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Nehru’s stubbornness led to 1962 war with China
Published on 20 Dec. 2010 12:10 AM IST
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Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru “shut the door to negotiations on the (India-China) boundary on July 1, 1954”, according to a just-released book by A G Noorani based on archival research and hitherto unpublished material.
And this — Nehru’s refusal to negotiate, and the 1960 rebuff to Chou En-lai when he was visiting and appeared ready to settle the issue — may well have sowed the seeds of the 1962 India-China war.
The important and explicit directive, from Nehru, in a 17-para memorandum, cited by Noorani in his book, says: “Both as flowing from our policy and as a consequence of our Agreement with China, this frontier should be considered a firm and definite one which is not open to discussion with anybody. There may be very minor points of discussion. Even these should not be raised by us.”
Noorani, an expert on legal and constitutional issues, known for his study of the boundary issue, writes in the book, “India-China Boundary Problem. 1846-1947: History and Diplomacy”, that “India unilaterally revised its official map. The legend ‘boundary undefined’ in the western (Kashmir) and middle sectors (Uttar Pradesh) in the official maps of 1948 and 1950 were dropped in the new map of 1954. A firm clear line was shown instead.”
The author says that Nehru’s directive of July 1, 1954 was apparently in pursuance of a decision taken on March 24, 1953 to formulate a new line for the boundary. “It was a fateful decision. Old maps were burnt. One former Foreign Secretary told this writer how, as a junior official, he himself was obliged to participate in this fatuous exercise.”
It is speculated that the official was Ram Sathe, India’s last consul-general in Xinjiang and later Ambassador to China. The book, dedicated to the memory of Sathe, was released on December 16 at the residence of Vice President Hamid Ansari during Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit.
The book mentions that new maps were printed showing Northern and North Eastern frontiers without any reference to any line. Nehru also wanted that these maps should be sent to embassies abroad and introduced to the public generally and be used is schools and colleges.
Describing as “historically untrue” every one of the statements of Nehru in his letter to Chinese Premier Zhou En-lai of March 22, 1959, Noorani states that as late as 1950, Indian maps showed the boundary as undefined.
The unpublished archival material in Chapter 12 titled ‘Aftermath’, quotes extensively from the 17-page memo and says a “divided Cabinet, an irresponsible opposition, an uninformed press and a restive Parliament, all fed on bad history held Nehru hostage.”
Selective excerpts:
“A century-old problem was neglected, by a conscious decision, in 1954. It acquired the dimensions of a boundary dispute in 1959. Unresolved in 1960 when the prospects of a fair settlement were bright, the dispute was sought to be resolved by confrontation. Indias attempt to revise the status quo in 1961 by a Forward Policy in the West came to grief. China decided to settle the matter by recourse to war in October 1962.”
“The conclusion is hard to resist that there was a total disconnect between the facts of history and India’s policy on the boundary problem and later boundary dispute. Its diplomacy became inflexible because it espoused a policy which barred give and take. Each one of the propositions stated earlier in Chapter XI was flouted the 1842 Treaty; and undefined boundary; the Karakoram boundary; and, worst of all, an impermissible recourse to unilateral change of frontiers.”
“This, in a dispute pre-eminently susceptible to a fair solution; for, each had its vital non-negotiable interest securely under its control. India had the McMahon Line while China had the Xinjiang-Tibet road across the Aksai Chin in Ladakh.”
“Zhou En-lai was all too ready to accept such a solution during his visit to New Delhi in April 1960. He was rebuffed. China proceeded to practice its own brand of unilateralism, sanctifying territorial gains won by armed force.”
“There was nothing inevitable about this impasse. A settlement was possible at the summit in New Delhi in April 1960, despite the fact that public opinion had been ignited over the armed clashes in Longju and the Kongka pass in 1959. A divided Cabinet, an irresponsible opposition, an uninformed press and a restive Parliament, all fed on bad history, held Nehru hostage; not that he had a different view of the past. Had he so willed between January 21 and March 22, 1959 when he replied to Zhous letter, a policy based on the historical truth and sensible diplomacy conducted in private could have charted a route that would assuredly have led to accord.”
“But history was scorned and it took its revenge; paving the way to a wild, irrational play of military might and the politics of power to shape a border dispute inherently and pre-eminently susceptible to a fair compromise. The diplomatic consequences of the deepening rift between India and China are incalculable; especially in India’s relations with its other neighbours, particularly Pakistan.”
The book reveals that the only comprehensive and objective study of the Northern Frontier — conducted under the supervision of K. Zakaraiah, director of the Historical Division in the Ministry of External Affairs in 1953 is still kept secret.
The book says that in 1979 Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping had told then Minister of External Affairs Atal Behari Vajpayee, when he was on a visit, to settle on the basis of the status quo of 1980 and not 1960; albeit with minor adjustments.

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