The Himalayan Adventure

Part 1

‘India declares war on China’

While leaving for Sri Lanka on 12 October 1962, the prime minister of India declared that he had given orders to the army to throw the Chinese out from the India-China border area on the north-east. Next day the New York Herald Tribune carried an editorial entitled “India declares war on China”. [1]

This declaration of war against China was the culmination of a policy that Nehru and his associates had been pursuing since as early as April 1947 when India was still a British colony. On 25 April, the external affairs department of the government of India, of which Nehru was in charge as a member of the viceroy’s ‘interim government’, informed the British secretary of state for India that “Government of India now wish to be represented in Tibet ... and should be grateful to know whether His Majesty’s Government desire to retain separate Mission there in future. If they do not, it would seem feasible to arrange transition from ‘British Mission’ to ‘Indian Mission’ without publicity and without drawing too much attention to change, to avoid if possible any constitutional issue being raised by China.” [2] At the time a civil war was going on in China. Nehru and his associates sought to resort to surreptitious methods to fulfil their expansionist aims.

On 15 August 1947, the day Britain’s direct rule of India ended, the British mission in Lhasa (Tibet’s capital) formally became the Indian mission. The last British representative in Lhasa, H.E. Richardson, became the first Indian representative there. Richardson wrote: “The transition was almost imperceptible: the existing staff was retained in its entirety and the only obvious change was the change in the flag.” [3]

The Indian rulers’ expansionist policy

When World War II was drawing to an end, India’s ruling classes dreamed of becoming a zonal power in Asia  –  from the east coast of Africa to the Pacific  –  under the umbrella of the Anglo-American powers. The end of the war saw in Asia the defeat of Japan, the decline in the power and prestige of the old colonial powers like France and the Netherlands, and the prospect of a bitter civil war in China. This whetted the appetite of the Indian big bourgeoisie. To be brief, we would quote only from a few of Nehru’s speeches and statements. In January 1946, he declared that “India is likely to dominate politically and economically the Indian Ocean region.” [4] Addressing army officers in October 1946, he said:

“India is today [when India was still under British rule] among the four great powers of the world, other three being America, Russia and China. But in point of resources India has a greater potential than China.” [5]

In 1945 Nehru wrote:

“The Pacific is likely to take the place of the Atlantic in the future as a nerve centre of the world. Though not directly a Pacific state, India will inevitably exercise an important influence there. India will also develop as the centre of economic and political activity in the Indian Ocean area, in south-east Asia and right up to the Middle East.... For the small national state is doomed. It may survive as a cultural, autonomous area but not as an independent political unit.” [6]

It became the theme of his many speeches and statements in 1945 and after that India was “bound to emerge as one of the greatest powers of the world.” [7]

After Britain’s direct rule of India ended, the Indian rulers directed their attention to India’s northern neighbours: the Himalayan kingdoms of Kashmir, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Tibet. Even before the end of direct colonial rule the Nehrus wanted to annex Kashmir. Jammu and Kashmir (J and K) was then a native state under British paramountcy. (On the transfer of power in ‘British India’ J and K was free to accede to India or not.) On 14 June 1947, V.K. Krishna Menon, Nehru’s confidant, made a fervent appeal to viceroy Mountbatten to ensure the state’s accession to India. On 17 June, on the eve of Mountbatten’s visit to J and K, Nehru himself wrote a long note to the viceroy pleading for Kashmir’s joining India. [8] When the maharaja of J and K acceded to India in October 1947, the instrument of accession had a proviso that the accession would be final only after law and order was restored and the people of J and K freely decided in favour of it. [9] On behalf of the Indian government Nehru gave repeated pledges to the people of J and K and to the United Nations Organization that this issue of accession would be decided finally “according to the universally accepted norm of plebiscite or referendum”. [10] But Nehru indulged in double-talk [11] of which he was a consummate master. The Indian ruling classes would not allow the people of J and K to decide their own fate through a fair plebiscite. Today their political managers are more brazen-faced than before and claim that J and K is an integral part of India. So J and K lies torn into two parts  –  about one third under the occupation of Pakistan and the rest under the virtual military occupation of India  –  and ravaged by hostile forces.

