the prisoner of war by the Chinese, the Indian side faced ignomity at the hands of the Chinese as follows:
“At 5 on the morning of 20 October 1962 massed Chinese artillery opened up a heavy concentration on the weak Indian garrison, in a narrow sector of the Namka Chu Valley, of Kameng Frontier Division, in the North East Frontier Agenct (NEFA). Massive infantry assaults followed, and within three hours the unequal conquest was over. The route to the plains of Assam lay wide open. The Chinese exploited their initial successes and advanced 160 miles into Indian territory down the southern slopes of the Himalayas… … by 20th November.”
India was taken by the complete surprise politically, diplomatically and strategically by the Chinese action. But quite obviously it had not happened in one day, month or year; things were boiling and precipitating ever since forceful occupation of Tibet but the Indian Government under Nehru chose to assume that, notwithstanding border irritants, Chinese would never go to the extent of waging a war on India. In fact, the Chinese forces had started petroling the Indo-Tibetan border in 1951 by creating several forward posts with occasional face-off and consequent skirmishes with Indians.
Despite Patel and others forewarnings, the external affairs was Nehru’s domain and he had faith in Chinese intention. So he took personal initiative in 1954 to coin and conclude “the Panchsheel” (Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence), with the Chinese premier while acknowledging Chinese rule in Tibet and coining the slogan "Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai". In 1956, on Nehru’s direction the maps of India were drawn; however, the Chinese maps claimed about 120,000 sq km of Indian territory as their’s. Reportedly, in response to Indian query about the discrepancy, the Chinese premier Zhou Enlai personally acknowledged error in their maps. Reportedly in November 1956, Zhou repeated his assurances that the Chinese would have no claims based on the maps.
During the period, the Chinese side indeed kept raising the need for the demarcation of the Indo-Tibetan border but the issue remained largely unresolved due to technical difficulties and human reasons. Things started really deteriorating after the Lhasa rebellion in Tibet in 1959 was crushed by the Chinese Government, Dalai Lama fled and was granted asylum in India. Mao Zedong took it seriously against India and particularly accused Nehru of openly encouraging Tibetan rebels. The tensions was steadily increasing between the two countries and situation became worse after India initiated a Forward Policy after 1959 which sought the raising of military outposts in areas claimed by Chinese and launching of regular patrols.
However erroneous, but China's perception of India as a threat to its rule of Tibet and the Indian Forward Policy became the chief reasons for the escalation of tension culminating to Sino-Indian War of 1962. Quite obviously, the Indian diplomats and intelligence agencies failed to assess the Chinese intent, threat and war preparation with Nehru confident that the hostilities will not lead to a war. He perhaps still thought that the Chinese were friends and the undemarcated Indo-Tibetan border is not such a big issue.
However, when the war started and the Indian forces started experiencing quick rout and reverses, Prime Minister Nehru expressed his shock and dismay over the alleged sudden and unforseen developments. Stating that the Chinese had treachrously stabbed India in the back, he said on radio, “I am grieved at the setbacks to our troops that have occurred on the frontier, and the reverses we have had. They were overwhelmed by vast numbers and big artillery, mountain guns and heavy mortars which the Chinese have brought with them”. Needless to mention that the Indian Army had this predicament largely because of the Government’s failure on the China policy, diplomacy and intelligence gathering, and finally ignoring the wherewithal, training and equipping army to face the Himalayan challenge from a tricky and powerful enemy.
The most ironical part of the war was that it also blew up Nehru's non-alignment philosophy. Making a common cause of the 'Western Imperialism' while befriending China and USSR, he had so for maintained a measured distance with the US and UK - the only powerful and capable nations of the time. When the hostalities broke out and unable to stop Chinese, India made a fervent appeal to the US and UK for urgent arms aid in order to meet the Chinese challange. The countries did respond favourably and the first consignment from the United States reportedly reached in the first week of November even before formal signing of a contract, while the USSR, the other major ally of the Indian Prime Minister, remained an undecided and unhappy spectator under the dilemma of choosing 'fraternal China' or 'friendly India'.
