New Delhi: The whole world in general and the Indian people in particular, will insist that the Indian Government take a clear stand on what, prima facie, really happened in the Wuhan University research laboratory that enabled the unholy birth of a new Dr Frankenstein’s monster called Covid-19 virus, a new and more deadly member of the coronavirus species.
Before I express my view as to what stand India ought to take in light of the evidence available, I must emphasise that any stand India takes will invite criticism from one side or the other, or even both if we equivocate on the matter.
At this tragic juncture, we cannot afford to equivocate on who is complicit in the birth of this deadly virus, or in the cover-up, if any. However, we should take our stand on the basis of the facts made available, without playing to the gallery or submitting to a powerful country’s pressure.
It is clear that on this issue, the United States has emerged as the self-appointed prosecutor; and that it claims that it has suffered enormously from Covid-19 compared to other countries like India. China is the defendant, since the virus first emerged in Wuhan, China.
In this regard, it must first be pointed out that the US Department of Defense also participated in the Wuhan University research project on the bat virus. In Nagaland, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research [TIFR] joined these two institutions (incidentally without Government of India’s permission or knowledge), to facilitate the experiment on bats in Nagaland. Although, reportedly after the national daily, the Hindu published the joint tripartite research, the Indian government ordered an inquiry, the issue is whether a fair inquiry will take place or not. I believe that it will depend on whether the nefarious influence of the TIFR Chairman forces the Indian government to wind it up or fudge the result.
The US too has a Presidential election later this winter. China bashing is popular with American voters, and the Republican Party’s Donald Trump is up for re-election.
Hence, till November this year there will be a lot of allegations thrown at the alleged Chinese complicity, but it is unlikely that any final report will be published before the US Presidential election is over. My guess is that after the election, the appetite for this subject will vanish. China and the US will start negotiating trade deals.
In India too the knee-jerk reaction of the Indian people against matters of Chinese “perfidy” is because of the humiliating defeat in 1962 of an ill-prepared Indian Army, and the failure of then Prime Minister Nehru to prepare for the border conflict. This humiliation acts as a trigger of emotions for us Indians.
It has been India’s misfortune that there has been a failure of its leaders in office to understand clearly the Chinese perspective on its relations with India and the ability to respond to the same proportionately.
Hence the people of India are always in doubt whether China can be a dependable friend or a diabolical enemy. Forming opinions requires a rational understanding of our past historical events and the lessons to be learnt on our part; and thereafter we need to move on.
China has been a dependable friend of Pakistan for 63 years. This is a world record of sorts. Indians find this as a sinister threat. However, recently Pakistan has begun to lose the warmth of that Chinese dependability because of the Islamic jihadi entry into Xinjiang province.
The fact is that India must act on its national interest and not on the atmospherics.
Time and again, it is essential to hammer in the point that national security policy is made on the military and economic capacity of one’s adversary ; and that it is this capacity we must prepare against, and that it cannot be based on a perception that our adversary has displayed a “friendly” intention, i.e. it must not be based on phenomena such as the “smiles” or embraces of its leaders.
By his faulty perception of Chinese friendly behavior, Nehru sacrificed our defence preparedness. This is attested by the exchange of correspondence between Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Patel and Prime Minister Nehru in November 1949 [see my book: India’s China Policy].
Patel had wanted Nehru to obtain a clear agreement with the Chinese on the inviolability of our pre-1950 traditional borders with Tibet and Xinjiang before handing over Tibet unopposed to the invading China People’s Liberation Army [PLA]. Not only did Nehru not heed Patel’s sage advice but he disingenuously replied to Patel that this matter was a foreign policy issue with which subject Patel was not familiar.
Our relation with China, therefore, has jerked from one extreme to another for the last 70 years since the founding of the two Republics [Republic of India and Peoples Republic of China] because we have not made a distinction between what is required in national security in contrast with what is needed in executing foreign policy.
Thus from 1950 to 1959, as Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru adopted an attitude of noblesse oblige in India’s foreign relations with China. The nation paid a heavy price in 1962 because, as it was to be expected, Chinese leaders took Nehru’s generous attitude to mean that India had accepted all China’s claims to our territory, especially in Ladakh and Arunachal.
The Chinese Politburo made this assumption when, between 1956 and 1958, Chinese military began construction of the road from Tibet to Xinjiang—a road cutting through Aksai Chin in Ladakh and manifestly fit for heavy artillery traffic. At that time, Nehru was treating Chinese visiting leaders to India to a loud “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai” chorus, ignoring this national security threat.
The Chinese further felt vindicated when India did not do a reconnaissance while China was building the road.
Hence, when in 1958, China Pictorial Magazine published photographs and a report on the completion of the Tibet-Xinjiang Road, Chinese leaders did not expect that it would be protested against in India’s Parliament. But indeed there was loud protest.
However, the Chinese felt happy that Nehru in his reply to the Opposition’s uproarious debate said: “Why make this an issue? After all not a blade of grass grows there”. A senior MP [Mahavir Tyagi] retorted: “Not a blade of hair grows on your head [Nehru was bald]. So does that mean your head can be cut off?” Although Nehru did change his stance a little later, it was not followed up by a structured national security policy.
In 1959, in Tibet, there was a rebellion against the Chinese Communists but which was crushed. It led His Holiness the Dalai Lama to undertake a hazardous journey on land to India to seek asylum.
His Holiness was received in India warmly when he arrived on horseback. He was housed in Dharamshala. An émigré government was set up there, which has functioned since then as the Government in Exile of Tibet! The Cabinet of this government has a Prime Minister and 27 Ministers. It is still functioning even today. This U turn alerted the Chinese.