On 7 November 1950 Patel, India’s home minister, wrote to India’s prime minister, Nehru: “The undefined state of the frontier [in the north and northeast] 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. Our northern or north-eastern approaches consist of Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, the Darjeeling and tribal areas in Assam.... The people inhabiting these portions have no established loyalty or devotion to India.” He suggested that “The political and administrative steps which we should take to strengthen our northern and north-eastern frontiers” were to “include the whole of the border, i.e., Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Darjeeling and the tribal territory in Assam.” [12]

We would quote here from Neville Maxwell’s India’s China War:

“In the case of Sikkim, India in 1949 seized the opportunity of a local uprising against the ruler to send in troops and bring the state into closer dependence as a protectorate than it had formally been under the British [and in 1974 Nehru’s worthy daughter and then India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi marched Indian troops into Sikkim and annexed it into India]; in the same year [1949] India signed a treaty with Bhutan, in which she took over Britain’s right to guide Bhutan in foreign affairs. New Delhi’s influence in Nepal continued to be paramount, and was increased in 1950 when the Indian Government helped the King of Nepal to break the century-old rule of the Rana clan. The new Government thus took over and consolidated the ‘chain of protectorates’, as Curzon had described the Himalayan states.” [13]

Nehru considered Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to be “really part of India” and wanted her to be included within an Indian federation. Nepal, too, according to Nehru, was “certainly a part of India” and, as Chester Bowles, Nehru’s friend and US ambassador to India for two terms, said: “So India has done on a small scale in Nepal what we have done on a far broader scale on two continents.” [14]

India was also interested in Tibet, which was a part of China. A civil war was, however, raging in that vast country. When World War II had ended with the defeat of Japan, the US imperialists asked Japan not to surrender to the Chinese Communists in Manchuria, the north-east provinces of China; the US rulers had been supporting Chiang Kai-shek’s rotten regime. They transported 480,000 of Chiang’s troops from the south to Manchuria and north China. They trained and equipped 40 Kuomintang divisions, numbering more than 700,000 men  –  twice the number that they had equipped during the world war. “By 1947 the total value of war material and other aid given by the United States Government to the Kuomintang regime amounted to $4,000,000,000, a sum considerably in excess of American financial assistance to China throughout the period of war with Japan. [15] Actually the US aid to Chiang was much greater than estimated above. David Horowitz wrote: “with its billions in aid, with its armies actually on the mainland amounting to 100,000 men, its technical advisors and missionaries, the United States Government couldn’t ‘save’ China.” [16] The US imperialists’ abundant financial and military aid could not save their lackey, Chiang Kai-shek, who had to flee from the Chinese mainland in 1949.

The US imperialists were also engaged in intrigues in China’s far-flung provinces of Sinkiang and Tibet. From 1947, if not from earlier days, they were active in those provinces  –  not without the help of the Nehru government. US vice-consul in Sinkiang was engaged in espionage and sabotage and in directing attacks against the revolutionary movement in that province. When the Sinkiang troops rose against the Kuomintang he tried to escape to India through Tibet and was shot by Tibetan border guards. The US consul in Sinkiang fled with his men to India and was received in Sikkim by an official of the US embassy in New Delhi. [17] To quote Natarajan, “These reports indicate that the unusual American activities in Sinkiang could not have been possible without the acquiescence of the Indian Government.” [18]

Taking advantage of the bitter civil war, the Tibetan government of serf-owners established contacts with the US government as early as 1946. [19] An experienced US intelligence agent, Nicol Smith, explored Kashmir and western Tibet for military bases in 1947. [20] The pretension of the government of the Tibetan serf-owners to independence was encouraged by the US imperialists. An American, Lowell Thomas, visited Tibet in 1949 and delivered a letter from president Truman to the Dalai Lama. Returning from Tibet, Thomas declared in Calcutta on 10 October 1949 that “the Tibetan authorities wanted outside help to hold back the progress of Communism and that India would have a major role to play in lending such help. A week later, he suggested to the press in New York that the United States might find a way to supply modern arms to Tibet and to give advice on guerrilla warfare. He disclosed that he carried scrolls and oral messages from the Tibetan rulers to President Truman and Secretary of State Acheson.” [21]

