Geopolitics

Where was India’s Tibet Policy?
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Issue Book Excerpt: 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga | Date : 22 Sep , 2014

China Invades Tibet: ‘The Gods are on Our Side!’

Before studying a non-existent India’s Tibet Policy, it is necessary to go back to the Fall of 1950. Before this, the Indian Government had probably never thought of the necessity of having a Tibet Policy, though back in August 1950, the rumours of an impending Chinese attack had trickled in; it did not bother anybody in the Summer of Delhi.

The demise of Sardar Patel, holder of a more holistic vision on the security issues of the Indian border, stopped the search for a Tibet Policy with all the consequences which can be seen today.

K.M. Panikkar, the Indian Ambassador in China knew about it; he was aware that the PLA’s troops had already entered some Chinese-controlled areas of Kham.1 In a communication to the Chinese Foreign Office on October 2, 1950, he told the Chinese that the Tibetan delegation, at that time in India, would be shortly leaving for Peking for negotiations; the Indian Ambassador expressed the hope that further military action would, therefore, not be necessary. “It will help the peaceful settlement of the Tibetan question if the Chinese troops which might have entered territory under the jurisdiction of the Lhasa authorities could restrict themselves to western Sikang.”2

In Chamdo, Robert Ford, the British radio operator employed by Lhasa had arrived in December 1949, after spending several months in Lhasa with another Englishman, Reginald Fox, who operated a radio for the Tibetan Government.

Ford, ‘Phodo Kusho’ as the Tibetans called him,3 had brought with him brand new radio sets that he found nicely packed in crates when he first arrived in Lhasa. During World War II, when the Burma road was closed, the Lhasa government had authorized two Americans to proceed with a reconnaissance mission seeking possible supply routes between China and India. To thank the Tibetan Government, the President of the United States had sent three radio sets which were still packed in their crates in 1948. Many officials in Tibet were not keen to have foreigners operate these sets, but as no Tibetans had yet been trained to use them, they remained packed up in crates.

From Chamdo, Ford soon established a daily link with Lhasa. He was also able to monitor the world news, mainly the broadcast from Beijing and Delhi.

From the remote capital of Kham Province, on New Year’s Day 1950, Ford heard an ominous communiqué broadcast by the People’s Republic of China: “The task for the People’s Liberation Army for 1950 is to liberate Taiwan, Hainan and Tibet.”

Soon after his arrival in Chamdo, one of Ford’s first tasks had been to train some young Indians of Tibetan stock4 who could operate the radio sets. The idea was to send them to the Sino-Tibetan border to monitor the movements of the Chinese troops. The de facto border was situated at that time a hundred miles east of Chamdo and followed the course of the Upper Yangtze.

Patel further states: “In this kalyug we shall return ahimsa for ahimsa. But if anybody resorted to force against us we shall meet it with force.” Unfortunately, this concept would not be acceptable to Nehru and Panikkar.

It is difficult to ascertain the true number of Tibetan troops stationed on the 200 mile long border along the banks of the Yangtze,5 Goldstein speaks of about 3,500 soldiers,6 but Ford estimated their strength to be much less.

Whatever might have been the number of Tibetan soldiers, they were no match for the Second Field Army based in Sichuan and led by its Political Commissioner, Deng Xiaoping. On the other side of the great river more than 40,000 much better equipped troops waited to ‘liberate’ Tibet.

One of the major problems faced by the Tibetans was the lack of unity between the local chieftains and the Lhasa government. It was not a new problem but a heavy toll would be paid for the antagonism between Lhasa and the Khampas at this crucial point in the history of Tibet.

The Chinese Liberation Army was also much better trained and far more disciplined than the Tibetans.

On October 11, 1950 at 11 p.m., Ford had just finished speaking on the radio to his mother in England and was preparing to go to bed, when he heard a faint tinkle of bells coming from the east. “As bells grew louder I heard another sound, the clip-clop of horse’s hoofs.” Ford added, “…it passed my house on the way into the town. I saw the rider’s fur hat and the silhouette of the barrel of his riffle sticking up above his shoulder.”7 Ford immediately recognized an Army messenger riding towards the Residency where Ngabo Ngawang Jigme, the new Governor of Kham was staying.