In 1960, the Soviet Union suddenly broke off all relations with China because Chairman Mao Tse-tung refused to accept Russian Communist Party hegemony as Chairman of the Communist International [COMINTERN]. The Soviets retaliated by withdrawing all blueprints and machinery that the USSR had sent to China, at a time when China was in the throes of construction of major heavy industrial factories.
The withdrawal was timed to coincide with China’s stupendous failure of the Chairman Mao inspired Great Leap Forward project which caused disaster in agriculture.
A drought in agriculture, impelled by a failure of rainfall, caused a steep fall in food grains output; and this was followed by a famine, causing about 30 million deaths from starvation.
Hong Kong, which was a British Imperialist colony then, received thousands of starving Chinese who had to brave a swim from China’s mainland to the islands of Hong Kong. To the Soviets, it looked as if China was cracking up.
During this period, 1959-61, Chinese Communist Party decided to force Chairman Mao to step down from the post of China’s President and replaced him with Liu Shao Chi. But Mao continued as Communist Party Chairman.
By then internationally China was in the pits, held in contempt as a tottering dictatorship. “China, the failed state” was the common media refrain.
In late December 1961, India’s Defence Minister Krishna Menon, fearing his possible defeat in his parliamentary election in 1962, from Bombay North East constituency, decided to accept General Kandeth’s advice to send the Indian Army to liberate Goa from Portuguese occupation.
It was an easy victory for the Indian Army. As a consequence, a wave of Congress popularity swept the country, and the February 1962 general election was a walkover for the Congress. It earned Menon an impressive victory in the Bombay North East Parliamentary election.
Flushed with victory, and encouraged by the prevailing international contempt for China’s communism, Nehru, at the prodding of the US, began to entertain the ambition to take on China next.
The newly elected US President, John F. Kennedy in 1961 invited Nehru to Washington and encouraged him to take on China. He even nudged Nehru to carry out an atomic bomb test before China could do so [China did so in 1964 and India did not till 1974].
Nehru returned to Delhi convinced he could take military action to recover India’s land in Aksai China and Arunachal. He ordered the poorly equipped Indian Army to set up “Forward Posts” in Chinese occupied territory—as a first step.
The Chinese Army (which first functioned as a guerilla force in the 1930s and 1940s and was known as the Peoples Liberation Army [PLA]) and the Communist Party, succeeded in 1949 the overthrow of the Kuomintang government from Beijing, and then the pacification and indoctrination of the Chinese people throughout the 1950s. Thus by 1962 the PLA and China was fighting fit.
India had an Army then armed and prepared to take on the Portuguese in Goa, but by no stretch of imagination could it have taken on the PLA in the hills of Arunanchal and Aksai Chin.
We did not have proper roads, weapons, and winter clothing, a situation aggravated by the fact that Krishna Menon had ordered Indian defence factories to engage in the production of coffee percolators and tennis balls.
Thus in 1962, China retaliated fully prepared in a response to Nehru’s ill-prepared belated “Forward Policy”. A shameful disaster followed.
An inquiry and review of this failed policy and lack of defence preparedness in 1962 was made later by General Henderson-Brookes [an Indian] in a comprehensive report. The truth about 1962 and the perfidy therein is detailed in that report.
The report was promptly marked “Secret and Not for Publication”. It has remained so since then. The BJP government’s Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar in 2015, had decided to de-classify it and release it. But at the last minute, the then usual suspect in our government intervened and blocked the release. Today that the report should be released and debated on across the nation.
Since 1965, the Indian military has steadily progressed in preparedness to be in the position to take on and defeat either China or Pakistan but not yet the two together.
In 1967, the Indian Army showed how much it had progressed by pushing back Chinese troops from the Sikkim mountain passes. We can now easily take back PoK, if we have only Pakistan to deal with, and China does not intervene.
The question today is whether India can separate Pakistan and China in our bilateral conflict with Pakistan. Many international forces do not want India to be able to do that.
I have personally dealt with China since 1977 on a number of occasions and achieved what was then thought by most of my political colleagues as not possible to achieve with China.
I mention here two of such achievements. The first was the 1981 re-opening to Hindu pilgrims the Kailash-Manasarovar route, which most people thought was impossible for a Communist nation to agree to and that too on a religious matter.
As a Janata Party Lok Sabha MP in the Opposition then, I was invited to China to meet its topmost leader Deng Xiaoping on 8 April 1981, and I had a 100-minute one to one meeting.
In that meeting I raised the issue and Deng agreed to open the Kailash Manasarovar route—which route has remained never again closed ever since. I had led the first delegation of Hindu pilgrims on 21 August in the same year. Now about 8,000 Hindu pilgrims visit there every year in the summer months.
The second occasion was as a senior Minister of Commerce and Law& Justice in February 1991, when on behalf of India I signed in Beijing the Trade Protocol Agreement with China, which the Chinese had refused to sign from 1983 every year whenever the matter came up for discussion.
My purpose in relating this narration of the India-China relations is to enable the reader to understand that there are many international interests that abhor an India China entente and a common world view being developed between the two nations. After all, China and India have a combined population which is 37% of the world’s total. Our GDPs are the second and third largest in the world. Except in 1962, we have a millennia long civilized history of no conflict. Our cultural paradigm is the same, such as respect of elders, family etc. Hence, if without Nehru type romanticism, China and India can have a genuine friendly strategic understanding, both will gain and the world will shake.
Therefore, whether it is the matter of the Wuhan debacle or some other matter, truth and transparency in intentions between the two nations are paramount. Hence, in dealing on this world spread of Covid-19, let Indians say Satyameva Jayate and not be swayed by the international costs and benefits.
Dr Subramanian Swamy is a six-term MP and internationally renowned scholar of China’s economy.