On 25 October 1949 the New York Times reported that the US state department was considering recognition of Tibet as an independent country. It stated: “The question raises delicate points in diplomacy as the United States has long regarded the remote mountainous land as a part of China ... the Tibetan Government ... has made requests, so far unofficial, for military assistance in holding up Communist forces ... State Department officials, reluctant to discuss the subject in detail, conceded that Tibet was in a most strategic position.” The report also said that consideration was being given to the question of providing military help to Tibet (which could be sent only through India) in case the US government recognized Tibet as an independent state. [22]

Answering questions from a US news agency in November 1949, the regent in Tibet declared Tibet’s independence and appealed for help from all nations. [23]

As we have noted, the Nehrus also had a keen interest in Tibet. On 27 July 1949 Reuters reported that Pandit Nehru was planning a visit to Lhasa in the near future. [24] On 29 July the London Times reported from Delhi: “Neutral observers are cautiously disposed to interpret recent signs of closer liaison between the Government of India and the Dalai Lama’s Government in Tibet as a gratifying indication that an important new bulwark against spread of Communism westward is being created.” [25]

H.S. Dayal, India’s political officer in Sikkim, left in August 1949 on a special mission to Lhasa. [26] An American news agency reported from London on 10 January 1950 that “accord has been reached between India, the United Kingdom and the United States on measures aimed at preserving Tibetan autonomy.” That such an accord had been reached was denied by a spokesman of the external affairs ministry in New Delhi days later but it was not denied that consultations were held. [27]

A few days later the Lhasa government sent a “goodwill mission” to visit India, the United States and other countries, but not the People’s Republic of China. To quote Natarajan, “The Lhasa aristocracy was actively canvassing for foreign help to fight China. The Anglo-American powers were anxious to keep Tibet separated from China, and Indian policy was aiding their effort.” [28]

The government of the People’s Republic of China sought a peaceful solution to the Tibetan problem and invited the Tibetan authorities on 21 January 1950 to send representatives to Peking to “negotiate a peaceful solution of the question”. While, on 30 January 1950, it demanded the withdrawal of the “goodwill mission” sent to foreign countries, it offered “appropriate regional autonomy.” [29]

The attitude of the Tibetan authorities representing serf-owners was expectedly hostile. The Dalai Lama was reported to have appealed to neighbouring countries for help in fighting “possible aggression”. But soon it dawned on them that discretion was the better part of valour. They agreed to send a negotiating team which was supposed to go to Peking via India and Hong Kong. It came to India but never went to Peking on one plea or another. [30] In the meantime, the Dalai Lama’s brother, Gyalo Thondup, came to Calcutta and went in May to Taipeh where he saw Chiang Kai-shek and then to Tokyo and other places. [31] On 20 August the New York Times reported: “The Tibetans have been making more than their normal purchases of arms from India.... India has definitely taken up the Dalai Lama’s battle on the diplomatic front.” [32] At a press conference on 24 August Pandit Nehru stated that the Indian ambassadors in Washington, London, Moscow and Peking frequently exchanged their views on Tibet. [33]

The Tibetan negotiating mission did not contact even Chinese envoys in India until 6 September. They were advised by the Chinese charge d’affaires in Calcutta and, later, by the Chinese ambassador to go to Peking without delay. But the advice was ignored.

When all efforts failed to arrive at a peaceful settlement, Peking announced that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army would move into Tibet. The announcement was greeted by the Nehru government with an angry protest against any military action against Tibet and a warning that this would damage the prospect of the People’s Republic of China’s acquisition of United Nations membership. When Peking again announced that the People’s Liberation Army had been ordered to move into Tibet, India sent an angrier protest note deploring Chinese ‘invasion’ and use of force against Tibet. [34] (The Nehru government forgot that the question of ‘invasion’ did not arise, for Tibet was recognized as a part of China; and that it itself had already used force to decide India’s relationship with Junagadh and Hyderabad  –  Junagadh which had acceded to Pakistan and Hyderabad which was then constitutionally outside India.)

