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The Situation is not Gloomy, the Borders are Safe
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Claude Arpi | Date:14 Jun , 2016 0 Comments
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.

Dr Sampuranand was a freedom-fighter and educationist.

Born on 1 January 1891 at Benaras, he participated in the Non-cooperation Movement and edited Maryada, a Hindi monthly with Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya.

In 1922, he was elected to the All-India Congress Committee, and later became provincial Minister for Education in the Uttar Pradesh cabinet and then Minister in the Union Government from 1951 to 1954.

He held several portfolios such as education, finance, and home labour; from April 1962 to April 1967, he was Governor of Rajasthan.

On October 28, 1951, hardly a month after the first Chinese troops entered Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, Dr Sampuranand sent a letter to the Prime Minister from Lucknow. It was marked ‘Secret’.

Reading this letter, one realizes that several prominent politicians were aware of the Chinese threat on the Northern borders of India.

What the Government has done for the last 65 years on such warnings is another matter.

Here is the letter from Dr Sampuranand.

My dear Jawaharlalji,

I am writing this personal letter to you because this seems to me to be the only way to unburden myself of what has recently become one of my principal worries. Of course, you know all about the events on our Indo-Tibetan border, but my study of what is happening in that region makes me feel that the question has not received that serious attention which it deserves. I do not mean to suggest that anyone across the border is intending to engage in aggressive activities against India in the near future, but history shows that negligence shown in the matter of what appears to be trifling at the moment may lead to disastrous consequences in times of trouble.

I am basing my observations on the reports received from time to time from the local authorities and on the verbal report of the Inspector General of Police who has been on an extensive tour in that region. The Chinese have reduced prices considerably, so much so that rice in that comparatively inaccessible area is selling at a cheaper rate than obtains in the rice- producing areas in the plains. The prices of sugar and other necessaries have also been brought down. We have no roads leading upto the border.

The State P.W.D. has prepared an estimate for 2.5 crores, which is taking its leisurely course among the files of some department of the Government of India. On the other hand, the Tibetan side of the border line has evidently fairly good roads and good barracks have been provided for the Chinese troops and the Tibetans whom they are training in modern methods of war. They are also apparently raising some kind of a local militia. Here the Government of India have not thought it necessary to post a single soldier and, in any case, there are no buildings where soldiers could stay if they were posted there. Among other reasons, the utter absence of barracks has prevented the U.P. Government from posting any unit of the P.A.C. which, as you know, can efficiently do part of the work which might otherwise have to be entrusted to the Army.

My own feeling is that, in such cases, barracks should be built first and an estimate prepared later. The check-posts, we are maintaining, will have to be broken up very soon because there is no arrangement for shelter or for regular supply of food, fuel and other necessities in that area during the ensuing cold weather. At the most, the men can be kept there for about a fortnight. The local Bhotias also move inland in this season and there will be nothing to prevent the infiltration or Tibetans and Chinese into our territory.

I am asking the Inspector-General to see if he can recruit some local men for the police but it is difficult to be quite sure of the loyalty of these men. Racial, linguistic and religious ties will probably make them lean towards the men on the other side; their loyalty to India cannot but be of a most tenuous nature. I might also point out that we are short or wireless sets; the Chinese, on the other hand, seem to be very well equipped in this respect. The Government of India have not yet agreed to our request for wireless sets. Probably, this question is also under consideration by somebody somewhere.

Some Tibetans, it is said under the inspiration of their Chinese mentors, are believed to say that Tibetan suzerainty extends over that part of the U.P. which reaches upto Moradabad. The claim is, of course, fantastic and is not being put forward from any responsible quarter. But we have to remember that such fantastic claims have elsewhere led to international wars in recent years. Anything can provide the spring-board for people who are spoiling for a fight. There is also the curious convention which allows Tibetan officials to collect certain taxes within Indian territory. The amount involved is very small, but the principle involved is very dangerous. Even if the practice is put an end to now, its memory may be revived some day as a proof of the shadowy sovereignty exercised by the Tibetan over certain territory in the U.P.

It may be that I am exaggerating the importance of these little things, but it seems to me that it will do us no harm to take all necessary precautions; a strategic road, good winter barracks for soldiers, a small military outpost and a few well equipped police check-posts will amply repay the expenditure involved.