The next morning Ford was awakened by his servant who announced: “Phodo Kusho, the Chinese are coming! They’ve crossed the river at Gangto Druga and killed all the troops.”

Gangto Druga was on the main trade route between Kangting and Chamdo. A Tibetan garrison was posted there.

Five days had already passed since the Chinese had begun their ‘liberation,’ but for reasons only known to himself, Governor Ngabo Shape8 had refused to spare a radio set for the border post to monitor the advance of the Chinese troops.

One of the major problems faced by the Tibetans was the lack of unity between the local chieftains and the Lhasa government.

Ford had tried many times to convince Ngabo to send a wireless set to Riwoche in August-September, but the Governor was not interested in listening to Ford, a very junior official in the Tibetan Government. From Ford’s side, he had to keep the etiquette in addressing the Governor and present his suggestions as politely as possible:

“Your Excellency, the spare portable radio is ready to go out at the shortest notice”, Ford told Ngabo, indirectly suggesting that a radio should be sent to the border.

”Good, Please keep the batteries charged,” replied Ngabo.9

“They are always fully charged. Either or both of the Indian operators are also in constant readiness to go out,” hinted again Ford.

“Very good, we may need to send the station at any time,” answered Ngabo.

That day Ford did not want to leave the Residency without getting a clear answer about Riwoche: “Would you like me to send the radio to Riwoche now, Phodo?”, the Governor finally asked. “Yes, Your Excellency,” said Ford.

It is clear from the above reactions that the Tibetan State had no clear policy regarding China; no contingency plan had been thought of.

India’s Tibet Policy in 1950?

This brings forward another question: had India a Tibet Policy at the beginning of 1950? The answer is a clear ‘no.’

The events in Tibet could however have triggered a chain of reactions which could have resulted in a well-defined policy. It was not to be the case.

The Chinese Liberation Army was also much better trained and far more disciplined than the Tibetans.

In India, the demise of Sardar Patel, the Deputy Prime Minister and holder of a more holistic vision on the security issues of the Indian border, stopped the search for a Tibet Policy with all the consequences which can be seen today.

For two months, November and December 1950, the events of Tibet however churned the minds of some leaders in Delhi.

What probably started the search for a Tibet Policy was a report of Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, the General Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs and Commonwealth. We know of the report’s existence only through a letter from Sardar Patel to Bajpai sent on November 4, 1950.

It is interesting to note that Patel put the loyalty of the Himalayan belt in doubt, though a couple of months later, it is the people of Tawang who would call the Government of Assam to intervene and take over Monyul before the Chinese could do it.

The following years will demonstrate that it was more the Chinese ‘irredentism’ than the loyalty of the Himalayan belt which will be the main danger for India. In fact, looking at the tragic events in Tibet and the Communist menace over the Himalayas, the populations of Nepal, Sikkim and NEFA would turn towards India for security and support.

Remember the Memorandum submitted by Cheewang Rigzin, the President Buddhist Association of Ladakh to the Prime Minister of India on May 4, 1949. Rigzin says:

While keeping the principle of ‘non-alignment’ as the official Indian policy, many Indian politicians and diplomats felt much closer to the Communists in China or in Russia than the ‘western imperialists.’

Tibet is a cultural daughter of India10 and we of lesser Tibet seek the bosom of that gracious mother to receive more nutriment for growth to our full stature in every way. She has given us that [which] we prize above all other things, our religion and culture and it is the experience of having been the recipients of such a precious gift which encourages us to ask for more. The Asoka wheel on her flag, symbol of goodwill for all humanity and her concern for her cultural children calls us irresistibly. Will the great mother refuse to take to her arms one of her weakest and most forlorn and distressed children, a child whom filial love impels to respond to the call?11

The populations of the Indian Himalayas have remained among the most patriotic of the country.