The Chinese reply was sharply worded. It pointed out that Tibet was a part of China and that the People’s Liberation Army must enter Tibet to liberate the Tibetan people and defend China’s frontiers. While expressing the desire to continue peacefully to negotiate with the Tibetan government. it warned that no foreign interference would be tolerated. It added that those who would further obstruct China’s membership of the U.N.O. on the pretext of China’s exercise of her sovereign rights in Tibet would only demonstrate their hostility towards China and that the two problems were unrelated. [35]

Tibet asked India for help (its nature was not disclosed). [36] Any military intervention in Tibet was beyond India’s capacity, though, according to one writer, US president Truman had offered transport aircraft to help India to fight the People’s Liberation Army and open a second front against China when the war in Korea was going on. [37] When other appeals failed, the Tibetan authorities made a direct appeal to the United Nations on 7 November 1950. Though the appeal was sponsored there, it was dropped within a short time. [38] The Sino-Tibetan agreement guaranteeing the autonomy of Tibet within the Chinese People’s Republic was signed on 27 May 1951. [39]

Interestingly, in a letter of 7 November 1950 to Nehru, Sardar Patel lamented: “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 [indeed, the most unkindest cut of all].... 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 influence.” It was in this letter that he proposed that “political and administrative steps” should be taken by India “to strengthen our northern and north-eastern frontiers” which “would include the whole of the border, i.e., Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Darjeeling and the tribal territory in Assam.” [40]

In his lengthy note on China and Tibet, dated 18 November 1950, Nehru wrote: “We cannot save Tibet, as we should have liked to do, and our very attempts to save it might well bring greater trouble to it.... 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.” [41] (When the Indian constitution was framed in the late forties under the guidance of the Nehrus, the constituent states of what is called the Union of India were virtually denied any autonomy). [42] It will be seen that Nehru used not only diplomacy but also other ways to fulfil his aim  –  the aim of saving Tibet for India.

Cartographic aggression

The border between India and Tibet had remained undefined and undemarcated when the direct rule of India by the British ended in 1947. Vast areas in the north-east, mountainous and sparsely populated by tribes, and in the north-west, mountainous, icy and desolate, were never under the administration of India. Parts of the areas in the north-east were under the Tibetan administration and the people there had close affinities with the Tibetans. In April 1947, during the last days of the British raj, the external affairs department of the government of India under Jawaharlal Nehru expressed the resolve to “stand by the McMahon Line” in the north-east though a message from it acknowledged that the Simla Convention of 1914, when the line defining India’s north-eastern boundary with Tibet was drawn on a map by a high British official, McMahon, had been an “abortive one”. [43] After some time Nehru started claiming that the boundary between India and Tibet had been demarcated and fixed and was beyond dispute. Speaking in parliament on 20 November 1950, Nehru asserted:

“The frontier from Bhutan eastwards has been clearly defined by the McMahon line which was fixed by the Simla Convention of 1914.... Our maps show that the McMahon line is our boundary and that is our boundary  –  map or no map.” [44]

The Simla Convention, which had been admitted by them as “abortive” was no longer so to the Nehrus. They wanted to fix the boundary line unilaterally. In the eastern sector the McMahon line was never ratified by the parties concerned including the British Indian government, and the Chinese had objected to it from the very beginning. Even viceroy Lord Hardinge refused to accept it. [45] As Neville Maxwell points out, “The first edition of Jawarharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India, published in 1946, had a map showing the boundary thus,” that is, showing India’s north-eastern boundary at the foot of the hills, with NEFA (or present-day Arunachal Pradesh) as outside India.” [46] According to Kuldip Nayar, some Soviet maps showed the entire North-East Frontier Agency and Aksai Chin as part of China. [46a]

The study of the Survey of India maps, writes Karunakar Gupta,

“revealed to me that all political maps of India before 1954 showed the Northern Boundary extending from Kashmir to Nepal as ‘Undefined’, while the North-eastern frontier was shown as ‘Undemarcated’. Since 1954, the Survey of India maps were changed. The words ‘Boundary Undefined’ which had been inscribed along the Western and Middle sectors of the frontier at three places were erased. Similarly, the words ‘Boundary Undemarcated’ were deleted from over the North-east frontier. This alteration of maps was done surreptitiously without consultation or agreement with China.

