Patel: Why He Died
I am posting today a letter from Sardar Patel to Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, the Secretary-General of the External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations Ministry.
It is dated November 4, 1950, four weeks after the Chinese had entered Eastern Tibet.
This raises a serious question: very little research has been done on the last weeks of Patel’s life.
It is highly regrettable.
One of the problems that all historical documents of this period remains classified in the MEA.
Why should the Modi Government follow a Congress policy is difficult to comprehend.The Sardar passed away on December 15, two days after being ‘shifted’ to Mumbai (because ‘Delhi was too cold’).
What do we know about the last 2 months of Patel’s life?
Practically nothing, except that he opposed Nehru’s policy on Tibet.
His prophetic letter written 3 days after the note to Bajpai (posted below) raises further questions.
From where did Patel got the information cited in his letter to Nehru?
As the note to Bajpai shows, probably from Sir Girja himself, who was getting regular information from Dr. Sumul Sinha, the Head of the Indian Mission in Lhasa.
Another unanswered question: did Nehru acknowledge Patel’s ‘prophetic’ letter addressed which raised number of serious security issues for India.
The last sentence of Patel’s letter says: “I suggest that we meet early to have a general discussion on these problems and decide on such steps as we might think to be immediately necessary and direct, quick examination of other problems with a view of taking early measure to deal with them.”
Was a Cabinet meeting held?
Did Nehru inform Patel about his decision in early November, to radically change India’s Tibet policy, as reflected in Nehru’s note addressed to B.N. Rau, the Indian Representative to the UN on November 18.
On November 23, in a cable to Sinha, the Foreign Minister (Nehru) scolded the young IFS who had arrived in Tibet just 2 months earlier: “Government of India have noticed that certain communications from Lhasa and Sikkim regarding Tibet are dogmatic, disputatious and admonitory. We want of course our representatives to give us full information and appraisals of situation and to state their views frankly. But this should be done in accordance with accepted procedure of correspondence between head of a mission and Foreign Office. Once a decision has been taken by Government, it should be accepted gracefully and followed faithfully; any insinuation that Government have been acting wrongly or improperly is objectionable.”
The decision taken by the ‘Government’ (i.e. Nehru without informing Patel) was that ‘Tibet can not be saved’; the young officer had probably dared to ‘contradict’ the Prime Minister.
Was Patel’s informed? Probably not.
Sinha’s cable being still classified, one can only guess what he wrote: he had expressed some sympathy for the Tibetan people, at a time when their nation was being erased from the world map and highlighted the dangers for India to have a new ‘neighbour’.
The cable from Nehru continues in the same vein: “Tibetan [issue] and similar problems have to be fitted into proper framework of Government’s policy. While local officers may be experts in their field, they CANNOT be fully aware of the wide considerations involved and the repercussions of a particular course of action.”
Were these wider considerations discussed by the Cabinet?
Was Patel’s opinion sought?
The issue of ‘wider considerations’ will come back again and again in Nehru’s dealings with sincere and competent officers (whether in the civil services or the Army); particularly those who tried to warn him of the possible consequences of India’s ‘friendship at any cost’ policy with China.
Then the cable to Sinha mentions the famous ‘larger vision’: “India’s policy is primarily based on avoidance of war and maintenance of peace, as we consider world war most terrible of calamities for humanity.”
Under the altar of a new ‘political’ dogma, Tibet was sacrificed, so were India’s national interests in this affair.
Nehru then admonishes Sinha again: “For this reason we avoid as far as possible strong language and condemnation avoid as far as possible strong language and condemnation of nations which only increases international tension.”
China had started invading Tibet, but nobody should hurt the Chinese ‘susceptibilities’ with strong language!That was the Indian Government’s new policy. There was no question of calling a spade, a spade, even in internal or top secret correspondence.
Poor Sinha, he was not aware that only ‘darbari’ (courtesan) can survive.