A thoroughly unscrupulous, unreliable and determined power

In November 1950, Patel believed that the danger could come from a mixture of the Chinese aggressive posture added to the resentment of the local Himalayan population against Delhi; it could become an explosive mix, he thought. Fortunately, it will not to be the case.

The Iron Man’s conclusion was that a ‘friendly’ approach as suggested by K.M. Panikkar, the Indian Ambassador to China will not help.

Unfortunately, six weeks later Patel passed away and with him, the possibility to have a concerted Tibet Policy had gone.

A week after his letter to Bajpai and 4 days after having sent his famous letter to Nehru on Tibet, the Deputy Prime Minister gave a speech in Delhi; according to The Hindustan Times, he affirmed that it was imperative for Indians to be well prepared to meet any challenge that might come from any quarter. He is quoted as saying:

Sardar Patel criticized Chinese intervention in Tibet and said that to use the ‘sword’ against the traditionally peace-loving Tibetan people was unjustified. No other country in the world was as peace-loving as Tibet. India did not believe, therefore, that the Chinese Government would actually use force in settling the Tibetan question.

The Chinese Government, he said, did not follow India’s advice to settle the Tibetan issue peacefully. They marched their armies into Tibet and explained this action by talking of foreign interests intriguing in Tibet against China. But this fear is unfounded: no outsider is interested in Tibet. India made this very plain to the Chinese Government. If the Chinese Government had taken India’s advice, resort to arms would have been avoided.

…so-called friendship (later called brotherhood) between China and India, but it was clear that from the beginning it was a one-way traffic.

Continuing, Sardar Patel said that nobody could say what the outcome of Chinese action would be. But the use of force ultimately created more fear and tension. It was possible that when a country got drunk with its own military strength and power, it did not think calmly over all issues. But use of arms was wrong…12

Sardar Patel added that the duty of the Indian people was not to flee from trouble but face it boldly.

The Deputy Prime Minister further states: “In this kalyug we shall return ahimsa for ahimsa. But if anybody resorted to force against us we shall meet it with force.”

Unfortunately, this concept would not be acceptable to Nehru and Panikkar.

Sardar Patel’s Letter to Nehru

This letter marked one of the main turning points in the foreign policy of India; in fact, a turning that India never took.

During the months of October and November 1950, India had the choice between two directions: either to bend with the ‘east wind’ and ally with China or stand and defend her own interest. Patel’s letter, which could be considered his political testament, was resolutely in favour of the second path.

Unfortunately, after Patel passed away, India under the sole leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru chose to take the Hindi-Chini-Bhai-Bhai route. The country eventually paid (and is still paying) a very heavy price for the path chosen at that time. The clarity of the perception of Patel and the strategic implications for the foreign policy of India have been masterfully outlined in the letter. Here is Patel’s advice to Nehru:

…I have been anxiously thinking over the problem of Tibet and I thought I should share with what is passing through my mind.

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 the result of this study.

Patel refers to the notes which had been exchanged between the Government of India and the Chinese Government between October 21 and November 1.13

…the policy of the Chinese leadership with its motto “whoever is not with us is against us” paid very rich dividends with officials like Panikkar or Krishna Menon.

Apart from the notes and correspondence, Panikkar had been sending reports from Beijing advocating the Chinese point of view.

Panikkar’s book, In Two China, provides a clear understanding of the Ambassador’s position: China and India should in a united way fight the ‘Western dominance’ and the Tibetan issue should not come in the way of the friendship between the two nations.