“A study of the Survey of India maps in circulation in the thirties showed that in the Western sector, India’s Northern frontier was delineated approximately along the Karakoram range which forms the watershed in this region. But in 1945, on the initiative of Sir Olaf Caroe, the then Foreign Secretary, the Survey of India maps were unilaterally changed to register an equivocal claim to the effect that from the east of the Karakoram Pass this boundary extended in the Northeast up to the Kuenlan range. This was indicated by a colour-wash with words ‘Boundary Undefined’ inscribed on it.

A study of the Survey of India maps published in the early thirties further revealed that in the eastern sector, the boundary ran along the foot-hills of the Himalayas and this more or less coincided with the boundary shown in Chinese official maps. Since 1938, however, the Survey of India maps were surreptitiously altered, showing the McMahon Line, with the word ‘Undemarcated’ imprinted on it.” [47]

“The great cartographic forgery,” as Sourin Roy, a former deputy director, National Archives of India, pointed out, was initiated by Olaf Caroe and was completed under Nehru in 1954. [48]

In his two-volume work The McMahon Line (published in 1966), Alastair Lamb commented:

“Why Mr Nehru, while declaring himself committed to a policy of friendship, of peaceful co-existence, with Communist China, should have adhered with such tenacity to those symbols, at least in Chinese eyes, of British Imperialism, the Simla Convention and the McMahon Line notes, is one of the mysteries of the twentieth century.” [49]

Arnold Toynbee also observed:

“It is queer that lines drawn by British officials should have been consecrated as precious national assets of the British Indian Empire’s non-British successor states.... The present consecration of these British-made lines as heirlooms in the successor states’ national heritages is an unexpected and unfortunate turn of History’s wheel.” [50]

‘The forward policy’

India under the Nehrus was following a ‘forward policy’ from 1947. In his book The Guilty Men of 1962 D.R. Mankekar has cited a memorandum issued by Nehru to the external affairs ministry, the defence ministry and the home ministry in July 1954, only a few weeks after Chinese premier Chou En-lai’s visit to India in June 1954 and the signing of a joint declaration upholding the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence as a sequel to the Sino-Indian Agreement on Tibetan Trade and Pilgrimage on 29 April 1954. In the above memorandum, to quote Mankekar, “Nehru described the Agreement as a new starting-point of our relations with China and Tibet, and affirmed that both as flowing from our policy and as a consequence of our Agreement with China, the northern frontier [surreptitiously and unilaterally defined by the Nehrus in that very year] should be considered a firm and definite one, which was not open to discussion with anybody. A system of checkpoints should be spread along the entire frontier. More especially, we should have checkpoints in such places as might be considered disputed areas.” [51]

T.N. Kaul, a former foreign secretary of India, who also served as ambassador to the U.S.A., U.S.S.R., etc, wrote:

“In fact, on a note submitted by me to him immediately after signing of the Panchasheel Treaty [in 1954], Nehru had ordered that we should extend our administration and defence and checkposts right up to our claim line.... In NEFA [now Arunachal Pradesh], which was then under the administrative control of the ministry of external affairs, we did extend our administration almost to the McMahon Line... [52]

Two things may be noted. First, Nehru spoke of “our claim line”  –  not a demarcated and fixed border. Second, the administration of what they called NEFA (North-East Frontier Agency) was placed under the ministry of external affairs, which was unusual if it was a part of India.