Yours sincerely,

On October 31, 1951, the Prime Minister replied that it was no “need take a too gloomy a view of the situation.”

The first ‘official’ Chinese incursions occurred in Barahoti in June 1954.

India was not ready; nothing had been done to correct the issues raised by Dr Sampuranand.

This will continue during the following years/decades.

Here is Nehru’s answer:

My dear Sampurnanand,

Thank you for your letter of October 28th.

We have not been entirely negligent about our Tibetan border. Full enquiries have been made by air and on land and we are considering reports of these enquiries. Some steps have already been taken on the lines of the recommendations made.

While I agree with you that all necessary steps, within our resources, should be taken as soon as possible, I do not think that we need take a too gloomy view of the situation.

I am a little surprised to learn that prices of rice and sugar etc., have been brought down considerably. Could you send me some further information on this subject?

Yours sincerely,
Jawaharlal Nehru

Nearly 8 years later, on September 8, 1959, Dr Sampuranand wrote again to the Prime Minister from Lucknow.

My dear Jawaharlalji,

There is a very important matter about which I wanted to speak to you, but as we were very busy, it was not possible for me to do so. People in the State, particularly those living near the Indo-Tibetan border, are greatly disturbed by news of Chinese infiltration in Indian territory. The matter has been raised in the Legislature also.

Today’s papers carry the news of the Chinese having entered a part of Punjab somewhere on the Lahaul side. This may or may not be correct; even if it is a rumour, it is enough to add to the already existing alarm. It is felt that the strength of our police on the border is not sufficient and that, in any case, there is nothing to prevent infiltration during the winter months when the police retires from its forward positions. You might remember that some time ago, you had yourself suggested that all-the-year-round police arrangements should be made in that area and we had been asked to prepare a scheme for that purpose. We did so and received the assurance that it would be sanctioned in its entirety. I do not know what has happened to it as I have not heard anything about it for the last several months.

The idea was roughly this: It may not be possible for the police to remain in the winter season in places which it occupies in other parts of the year as the area is swept by snow and blizzards and remains completely cut off for weeks together, but a little further back a line of check-posts can be maintained. This area also is not particularly attractive from the point of view of the weather – there are heavy snow-falls-but with proper arrangements it can be held. Expenditure will have to be incurred, however, on putting up buildings and making such arrangements as will ensure a steady flow of supplies during the worst weather. That scheme was to cost about 50 lakhs. We had prepared it on the assumption that, if it was sanctioned, it would come into operation next year. But if it is felt that, in the conditions obtaining at present, this area has to be policed at all costs to prevent possible infiltration, it might be possible to do something in the few weeks remaining till winter actually sets in. It requires your immediate attention. I do not know which department of the Government, External Affairs, Defence, Home or Finance is studying the matter. But I thought the best thing would be to write to you personally.

I cannot say, of course, what the Chinese intend to do, but if their idea is to infiltrate and gain footholds in those parts of our territory which they claim to be their own, it seems to me that the winter months would provide the most suitable opportunity, because that is the time when our frontiers remain completely unguarded.

Yours sincerely,

On September 9, 1959, Nehru replied to Dr Sampuranand: “I do not think it does anyone any good to be alarmist.”

By that time, the Chinese had already entered in Longju in Subansiri Frontier Division as well as in Ladakh.

Here is Nehru’s response.

My dear Sampuranand,

I have your letter of the 8th September.

Our relations with China are strained and are likely to remain so for some considerable time. You must have seen the White Paper we issued and you would probably see further correspondence in the press soon.

While this is so, and we have to be vigilant, I do not think it does anyone any good to be alarmist. The news appearing in the press is often based on rumour and without foundation. I do not think any Chinese have entered any part of the Punjab, in Lahaul or elsewhere. Nor do I think there is much chance of the Chinese rolling across the U .P. border with Tibet. It may well be, however, that when your police detachment is withdrawn from Hoti, the Chinese will come and sit there as they did once previously.

The scheme to which you refer, that is putting up buildings at a cost of Rs. 50 lakhs, obviously cannot be given effect to, quickly. What is more important, I should imagine, is a good road to these places.

Anyhow I am having this matter looked into.

Yours sincerely,
Jawaharlal Nehru

What is the moral of the story?

It is good to be optimist, but one should always be ready for the worst.


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