But let us come back to Patel’s letter. He tells the Prime Minister:

The Chinese Government has tried to delude us by professions of peaceful intentions. My own feeling is that at a crucial period they managed to instill 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.14

The future proved Patel right and it has now been shown that Mao had planned and prepared the invasion of Tibet for months in advance and the sweet words of Zhou Enlai where only soporific pills to put his idealist Indian ‘brother’ to sleep. But Patel continues:

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 the 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 on two representations 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 machinations 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 regards ourselves as friends of China, the Chinese do not regard us as their friends. With the Communists mentality of “whoever is not with them being against them”, this is a significant pointer, of which we have to take due note…

We shall come back on the so-called friendship (later called brotherhood) between China and India, but it was clear that from the beginning it was a one-way traffic. The best proof came three/four years later when at the height of the Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai euphoria, Mao began building a strategic road linking Tibet to Sinkiang, cutting across the Indian territory.

It is also obvious that the policy of the Chinese leadership with its motto “whoever is not with us is against us” paid very rich dividends with officials like Panikkar or Krishna Menon. The last thing that these politicians wanted was to be seen on the side of the Western nations.

The Western world was a symbol of imperialism, oppression of the masses and the slavery of the Asian race. While keeping the principle of ‘non-alignment’ as the official Indian policy, many Indian politicians and diplomats felt much closer to the Communists in China or in Russia than the ‘western imperialists.’

One thing was forgotten, that the western world and specially the United States with all its imperfections, was also the symbol of struggle against totalitarian and fascist forces and ultimately of freedom.

Patel’s letter goes on:

I have doubt if we can go any further than we have done already to convince China of our good intentions, friendliness and good will. 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 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 the wild insinuation that our attitude is determined by foreign influences.

Twelve years later, this last sentence would resound in the Indian mind. Was the China of 1950 very different from 1962’s China?

It looks as though it is not a friend speaking in that language, but a potential enemy.

Twelve years later, this last sentence would resound in the Indian mind. Was the China of 1950 very different from 1962’s China? Or was it the same China who had already decided in 1949 who would be the new leader of Asia and was ready to use all available means to achieve its plans.

The first plans for ‘liberating’ the people of Asia were made in the mid-twenties by Stalin who, on the occasion of the opening of University of Orient in May 1925, spoke about the socialist revolution being the motor of the national liberation movements: “you have to win your own independence”, he said. The bourgeois moderate parties have to be isolated and the leaders of the working classes and the peasants should unite their force under the banner of independent communist parties. He finally stressed the importance that the Communists should ally themselves with the leaders of the national liberation movements and the working class in the industrialised countries.

In November 1949, a meeting of the World Trade Union Association was held in Beijing. Moscow accepted that the New China would take the lead and conduct the ‘liberation’ of all the people of Asia. With Soviet help, a detailed plan was prepared by a Liaison Bureau located in Beijing. Its objectives were clear: to create revolutionary nodes and with the help of the working classes liberation should be brought to the entire South Asia and South East Asia through guerrilla warfare which was later to spread to cities.

Foremost in Patel’s mind was the future of India and he tried to look into this as objectively as possible.

In the background of this, we have to consider what new situation 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 northern frontier. The Himalayas have 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… China is no longer divided. It is united and strong…

The value of Patel’s letter resides in the fact that the Tibetan issue is not seen from an ideological point of view, but from a very practical angle; it is seen from the point of view of India’s security interests, not from Tibetan or Chinese or Western concerns.15

In a way, it was the first (and only) draft Tibet Policy for India.

The value of Patel’s letter resides in the fact that the Tibetan issue is not seen from an ideological point of view, but from a very practical angle…

The letter goes on to analyse with a great lucidity all the defence and other problems facing India. To give an example of the problems listed by Patel on which he thought immediate action had to be taken:

  • A military and intelligence appreciation of the Chinese threat to India both on the frontier and the internal security.
  • An examination of our military position and such redisposition of our forces as might be necessary, particularly with the idea of guarding important routes or areas which are likely to be subject to dispute
  • An appraisal of the strength of our forces
  • A long-term consideration of our defence needs
  • The question of Chinese entry into the UNO
  • The future of our mission in Lhasa and trade posts at Gyanste and Yatung
  • The policy in regard to the MacMahon Line

The letter concludes by suggesting that “we meet early to have a general discussion on these problems and decide on such steps as we might think immediately necessary.” Unfortunately, no meeting would be held. Nehru did not even respond to the letter.