Pursuing a ‘forward policy’, the Nehru government went on setting up posts  –  both in the north-east and in the north-west  –  “in such places”, to quote Nehru, “as might be considered disputed areas” against the advice of Indian army commanders and despite repeated warnings from China. [53]

V.K. Krishna Menon, Nehru’s close friend and India’s Defence Minister, who was forced to resign after the Himalayan debacle, told Kuldip Nayar that “nobody in India appreciated the fact that ‘I encroached upon 4000 sqare miles of territory belonging to China’.” [53a]

What Frank Moraes, who was sent by the Nehru government as a member of the first cultural delegation (of which Nehru’s sister Mrs Pandit was the leader) to post-liberation China in 1952, wrote, is significant. While briefing the members of the delegation, Nehru said:

Never forget that the basic challenge in South-East Asia is between India and China. That challenge runs along the spine of Asia.”

Moraes commented: “In the light of Nehru’s public attitude of exuberant friendliness for Communist China at that time, the private caveat he uttered for our benefit is revealing.” [54]

Collusion between India, the USA, etc.
to intervene in Tibet

It is still more revealing that in the heyday of non-alignment and panchsheel (the five principles of peaceful co-existence), the Nehrus were engaged in a dirty intrigue to stir up revolt of the serf-owners in Tibet in collusion with foreign powers, especially the USA and its CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). George Patterson, who, disguised as a correspondent of London’s Daily Telegraph, was engaged in anti-China espionage from his base in Kalimpong in the district of Darjeeling, wrote:

“In the autumn of 1954 I was asked by an Indian Government official to advise on what might be done to redeem India’s prestige in some way. The matter would have to be carefully handled, for with the international acclaim following the signing of the Sino-Indian Trade Pact and the subsequent success of the ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence’ at Bandung, India must not be caught out in any subversive action concerning the affairs of Tibet.... The only possibility of doing anything lay with Rapga Pangdatsang [a Khamba chief, then in Kham in Eastern Tibet; he was earlier expelled from India]. If the Indians would rescind their expulsion order, I said, I was certain that Rapga would leave Kham, come to India and work for Tibetan independence from China, bringing in Topgyay, his brother, and other leaders in Amdo, with their followers.

After consultation with New Delhi my plan was adopted. I sent a note to Rapga, in a bottle of medicine which I knew he would open and use, in-forming him that if he wanted to come to India now the way was open. In March 1955, Rapga arrived in India, his appearance in Kalimpong renewed speculation there, as no one knew that I sent for him....

“When word of the new situation in Tibet reached the U.S. authorities they were immediately interested. After preliminary discussions with officials in India an official from Washington, in the guise of a tourist, was flown to India for secret personal talk with Rapga. I acted as interpreter and we met on several occasions for discussions over a period of four days.”

The US authorities undertook to provide training to the Khambas and they were trained for the task ahead. [55]

Dilip Hiro writes:

“The formal signing of the agreement [with China on Tibet], in 1954, did not lead Nehru to discontinue the policy of keeping ‘in touch’ with, and helping in every possible way, Gyalo Thendup, the anti-communist brother of the Dalai Lama, [as noted before, he had gone via Calcutta to Taipeh and seen Chiang Kai-shek] ... and other Tibetan refugees, then living in and around Kalimpong on the Indo-Sikkimese border, that his Central Intelligence Bureau had initiated in 1953. ‘Regarding the spirit of resistance in Tibet, the Prime Minister was of the view (after the 1954 agreement with China) that even if these refugees helped their brethren inside Tibet, the government of India would not take any notice and, unless they compromised themselves too openly, no Chinese protest would be entertained,’ wrote B.N. Malik, then director of the Central Intelligence Bureau in his memoirs.