This reminds me of a remark made in a private (handwritten) letter written by Harishwar Dayal, the Political Officer in Sikkim (Sinha’s boss) at the end of December 1950; while discussing the Chinese advance towards the McMahon Line with his Indian Trade Agent (ITA) in Gyantse, Dayal informed the latter of Sardar Patel’s death, “It is a heavy blow. He was the one person in this Government who had strong realistic view of things, including on foreign relations. Now, we are left at the mercy of the visionaries.”
To come back to Patel, by the end of November, he was a dejected man and he fell sick.
On December 13, after he had been ‘shifted’ to Mumbai, Patel was divested of all his portfolios by the Prime Minister, he was not even informed.
He was deeply hurt and he passed away 2 days later.
On that day, ministers were told to continue their business as usual.
Letter to Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai
4 November 1950
My Dear Sir Girja,
Thank you for your letter of the 3rd November 1950. I am sending herewith the note which you were good enough to send me. I need hardly say that I have read it with a great deal of interest and profit to myself and it has resulted in a much better understanding of the points at issue and general though serious nature of the problem.
The Chinese advance into Tibet upsets all our security calculations. Hitherto, the danger to India on its land frontiers has always come from the North-West. Throughout history we have concentrated our armed might in that region. For the first time, a serious danger is now developing on the North and North-East side; at the same time, our danger from the West or North-West is in no way lessened. This creates most embarrassing defense problems and I entirely agree with you that a reconsideration of our military position and a redisposition of our forces are inescapable.
Regarding Communists, again the position requires a great deal of thought. Hitherto, the smuggling of arms, literature, etc. across the difficult Burmese and Pakistan frontier on the East or along the sea was our only danger. We shall now have to guard our Northern and North-eastern approaches also. Unfortunately, all these approaches-Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and the tribal areas in Assam are weak spots both from the point of view of communications and police protection and also established loyalty to India. Even Darjeeling and Kalimpong area is by no means free from pro-Mongolian prejudices. The Nagas and other hill tribes in Assam have hardly had any contact with Indians. European missionaries and other visitors have been in touch with them, but their influence was, by no means, friendly to India and Indians. In Sikkim, there was political ferment some time ago. It seems to me there is ample scope for trouble and discontent in that small State. Bhutan is comparatively quiet, but its affinity with Tibetans would be a handicap. Nepal (we all know too well, a weak oligarchic regime based almost entirely on force) is in conflict with an enlightened section of the people as well as enlightened ideas of the modern age. Added to this weak position, there is the irredentism of the Chinese. The political ambitions of the Chinese by themselves might not have mattered so much; but when they are combined with discontent in these areas, absence of close contact with Indians and Communist ideology the difficulty of the position increases manifold. We have also to bear in mind that boundary disputes, which have many times in history been the cause of international conflicts, can be exploited by Communist China and its source of inspiration, Soviet Russia, for a prolonged war of nerves, culminating at the appropriate time, in armed conflict.
We have also so take note of a thoroughly unscrupulous, unreliable and determined power practically at our doors. In your very illuminating survey of what has passed between us and the Chinese Government through our Ambassador, you have made out an unanswerable case for treating the Chinese with the greatest suspicion. What I have said above, in my judgment, entitles us to treat them with a certain amount of hostility, let alone a great deal of circumspection. In these circumstances, one thing, to my mind, is quite clear; and, that is, that we cannot be friendly with China and must think in terms of defense against a determined, calculating, unscrupulous, ruthless, unprincipled and prejudiced combination of powers, of which the Chinese will be the spearhead. There might be from them outward offers or protestations of friendship, but in that will be concealed an ultimate hideous design of ideological and even political conquest into their bloc. It is equally obvious to me that any friendly or appeasing approaches from us would either be mistaken for weakness or would be exploited in furtherance of their ultimate aim. It is this general attitude which must determine the other specific questions which you have so admirably stated. I am giving serious consideration to those problems and it is possible I may discuss this matter with you once more.
Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, I.C.S.,
Secretary-General, External Affairs Ministry, New Delhi.