Soon Sardar Patel would be too weak to attend office and slowly he withdrew from the political scene. He passed away on December 15, five weeks after having written the letter.

Nobody was left on the Indian scene to counter or balance Jawaharlal Nehru and his advisors. Some other leaders like Rajendra Prasad, the President of India, Acharya Kripalani, Dr. Ram Lohia tried to oppose the Prime Minister, but without success, they could not match the charisma and aura of the idealist Prime Minister.

The letter of Patel, probably based on a note from Girja Shankar Bajpai, will remain in the historical record for its great clarity of thought and its prophetic tone.

We have quoted it extensively because it symbolised the turn in the policy of the Government of India towards Tibet. Till November/December 1950, India regarded Tibet as a separate and independent nation; it only recognised a vague suzerainty of China over Tibet, which was more a ‘constitutional fiction’ as Curzon had described it.

Nehru did not respond directly to Patel’s letter, but a few days later, he dictated a Note that would become the corner stone of India’s Tibet Policy until the Prime Minister’s death, and in some way, till today

In November 1950, the balance changed and the policy began tilting towards friendship with China.

Six months later, as a first consequence of the new policy of non-interference by the Government of India, a 17 Point Agreement would be forced ‘under duress’ on the Tibetans. The further consequence was that the Indo-Tibetan border in the western and eastern sector became the Indo-Chinese border.

It is what the British had tried to avoid at any cost.

The two months of November/December 1950 provided an opportunity to prepare a Tibet Policy. All the ingredients were present in Patel’s letter, unfortunately, it would never be acknowledged. These words of Patel remain true after nearly 60 years: “The Himalayas have been regarded as an impenetrable barrier against any threat from the North. We had a friendly Tibet which gave us no trouble.”

The imbroglio created by the idealist views of Nehru remains unresolved.

Nehru’s Note on Tibet Policy

Nehru did not respond directly to Patel’s letter, but a few days later, he dictated a Note16 that would become the corner stone of India’s Tibet Policy until the Prime Minister’s death, and in some way, till today. We shall study this Note to try to understand Nehru’s fears and motivations.

Apart from Patel’s letter which was not even cited in Nehru’s note, what prompted the drafting of a new policy was the Tibetan Appeal to the UN. It was coming up for hearing in the General Committee of the General Assembly: “We have to send immediate instructions to Shri B.N. Rau as to what he should do in the event of Tibet’s appeal being brought up before the Security Council or the General Assembly,” writes Nehru.

It was wrong to assume that the Chinese had cooled down.

In one of their Notes, the Beijing Government had concluded their long communication by saying:

…as long as our two sides adhere strictly to the principle of mutual respect for territory, sovereignty, equality and mutual benefit, we are convinced that the friendship between China and India should be developed in a normal way, and that problems relating to Sino-Indian diplomatic, commercial and cultural relations with respect to Tibet may be solved properly and to our mutual benefit through normal diplomatic channels.

The Prime Minister notes that from the Chinese side, there “appear to be a toning down and [making] an attempt at some kind of a friendly approach.”

It was wrong to assume that the Chinese had cooled down. As Charles Bell had explained to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, after any action, the Chinese always prefer to wait a bit and see the reaction of their foes.

Having secured their military position in Tibet, with the Tibetan Appeal in the UN still pending, the Chinese ‘waited’ before taking the next step.

This was enough to melt Panikkar’s heart, even though after having said these sweet words, the Chinese note had reasserted full Chinese sovereignty over Tibet.

In November 1950, Nehru had accepted that the frontier between India and Tibet had de facto become the border between India and China.

