Nirupama Rao’s book is over 600 pages long, deeply researched, scholarly, insightful and convincing.
Nirupama Rao was born in 1950. She joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1973, retiring in 2011. She was Foreign Secretary, ambassador to the US and China during her unblemished career.
She has very recently written, what I think is the most authoritative book on India-China relations, “The Fractured Himalaya: India, Tibet and China, 1949-1962”. The volume is over 600 pages long. Deeply researched, scholarly, insightful and convincing.
She has mentioned me more than once in her book. I am no China specialist, but neither am I unfamiliar with the torturous course of Sino-Indian bilateral relations.
My first posting was to Peking in 1956. I spent almost two years in the country. My efforts to learn Chinses were not spectacular. Indian diplomats at the time were treated with exceptional cordiality. The Indian ambassador had easy access to Chairman Mao Tse Tung and Prime Minister Chou En Lai.
The Chairman even came to have dinner with Ambassador R.K. Nehru’s residence. I must have seen Mao at very close quarters dozens of times. I even light his cigarette when he was fumbling to locate his match box. I have several photos, I took them, standing six feet away from him.
Nirupama indirectly writes that I was in some vague way connected with Prime Minister Chou-Enlai’s visit to Delhi in April 1960. Actually, I was appointed liaison officer to the charismatic Chinese Prime Minister.
All these years I have held the view that Chou had come to strike a deal—Aksai Chin would remain with China. The rest of the border would remain as it was. We blew it. Nirupama Rao, broadly speaking agrees with this view.
From 1927 onwards Jawaharlal Nehru was the sole Congress spokesman on foreign policy. In 1938, Nehru was president of the Congress. Japan had occupied large parts of China. Nehru sent a medical mission to the Guomindang government. But several members of the group went over to the communists. Prominent among them were Dr Atal and Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis. Jawaharlal Nehru himself went to Chunking in August 1939. A meeting with Mao could not take place because Nehru had to rush back to India as Hitler had declared war by invading Poland.
Nehru till the mid-1950s took a rather romantic and unrealistic view of the Communist regime. The Chinese in general and the communists in particular had a “profound contempt for the Indians, and also a sense of very considerable superiority towards them…” was the British assessment.
After Independence, Nehru sent K.M. Panikkar as ambassador to China. When the communists took over on 1 October 1949, K.M. Panikkar was retained as ambassador. A worst choice could not have been made. Girjashankar Bajpai, Secretary-General, in August 1950 noted that Panikkar was “a little too responsive to the atmosphere, whether for our conviction or a safe guide to our policy. His eulogy of the men who now rule China, their great reforms and their friendship for us, leave me somewhat sceptical, especially the last. My own rather cynical view is that in us, China sees the only potential rival, and economic equality in Asia….Panikkar’s enthusiasm, genuine or feigned, causes me personally a good deal of difficulty at times. The P.M is impressed with his reports and I have to work hard to control his enthusiasm when, in my own rather conservative judgement, caution seems to be necessary.”
The other disaster was V.K Krishna Menon. He had his plus points. The minuses outnumbered the pluses by ten to one.
Nehru appointed him Defence Minister. Menon sold the idea to Nehru that the real enemy was Pakistan, not China. Nehru himself genuinely believed that China would never go to war with India. This was, to put it politely, the height of naivety. Another Nehru lapse. He did not raise the question of the border with Chou Enlai in 1954. “Nehru wished to avoid confrontation with China”, writes the author and castigates Nehru for his poor judgement and faith in China’s “peaceful and Panchasheel” mantra. She quotes S. Gopal, Nehru’s biographer and Dr S. Radhakrishnan’s son. Nehru was “insufficiently alert to possible Chinese encroachments on a major scale. Curiously, the reported presence of Chinese personnel in Aksai Chin, and the defence of Indian sovereignty that this implied, roused no marked reaction in Delhi.”
Sumul Sinha was Counsel General in Lhasa. His critical reports on Chinese atrocities in Tibet were not only ignored, these irritated the PM.
One of Prime Minister Nehru’s obsessions was for China becoming a member of the UN Security Council—even in 1962 India did not give up. China never expressed any gratitude. It has never considered India as an equal.
Jawaharlal Nehru was the maker of modern India. His role in the Freedom Movement was second only to that of Gandhiji. He was a great and noble man. He grievously erred on China. 1962 hastened his death.
This is an absorbing, balanced, knowledgeable, eminently readable book.