Geopolitics

Sardar Patel's Letter to Jawaharlal Nehru on Tibet
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Issue Book Excerpt: The Unmaking of Nepal | Date : 31 Oct , 2014

My dear Jawaharlal,

Ever since my return from Ahmedabad and after the Cabinet meeting the same day which I had to attend at practically fifteen minutes’ notice and for which I regret I was not able to read all the papers, I have been anxiously thinking over the problem of Tibet and I thought I should share with you what is passing through my mind.

We had a friendly Tibet which gave us no trouble. The Chinese were divided. They had their own domestic problems and never bothered us about our frontier.

2. I have carefully gone through the correspondence between the External Affairs Ministry and our Ambassador in Peking and through him the Chinese Government. I have tried to peruse this correspondence as favourably to our Ambassador and the Chinese Government as possible, but, I regret to say that neither of them comes out well as a result of this study. The Chinese Government have tried to delude us by professions of peaceful intentions. My own feeling is that at a crucial period they managed to instil into our Ambassador a false sense of confidence in their so-called desire to settle the Tibetan problem by peaceful means. There can be no doubt that, during the period covered by this correspondence, the Chinese must have been concentrating for an onslaught on Tibet. The final action of the Chinese, in my judgement, is little short of perfidy.

The tragedy of it is that the Tibetans put faith in us; they chose to be guided by us; and we have been unable to get them out of the meshes of Chinese diplomacy or Chinese malevolence. From the latest position, it appears that we shall not be able to rescue the Dalai Lama. Our Ambassador has been at great pains to find an explanation or justification for Chinese policy and actions. As the External Affairs Ministry remarked in one of their telegrams, there was a lack of firmness and unnecessary apology in one or two representations that he made to the Chinese Government on our behalf. It is impossible to imagine any sensible person believing in the so-called threat to China from Anglo–American machination in Tibet. Therefore, if the Chinese put faith in this, they must have distrusted us so completely as to have taken us as tools or stooges of Anglo–American diplomacy or strategy. This feeling, if genuinely entertained by the Chinese in spite of your direct approaches to them, indicates that, even though we regard ourselves as the friends of China, the Chinese do not regard us as their friends. With the Communist mentality of “Whoever is not with them being against them,” this is a significant pointer, of which we have to take due note.

…India’s defence has to concentrate itself on two fronts simultaneously. Our defence measures have so far been based on the calculations of a superiority over Pakistan. In our calculations we shall now have to reckon with Communist China…

During the last several months, outside the Russian Camp, we have practically been alone in championing the cause of Chinese entry into the UNO and in securing from the Americans assurances on the question of Formosa. We have done everything we could to assuage Chinese feelings, to allay its apprehensions and to defend its legitimate claims, in our discussions and correspondence with America and Britain and in the UNO. In spite of this, China is not convinced about our disinterestedness; it continues to regard us with suspicion and the whole psychology is one, at least outwardly, of scepticism, perhaps mixed with a little hostility. I doubt if we can go any further than we have done already to convince China of our good intentions, friendliness and goodwill. In Peking we have an Ambassador who is eminently suitable for putting across the friendly point of view. Even he seems to have failed to convert the Chinese. Their last telegram to us is an act of gross discourtesy not only in the summary way it disposes of our protest against the entry of Chinese forces into Tibet but also in wild insinuation that our attitude is determined by foreign influences. It looks as though it is not a friend speaking in that language but a potential enemy.

In the background of this, we have to consider what new situation now faces us as a result of the disappearance of Tibet, as we know it, and the expansion of China almost up to our gates. Throughout history, we have seldom been worried about our north-east frontier. The Himalaya has been regarded as an impenetrable barrier against any threat from the north. We had a friendly Tibet which gave us no trouble. The Chinese were divided. They had their own domestic problems and never bothered us about our frontier. In 1914, we entered into a convention with Tibet which was not endorsed by the Chinese. We seem to have regarded Tibetan autonomy as extending to independent treaty relationship. Presumably, all that we required was Chinese counter-signature. The Chinese interpretation of suzerainty seems to be different.

We can, therefore, safely assume that very soon they will disown all the stipulations which Tibet has entered into with us in the past. That throws into the melting pot all frontier and commercial settlements with Tibet on which we have been functioning and acting during the last half a century. China is no longer divided. It is united and strong. All along the Himalayas in the north and north-east, we have, on our side of the frontier, a population ethnologically and culturally not different from Tibetans or Mongoloids. The undefined state of the frontier and the existence on our side of a population with its affinities to Tibetans or Chinese have all the elements of potential trouble between China and ourselves.

I am sure the Chinese and their source of inspiration, Soviet Russia, would not miss any opportunity of exploiting these weak spots, partly in support of their ideology and partly in support of their ambitions.