They told India that they [India] had already acknowledged China’s sovereignty over Tibet and that “outside influences have been at play obstructing China’s mission in Tibet.” It was why the Chinese had to liberate Tibet: “the liberation of Changtu [Chamdo] proves that foreign forces and influences were inciting Tibetan troops to resist.”17

Once again the message was loud and clear: the Chinese army would go ahead. Nehru could only comment: “All this is much the same as has been said before… [but] there are repeated references in the note to China desiring the friendship of India.”

The Prime Minister also felt that the China policy had to be decided keeping in mind a long term view of the problem. For him it was a fait accompli that “China is going to be our close neighbour for a long time to come. We are going to have a tremendously long common frontier.”

In November 1950, Nehru had accepted that the frontier between India and Tibet had de facto become the border between India and China. It was a surprising statement because at that time, the Chinese troops had not marched further than Chamdo and were still several weeks walk away from Lhasa, and several months from the McMahon Line.

Nehru adds: “I think it may be taken for granted that China will take possession, in a political sense at least, of the whole of Tibet.”

He further admits that for the Tibetan people the “autonomy can obviously not be anything like the autonomy, verging on independence, which Tibet has enjoyed during the last forty years or so.”

It is beyond comprehension how Nehru, who wanted to be the hero of the oppressed nations, could at the same time accept that a nation ‘verging on independence,’ should lose its independence before his eyes, and that he could so easily accept this as a fait accompli.

…one reason which motivated Nehru to this easy acceptance of the disappearance of Tibet from the Asian maps, was that he thought it was in the interest of Tibet to have a socialist regime.

The only justification he could give is: “it is reasonable to assume from the very nature of Tibetan geography, terrain and climate,18 that a large measure of autonomy is almost inevitable.”

In all probability, one reason which motivated Nehru to this easy acceptance of the disappearance of Tibet from the Asian maps, was that he thought it was in the interest of Tibet to have a socialist regime. For Nehru, the old theocratic system had to be reformed and a more ‘democratic’ set-up had to be installed; the ‘liberation’ was Tibet’s chance. We should not forget that at the same time, he was himself trying to introduce democracy in Nepal and Sikkim.19

Another point made by Nehru is that “it is exceedingly unlikely that we may have to face any real military invasion [of India] from the Chinese side, whether in peace or in war, in the foreseeable future.”

It is not clear what was meant by ‘real’ invasion, however Nehru came to the conclusion that China would not take the risk to have too many new enemies; for that would weaken China.

He indirectly replies to Patel when he writes: “there is far too much loose talk about China attacking and overrunning India. If we lose our sense of perspective and world strategy and give way to unreasoning fears, then any policy that we might have is likely to fail.”

His only conclusion on the subject is that possible ‘gradual infiltration’ should be checked and ‘necessary precautions’ should be taken to prevent this. Unfortunately, even there nothing was done. This gave a green light to the Chinese to begin building a road on Indian territory. It would take five more years for the Government of India to ‘officially’ discover it.

At that time, the main thorn in India’s flesh was Kashmir. One can understand that the Government of India was not keen to open a second front in the Himalayas. It meant a lot of human and financial resources which were hardly available. From the time of independence, Pakistan had been designated as the enemy number one and for many strategists and politicians, it was out of the question to open ‘a second front.’

The motto will continue to be: “we cannot have all the time two possible enemies on either side of India.” Nehru forgot that sometimes one cannot choose to have enemies or friends.

Over the years, China fully played up the Indian difficulties in Kashmir.20

Nehru admitted that: “Pakistan is taking a great deal of interest, from the point of view of the developments in Tibet. Indeed it has been discussed in the Pakistan press that the new danger from Tibet to India might help them to settle the Kashmir problem according to their wishes.”21

However, Pakistan systematically took a position opposite to India’s in its dispute with China; whenever India voted against a resolution in the UN, Pakistan voted in favour and vice-versa. We were even told by an informant that when Pakistan saw that India was abandoning Tibet in the UN in 1950, Pakistan informally made it known that they were ready to help support the Tibetan cause.

