At the last moment, Nehru backed out of the understanding India had given Tibet. He requested Washington to refrain from publicly condemning China for its action in Tibet for fear that such condemnation might lend credence to Chinese charges that Western powers had an interest in Tibet and that the Americans were exerting an influence over Indian policy. Nehru decided:
“We cannot save Tibet, as we should have liked to do so, and our very attempts to save it might bring greater trouble to it. It would be unfair to Tibet for us to bring this trouble upon her without having the capacity to help her effectively. It may be possible, however, that we might be able to help Tibet to retain a large measure of her autonomy. That would be good for Tibet and good for India. As far as I can see, this can only be done on the diplomatic level and by avoidance of making the present tension between India and China worse.”
Tibet was sacrificed!
At the last moment, Nehru backed out of the understanding India had given Tibet.
The main reason behind Nehru’s volte-face was that he was very involved in the Korean issue and did not want to yield his role as ‘neutral’ mediator.
This is also clear from the fact that in his Beijing office, Panikkar was spending most of his time on the Korean problem and was hardly concerned by the invasion of Tibet.
On the eve of the debate in the General Committee, Nehru cabled India’s Representative at the UN: “We are entirely in favour of deferring consideration of Tibet question because of various developments, more particularly arrival of Peking representatives.”37
“Any particular reference to an Article of the Charter of the UN might tie us up in difficulties and lead to certain consequences later which may prove highly embarrassing for us. Or a resolution of the UN might just be a dead letter, which also will be bad.”
It is clear the Korean affair was much more interesting to the Indian diplomats than the fate of this small nation.
On November 24, the request of El Salvador came up for discussion in the General Committee of the United Nations, India and Great Britain moved for postponing the matter: Jam Saheb of Navanagar, the Indian Representative, said that “the Indian Government was certain that the Tibetan question could still be settled by peaceful means, and that such a settlement could safeguard the autonomy which Tibet enjoyed for several decades while maintaining its historical association with China.”
The matter was adjourned.
The poor Salvadorian Representative fought till the end, he wanted every member of the General Assembly to at least receive a copy of the Tibetan appeal.
“We (Nehru) cannot save Tibet, as we should have liked to do so, and our very attempts to save it might bring greater trouble to it.”
Though the Office of the Secretary General promised to do this, it never did. The final conclusion of the meeting of the General Committee was that “the Chairman stated that he would have enquiries made and would ask that all documents of that type received by the Secretariat should be distributed.”
The fate of Tibet was sealed and the consequences followed one after another, the first being the signature in Beijing in May 1951 of the ‘Agreement on Peaceful Liberation of Tibet’.
Mao now had the green light for a free hand in Tibet. He knew that Nehru’s India was little more than a ‘paper tiger’. Not everyone in India agreed with this policy of appeasement of Nehru and Panikkar. Public opinion and many national leaders were outraged by the treatment meted out to Tibet and clearly saw its consequences for India.
One of these leaders, Jayaprakash Narayan, told The Hindu in Madras: “India is vitally interested in Tibetan affairs and she should do all that is possible to enable the Tibetan people to maintain her independence and their own way of life.”39
The socialist Dr. Lohia spoke in even stronger terms:
“To call the invasion of Tibet an effort to liberate three million Tibetans is to make language lose all meaning and stop all human communication and understanding. Freedom and slavery, bravery and cowardice, loyalty and treason, truth and lie, will become synonyms.
Our friendship and esteem for the people of China will never dim, but we must state our conviction that the present government of China will not be able to wash out the infamy of this invasion and baby murder.”
“¦Panikkar was spending most of his time on the Korean problem and was hardly concerned by the invasion of Tibet.
But the Indian Government had shown that when the time came, it was neither able nor willing to defend a small weak nation. This stigma would remain.
On November 20, in a cable to his Ambassador in China, Nehru stated his policy which would continue for the following years:
“I want to make it clear that I am convinced of the importance of Indo-Chinese friendship both from short-term and long-term points of view.”
He added: “But, of course, India has special feelings towards Tibet”.
Yet his priorities were clear: “…Even now we are anxious to continue friendly relations with China…Our present policy is primarily based on avoidance of world war, and secondly on maintenance of honourable and peaceful relations with China.”
Mao had indeed calculated well when he decided to open two fronts at the same time. Mao’s stroke in Korea helped to silence the world on the invasion of the Roof of the World.