Recent and bitter history also tells us that Communism is no shield against imperialism and that Communists are as good or as bas as imperialists as any other. Chinese ambitions in this respect not only cover the Himalayan slopes on our side but also include important parts of Assam. They have their ambitions in Burma also. Burma has the added difficulty that it has no McMahon Line round which to build up even the semblance of an agreement. Chinese irredentism and Communist imperialism are different from the expansionism or imperialism of the Western Powers. The former has a cloak of ideology which makes it ten times more dangerous. In the guise of ideological expansion lie concealed racial, national and historical claims. The danger from the north and north-east, therefore, becomes both communist and imperialist. While our western and north-eastern threats to security are still as prominent as before, a new threat has developed from the north and north-east.

Thus, for the first time, after centuries, India’s defence has to concentrate itself on two fronts simultaneously. Our defence measures have so far been based on the calculations of a superiority over Pakistan. In our calculations we shall now have to reckon with Communist China in the north and north-east — a communist China which has definite ambitions and aims and which does not, in any way, seem friendly towards us.

4. Let me also consider the political considerations on this potentially troublesome frontier. Our northern or north-eastern approaches consist of Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Darjeeling and the Tribal Areas in Assam. From the point of view of communications they are weak spots. Continuous defensive lines do not exist. There is almost an unlimited scope for infiltration. Police protection is limited to a very small number of passes. There too, our outposts do not seem to be fully manned. The contact of these areas with us, is, by no means, close and intimate. The people inhabiting these portions have no established loyalty or devotion to India. Even Darjeeling and Kalimpong areas are not free from pro-Mongoloid prejudices.

…to make people alive to the new danger or to make them defensively strong is a very difficult task indeed, and that difficulty can be got over only by enlightened firmness, strength and a clear line of policy.

During the last three years, we have not been able to make any appreciable approaches to the Nagas and to the hill tribes in Assam. European missionaries and other visitors had been in touch with them, but their influence was, in no way, friendly to India or Indians. In Sikkim, there was political ferment some time ago. It is quite possible that discontent is smouldering there. Bhutan is comparatively quite, but its affinity with Tibetans would be a handicap. Nepal has a weak oligarchic regime based almost entirely on force; it is in conflict with a turbulent element of the population as well as with enlightened ideas of the modern age. In these circumstances, to make people alive to the new danger or to make them defensively strong is a very difficult task indeed, and that difficulty can be got over only by enlightened firmness, strength and a clear line of policy.

I am sure the Chinese and their source of inspiration, Soviet Russia, would not miss any opportunity of exploiting these weak spots, partly in support of their ideology and partly in support of their ambitions. In my judgement, therefore, the situation is one in which we cannot afford either to be complacent or to be vacillating. We must have a clear idea of what we wish to achieve and also of the methods by which we should achieve it. Any faltering or lack of decisiveness in formulating out objectives or in pursuing our policy to attain those objectives is bound to weaken us and increase the threats which are so evident.

5. Side by side with these external dangers we shall now have to face serious internal problems as well. I have already asked Iengar to send to the External Affairs Ministry a copy of the Intelligence Bureau’s appreciation of these matters. Hitherto, the Communist Party of India has found some difficulty in contacting Communists abroad, our in getting supplies of arms, literature, etc., from them. They had to contend with difficult Burmese and Pakistan frontiers on the east or with the long seaboard. They shall now have a comparatively easy means of access to Chinese Communists, and through them to other foreign Communists. Infiltration of spies, fifth columnists and Communists would now be easier. Instead of having to deal with isolated communist pockets in Telengana and Warrangal we may have to deal with Communist threats to our security along our northern and north-eastern frontiers where, for supplies of arms and ammunition, they can safely depend on Communist arsenals in China.

My own feeling is that, unless we assure our supplies of arms, ammunition and armour, we would be making our defence perpetually weak and the would not be able to stand up to the double threat…

The whole situation thus raises a number of problems on which we must come to an early decision os that we can as said earlier, formulate the objectives of our policy and decide the methods by which those actions will have to be fairly comprehensive involving not only our defence strategy and state of preparation but also problems of internal security to deal with which we have not a moment to lose. We shall also have to deal with administrative and political problems in the weak spots along the frontier to which I have already referred.