The motto will continue to be: “we cannot have all the time two possible enemies on either side of India.” Nehru forgot that sometimes one cannot choose to have enemies or friends. India had two enemies, but refused to accept the existence of one of them, and the mantra ‘bhai-bhai’ was woefully insufficient to solve the problem.

On the problem of Communism, Nehru says: “The idea that communism inevitably means expansion and war, or, to put it more precisely, that Chinese communism means inevitably an expansion towards India, is rather naïve.”

Future events revealed just how naïve Nehru was.

Nehru thought that in introducing his own brand of socialism in India, he would counter Communist propaganda. But this did not work either.

Now comes the corner stone of the China policy between 1950 to 1962: “In a long-term view, India and China are two of the biggest countries of Asia bordering on each other and both with certain expansive tendencies, because of their vitality. If their relations are bad, this will have a serious effect not only on both of them but on Asia as a whole.”

Nehru thought that in introducing his own brand of socialism in India, he would counter Communist propaganda. But this did not work either.

This sentence contradicts the previous one when Nehru had stated that it was rather naïve to think in terms of expansion for Communist China, now it is admitted that China (and India) have ‘tendencies.’22

The ‘Ambassador of China’ as Panikkar is sometimes referred to, had himself admitted, in 1948, that “a China so organized will be in an extremely powerful position to claim its historic role of authority over Tibet, Burma, Indo-China and Siam. The historic claims in regard to these are vague and hazy.”

Vagueness and ambiguity or constitutional fiction never prevented China from asserting her claim when she was weak or from grabbing back ‘her’ territories when she was strong.

Nehru’s Note concludes: what “we should seek is some kind of understanding of China” and he adds, “China desires this too for obvious reasons.”

“We cannot save Tibet”, is the final conclusion.

The strange argument popped up again: if we do anything to help Tibet, it will upset the Chinese and the fate of Tibet would be worse than it is now. This argument was repeated again and again during the following years. After having lost more than one million of their countrymen, having had more than 6,000 of their monasteries destroyed and their thousand-year old culture erased, the Tibetans can certainly question the validity of this contention!

Could it have been worse? Would it have been ‘worse’ if India had supported Tibet the way she came out in support of other colonized nations? Certainly not.

The fact remains that ten months before the Chinese troops entered Lhasa, Nehru had already accepted that Tibet could not be saved and that what was formerly the Indo-Tibetan border had already become the Indo-Chinese border.

About the Tibetan Appeal to the UN, Nehru finally decided to do as little as possible: “We may say that whatever might have been acknowledged in the past about China’s sovereignty or suzerainty, recent events have deprived China of the right to claim that. There may be some moral basis for this argument. But it will not take us or Tibet very far. It will only hasten the downfall of Tibet.”

The facts showed that Tibet was an independent nation, it was clear that China, as the aggressor, was in the wrong and that it was India’s moral duty to defend this position, but under the pretext that it would not ‘take us very far,’ even the moral stand was dropped. The conclusion was clear: “Therefore, it will be better not to discuss Tibet’s appeal in the UN.”

Tibet was not to be saved.

Reply to a Debate in Parliament

A few days later, Nehru spoke in the Parliament and gave what was a typically Nehruvian speech. After a vague and moralistic lecture on a totally unrelated subject, he finally came to the topic of the debate. Were these unrelated words a tactic to show himself as a humanist? Here are some of his pompous words:

People have become more brutal in thought, speech and action. All the graciousness and gentleness of life seems to have ebbed away. The human values seem to have suffered considerably. Of course, plenty of human values still remain. I am not saying that everything worthwhile is completely destroyed but I do say that the process of coarsening is going on apace all over the world, including our own country. We are being coarsened and vulgarised all over the world because of many things, but chiefly because of violence and the succession of wars. If this process continues, I wonder whether anything of value in life will remain for sensitive individuals.23

Whatever Nehru declared in the Parliament can be viewed as merely demagogical rhetoric aimed at cooling down the opposition and the general public who had been deeply disturbed by the entry of the Chinese troops in Tibet.