Government should have endeavoured in time either to prepare the country politically, diplomatically and strategetically to effectively resist Chinese overtures or to make concessions mostly in the form of the border adjustment. Sadly, the top political leadership did neither, and the sane voices, if any, were sidelined and ignored. The expansionist plans of China were well known and their true intent gradually but definitely started becoming clear since 1956. But the military was not given due consideration for operational readiness and the usual “Hindi-Chini…” rant and rhetoric continued; finally, the day of reckoning came on 20th October barely after twelve years of the annexation of Tibet by the Communist China. Sadly, Sardar Patel died in December 1950 and, thereafter, there was no other leader of his stature who could question, advise or ask Nehru on his China Policy.
The 1962 Indo-China war was the direct fallout of annexation of Tibet by China in 1950. Traditionally, Tibet had been a buffer zone for centuries between India and China which the British valued as strategic and vital for the British India’s all weather defence. India and Tibet had lived together in peace and harmony by custom, usage and tradition in spite of the fact that they never had a demarcated and surveyed boundary. The forceful occupation of Tibet by the Chinese and India’s meek and lackadaisical response under Nehru’s leadership was undoubtedly one of the biggest mistakes of the Indian history that made the country’s north and north-eastern frontiers vulnerable for all time to come besides imposing recurring heavy cost burden in terms of geo-polity, diplomacy and strategic needs.
Let’s agree that Tibet was not the case of a small piece of cake to be devoured by one greedy person and ignored by another suave stakeholder dismissing it as a minor event. It had an area of approximately 12,00,000 sq km and an estimated border length of about 3,380 Km with India. To force it in complete subordination, systematic oppression and ethnic cleansing of people and destruction of their culture continued for over a decade. Reprisals for the 1959 Tibetan uprising took a life of at least 87,000 Tibetans while many Tibetans in exile claim such killings to an estimated 430,000 people. Besides more than 6,000 monasteries were destroyed by the Chinese during the period.
Till the annexation of Tibet, India was never obligated to worry about the deployment of army, infrastructure and other resources on the border with a friendly country. With the Chinese on the other side, the boundary issues came demanding a need for the constant vigil and petrol by the security establishment for the first time and on recurring basis. The 1962 War posed a real threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country putting severe strain on resources which otherwise could have been spent on welfare and development of people. Apart from the China-centric nuclear and missile development programmes, today India is perforce among the category of top nations that incur heavy expenditure on the import of conventional war material and weapon systems.
Ever since the childhood, the author recalls how vehemently the propaganda machinery of the Communist China has been accusing India as “an expansionist” and Western countries such as USA and UK as “the imperialist” creating euphoria of imaginary threats in Tibet and elsewhere. The same machinery crossed all limits of decency, diplomatic courtesy and factual accuracy during the recent stand-off with India in Doklam in 2017. For the communists regimes like China, if you are with them you are an ally, and if not you are declared an enemy. As feared by many, annexation of Tibet was not an end, instead it opened several other territorial claims and disputes across the Indo-Tibetan border.
In fact, now they are claiming the entire Arunachal Pradesh (erstwhile NEFA) as their own land. So much so that even a visit of an Indian Minister to Arunachal Pradesh generates a vehement opposition from China. The message is clear on the Board; Chinese are gearing for an opportune moment in the Arunachal which according to them is South Tibet. Clearly, India’s first Prime Minister’s self-professed idealism and righteous approach does not work when two nationalities of different geo-political realities, culture, ideology and interests are pitted against each-other. In such case, what really matters is who takes correct move in the best interest of the nation - politically, diplomatically and strategically.
Tibet lost its independence not because it didn’t have friends but because it was weak and resource-less to defend self. But for India's own geo-political and strategic interests, India's failure to stand for Tibet was a great blunder. The history is witness that be it an individual or a nation, people prefer to side with one that is strong and powerful. Even the biological theory of evolution endorse that there is continuous struggle for existence and only the fittest one survives. The recent developments and trends indicate that India has indeed learnt appropriate lessons from the past mistakes and debacles. The case in point could be the recent face-off with the same adversary in Doklam. So a silver-lining is visible now.
Continued to“Emergence of Bangladesh in 1971”
Author's acknowledgement: So much have been written by the stakeholders and independent people in the past on the subject. While writing this article, apart from author's personal knowledge and understanding, data and facts as readily available in public domain, including two books - 'Himalayan Blunder' by Brig JP Dalvi and 'The Untold Story' by Lt Gen BM Kaul were consulted.