It is, of course, impossible for me to be exhaustive in setting out all these problems. I am, however, giving below some of the problems, which in my opinion, require early solution and round which we have to build our administrative or military policies and measures to implement them:

  • A military and intelligence appreciation of the Chinese threat to India both on the frontier and to internal security.
  • An examination of our military position and such redisposition of our force as might be necessary, particularly with the idea of guarding important routes or areas which are likely to be the subject of dispute.
  • An appraisement of the strength of our forces and, if necessary, reconsideration of our retrenchment plans for the Army in the light of the new threat.
  • A long-term consideration of our defence needs. My own feeling is that, unless we assure our supplies of arms, ammunition and armour, we would be making our defence perpetually weak and the would not be able to stand up to the double threat of difficulties both from the west and north-west, and north and north-east.
I do not rule out the possibility that, before applying pressure on us, China might apply pressure on Burma. With Burma, the frontier is entirely undefined and the Chinese territorial claims are more substantial.
  • The question of Chinese entry into UNO In view of the rebuff which China has given us and the method which it has followed in dealing with Tibet, I am doubtful whether we can advocate its claims any longer. There would probably be a threat in the UNO virtually to outlaw China, in view of its active participation in the Korean War. We must determine our attitude on this question also.
  • The political and administrative steps which we should take to strengthen our northern and north-eastern frontiers. This would include the whole of the border, i.e. Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Darjeeling and the Tribal Territory in Assam.
  • Measures of internal security in the border areas as well as the States flanking those areas such as UP, Bihar Bengal and Assam.
  • Improvement of our communications, road rail, air and wireless in these areas, and intelligence of frontier outposts.
  • Policing and intelligence of frontier posts.
  • The future of our mission at Lhasa and the trade posts at Gyangtse and Yatung and the force which we have in operation in Tibet to guard the trade routes.
  • The policy in regard to McMahon line.

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These are some of the questions which occur to my mind. It is possible that a consideration of these matters may lead us into wider questions of our relationship with China, Russia, America, Britain and Burma. This, however, would be of a general nature, though some might be basically very important, e.g., we might have to consider whether we should not enter into closer association with Burma in order to strengthen the latter in this dealings with China. I do not rule out the possibility that, before applying pressure on us, China might apply pressure on Burma. With Burma, the frontier is entirely undefined and the Chinese territorial claims are more substantial. In its present position, Burma might offer an easier problem for China, and therefore, might claim its first attention.

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 to taking early measures to deal with them.

Yours,

(sd.) Vallabhbhai Patel

The Hon’ble Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru,

Prime Minister of India,

New Delhi India’s Ambassador in Peking at the time was K. M. Pannikar

Reference:

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

RSN Singh

is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW and author of books Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and The Military Factor in Pakistan. His latest book is The Unmaking of Nepal.

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20 thoughts on “Sardar Patel’s Letter to Jawaharlal Nehru on Tibet

  1. Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel was a great man. It was he who integrated India. Travncore, Jodhpur, Bhopal, Junagarh and Hyderabad were not interested in joining India. Finally Travancore, Bhopal, Jodhput and Junagarh integrated with India and in Hydeabad Sardar Patel undertook Operation polo and the king of Hydrabad surrenderrd in 92 hours. On 15 November 1950 Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel wrote a letter to Nehru that China will attack India but Nehru ignored it.

  2. Poor Vallabhbhai Patel… and poorer India. The infamous “Hindi-Chini Bhai-bhai” was thrown to the dogs. China emerged victorious on two fronts… they got into the UN and also expanded their Asian footprint. What more could they have asked for! The rest is history!

    • Thrown to dogs by Nehru and not the Chinese. Nehru adopted the unwarranted ‘forward policy’ and wrong advice of Krishna Menon and was directly responsible for the ensuing fiasco. None of our neighboring countries including Sri Lanka supported us on the matter and tended to support if not openly, certainly covertly, the Chinese position.

  3. excellent.thanks. best wishes.=====summary in 500 characters => excellentThe world is dramastage weare actors Our life is what we do OUR ACT, our daily living is our daily acting role, acting finished means life finished. WE ARE SEEKING SUITABLE BRIDES FOR OUR TWO SONS, OUR GOAL IS TO ENABLE THEM REACH FULL TRUE HIGHER POTENTIAL, FUTURE PRESIDENTS OF USA. I was fired from AT&T Bell Labs in 1992 scientist engineer, it was big shock for whole family, in India too. interviews for new jobs blocked. although in shock wife worked from low level hard work later promoted, children targeted. =====ps:dear all,Our goal is to enable our two sons Kaviraj and Shilpi to reach their higher full true potential, provide their leadership, make their contributions as future presidents of usa and world leaders. This will be needed by the country usa, the people of usa, the whole world (including india), in the rapidly changing, transforming world. It is in the nature of truth, nature of nature, nature of humanity, and is the only way forward. We are also seeking suitable brides for them, our two sons. I am telling the whole world, seeking a helping, facilitating, encouraging, good vibes, supportive type role. Basically the boy and the girl have to talk to each other and if they like each other, respect each other, willing to support each other, and wish to go ahead for marriage, then we bless. Thanks much
    Fwd:
    2019 June 15
    Me: Beautiful.
    ps:
    Although in severe shock and great stress, we have faced the challenges and moved forward crossing the barriers, biases, impediments etc that came before us, … it was tough, not easy, for my wife and sons and the others also … I brought up my two sons Kaviraj and Shilpi as future presidents of usa, with that attitude/ outlook/ mindset, supporting and encouraging the leadership nature already in them. They are born in usa, grew up in usa and consider themselves as Americans. The country, the people and the whole world including India where we par