The fact remains that ten months before the Chinese troops entered Lhasa,24 Nehru had already accepted that Tibet could not be saved and that what was formerly the Indo-Tibetan border had already become the Indo-Chinese border.

Nehru did not realize that though it is good for a nation to speak about principles, if these principles are not followed up by actions, the nation becomes merely a Paper Tiger.

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Is it not paradoxical that an internationalist like Nehru did not believe in the United Nations body anymore?

Another factor may have tempted Nehru to ‘drop’ Tibet. Could a policy opposing hegemonic China, be implemented on the ground?

In what is known as the last letter of Nehru to Dr. Gopal Singh,25 the Indian Prime Minister partially answers this question: “It is not clear to me what we can do about Tibet in the present circumstances. To have a resolution in the UN about Tibet will not mean much as China is not represented there. We are not indifferent to what has happened to Tibet. But we are unable to do anything EFFECTIVE about it.”

This could not be the basis of a Tibet Policy.

Notes

  1. Sikang or Xikang for the Chinese.
  2. SWJN, Series II, Vol. 15 (2), p. 332.
  3. ‘Phodo,’ for “ford’ because the Tibetans could not pronounce ‘F,’ Kusho means ‘Mr..”
  4. From Kinnaur, Lahul and Spiti.
  5. Tibetan ‘Drichu.’
  6. He is quoting Chinese sources, sometimes more reliable for this type of information.
  7. Ford, op. cit., p. 108.
  8. Ngabo, as Governor of Kham, had the rank of a Cabinet Minister and was referred as Ngabo Shape.
  9. Ford, op. cit., p. 110.
  10. Tibet was still independent at that time.
  11. For the text of the Memorandum, see: http://www.claudearpi.net/maintenance/uploaded_pics/MemorandumCheewangRigzin.pdf
  12. Ibid.
  13. To read the notes, visit: http://www.claudearpi.net/maintenance/uploaded_pics/195011ExchangeofnotesonTibet.pdf.
  14. Patel’s letter is available in Patel, op. cit. P. 275 or http://www.claudearpi.net/maintenance/uploaded_pics/19501107PateltoNehruonTibet.pdf.
  15. While Panikkar and Nehru were often seeing things from the Chinese and anti-western points of view.
  16. Text of the Note in SWJN, Series II, Vol. 15 (2), p. 345. Policy Regarding China and Tibet.
  17. Was it the ‘lonely Briton,’ Robert Ford who was threatening the mighty China?
  18. The future would show that adapting to the Tibetan plateau posed little problem for the Chinese troops, who had passed through Tibet during the Long March.
  19. And in Kashmir through Sheikh Abdullah.
  20. A Chinese Premier (Li Peng) even came to Delhi to threaten the Indian Government that if they did not muzzle the activities of the Tibetan refugees in India, China would support the Pakistani stand on Kashmir. India immediately obeyed.
  21. The editor of the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru cited an article in the Pakistani newspaper The Dawn of 12 November which published a poem ‘Tibet and Kashmir,’ and commented: “The passion which has inspired his (poet’s) muse to sing a poem of praise to liberators of Tibet and to let his despairing mind dwell wistfully on thoughts of some such ‘liberation’ for his own overrun and beleaguered motherland cannot but touch one’s heart…”
  22. However it was historically incorrect to assume that India had expansionist tendencies like China.
  23. Sen, op. cit., p. 118.
  24. In September 1951.
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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

Claude Arpi

Writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations. He is the author of 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga, Tibet: The Lost Frontier and Dharamshala and Beijing: the negotiations that never were.

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3 thoughts on “Where was India’s Tibet Policy?

  1. THIS WAS ACTUALLY GANDHI JI WHO WAS UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF SECULAR ROMANTCISM AND CREATES PAKISTAN AND AGAIN NO.2 NEHRU JI WHO WAS UNDER LEFTIST ADVENTURISM OR ROMANTCISM TO LET OCCUPY TIBET BY CHINA.

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