  4. IT SEEMS THAT BOTH CHINA&PAKISTAN ARE
    IN DEEP CLLUSION AGAINST INDIA RIGHT FROM
    THE MOMENT WHEN THE BRITISHERS DIVIDED
    INDIA&LEFT US,IN A STATE OF NEW FOUND HOSTS
    OF PROBLEMS&PRESSURES FROM ALL SIDES.THEY
    BOTH ATTACKED US CONSECUTIVELY FROM 1948 ONWARD
    CHINA DOING THIS IN TIBBET JUST AFER PAKISTAN
    HAD DONE THIS IN KASHMIR.THEY BOTH HAVE BEEN
    CONSIDERING INDIA&INDIANS TOO NAIVE&GULLIBLE
    TO SUSPECT THEIR DESIGNS.THEIR POLICY SEEMAS
    TO BE TO GRADUALLY ROB&RELIEVE INDIA OF IT BORDER
    AREAS&OVER-REACH CLOSER TO THE INTERIOR AREAS OF
    INDIAN MAINLAND&DIVIDE IT BETWEEN THESELVES.INDIA
    MUST NOT REMAIN ENGAGED MERELY IN DIPLOMATIC
    TALKS WITH THEM,BUT MUST GIVE THEM STRONGEST
    &UNMISTAKABLE WARNING AGAINST THEIR PLAN
    TO SLOW BUT SURE ENCROACHMENTS UPON OUR
    AREA.THEY ARE TAKING OUR OTHER NEIGHBOURS
    ALSO WITH THEM IN THIS MILLENIAL BUT MEAN MINDED
    CONSPIRACY.THEY HOPE ,ISLAMISTS&COMMUNISTS
    THAT THE MARCH OF THEIR HISTORY IS A CATEGORICAL
    IMPERATIVE,A WILL OF ALLAH,&THEREFORE,UNSTOPPABLE
    IN THE LONG RUN.INDIA MUST BE READY TO FIGHT
    A MILLENIAL WAR IN COORDINATION WITH ITS MILITARY
    &STRATEGIC PARTENERS,AGAINST :THE ISLAMIST PAKISTAN
    &THE COMMUNIST CHINA WHO COSIDER THEMSELVES
    AS UNSTOPPABLE.INDIA MUST ISSUE THEM THE STERNST
    WARNING AGAINST THEIR PROPOSED MARCH OF MISADVENTURE.
    V K. BHATIA.

    • Date of the Sardar Patel’s letter to Nehru warning against China , published above is 7th November 1950 . See the letter in book Between The Lines by Kuldeep Nayyar , who actually was part of Nehru Administration during all that period .

  5. Thanks to India Defence Review and Friends of Tibet for publishing this valuable and interesting letter from Sardar Patel, who was a true visionary. Everything he has said in this letter to Nehru has come true in later years. Today’s India lacks visionaries and strong-willed politicians.

  6. Lets not make it too complicated. The biggest defence against China is Gettig a security council seat with veto power, act firmly on all border states including Tibet on all multinational forums, and improving border access infrastructure and presence. The biggest defence against Pakistan is to develop Defense infrastructure and alliance with Afghanistan to establish military base, and support humanitarian issues on Baluchistan. We have too far been tmid and submissive to Pakistans Kashmir agenda, its time to go on diplomatic offensive and make Baluchistan as the hot issue.

  7. make Baluchistan as the focus Lets not make it too complicated. The biggest defence against China is Gettig a security council seat with veto power, act firmly on all border states including Tibet on all multinational forums, and improving border access infrastructure and presence. The biggest defence against Pakistan is to develop Defense infrastructure and alliance with Afghanistan to establish military base, and support humanitarian issues on Baluchistan. We have too far been tmid and submissive to Pakistans Kashmir agenda, its time to go on diplomatic offensive and make Baluchistan as the hot issue.

  8. Nehru’s miscalculation and lack of visionary leadership ruined the country. Nehru tried to perpetuate his family rule rather than welfare of the people. Since there was some good people in the cabinet like Sardar Patel, we are surviving now.

  9. A lot of discussion has already taken place wrt china. The point is what are we doing about it. Are we rapidly building up our defenses or we keep wasting our time like no one else which will come to haunt us later.

    P.S : mountain strike corps may be a good start but hopelessly insufficient.

  10. A lot of discussion has already taken place wrt china. The point is what are we doing about it. Are we rapidly building up our defenses or we keep wasting our time like no one else which will come to haunt us later.

    P.S : mountain strike corps would help deter china.

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