By 1956, knowingly or unknowingly secret agents of America and Taiwan, operating mainly from Kalimpong, were engaged in the same activity as their counterparts from India and Russia  –  recruiting and arming Tibetan emigrés to organize a separatist rebellion in Tibet against the Peking administration, with the Khamba tribes in eastern Tibet providing the initial thrust. They succeeded in this. The rebellion which began modestly in the east in 1956-57, spread to the west; in the fighting that broke out in Lhasa, the capital in early 1959, the Dalai Lama sided with the rebels.” [56]

Hiro says that India’s Central Intelligence Bureau,which had earlier been involved in fomenting rebellion in Tibet,” was responsible in 1959 “for both border security and foreign intelligence”, and Neville Maxwell wrote in the London Times of 24 August 1972 that B.N. Malik was a “frequent visitor” to the United States, and “the obvious contact point for the CIA influence”. [57]

Neville Maxwell stated:

“Peking had for years been complaining that Kalimpong (the terminus of the trade route to India through the Chumbi Valley) was being used as a base to instigate resistance in Tibet  –  and with good reason. As early as 1953 Nehru had admitted that Kalimpong was ‘a nest of spies’: there were spies of every country there, he said, ‘and sometimes I begin to doubt if the greater part of the population of Kalimpong does not consist of foreign spies’. Chou En-lai brought up this complaint in his talks with Nehru in 1956, saying that Kalimpong was being used by American and other agents to undermine Chinese influence in Tibet. At the beginning of 1958 Peking complained again, Chou bringing up the subject in a discussion with the Indian Ambassador, and the Chinese Government following up in a diplomatic note with a detailed and circumstantial description of the ‘stepped-up’ activities of emigrés and American and Kuomintang agents in Kalimpong. At the beginning of August, however, ‘every Tibetan official of note in India, including the Dalai Lama’s brother and their cabinet ministers, together with guerrilla leaders as delegates from the fighting rebels, met in Kalimpong to draw up a final appeal to India and the United Nations.’ [58] Peking complained again. In March 1959 the Chinese declared that the rebellion which had just broken out in Lhasa had been engineered from the ‘commanding centre’ in Kalimpong.

“It is evident that support and direction for the Tibetan rebels came through Kalimpong, and that the Government of India connived at this. There is some evidence that the Indian role was more active.” [59]

The Dalai Lama and his government, who sided with the rebels, had to flee Lhasa. Indian troops crossed over into Tibet to escort the Dalai Lama and other serf-owners into India across the McMahon line. They came with their men and mules heavily laden with gold.

While granting ‘political asylum’ to the Dalai Lama, the Indian government assured Peking that he would not be allowed to carry on political activities from the soil of India. As usual, this assurance proved to be a false one. [60] As Maxwell writes, “From immediately his arrival in India, however, the Dalai Lama began to make statements giving his side of events in Tibet, and attacking China; these statements were initially released through the publicity media of the Indian government, and later distributed by Indian missions abroad.” Naturally, the Chinese did not regard it as a very friendly act. [61] According to Maxwell, the Chinese suspicion that the Dalai Lama’s first statement issued from India was drawn up by Indian officials was quite justified. [62]

Recently, The Chicago Tribune carried a front-page report which said that the CIA collaborated with India and Nepal in training Tibetan exiles to fight Chinese troops. It stated that between the late 1950’s and mid-1960’s the US government flew hundreds of Tibetan exiles to far-flung bases in Okinawa, Guam and Colorado. There they were trained as guerrillas to wage war against the Chinese. The Tibetans, many of whom were recruited from the Khamba tribe, were parachuted back into Tibet at night with sub-machine guns. According to the report, Darjeeling was chosen as the headquarters of the rebels. Nawang Gayltsen, who was among the first Tibetans trained by the CIA, disclosed that he had helped monitor struggling guerrilla cells in Tibet from a joint CIA-Indian command centre in New Delhi. [63]

A report in the Economic Times states that India has one other special forces unit, the Special Frontier Force (SFF), which is under the control of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), though it is manned and officered by the army. This force is the successor of the ‘Establishment 22’ or 22 Force set up by the CIA in the 1950s comprising Khamba Tibetans for sabotage operations in Tibet. After 1962, the force was disbanded and then reconstituted as the SFF. [63a]

Confident in the belief that the Chinese would not react, the India government continued to pursue the ‘forward policy’ both in the eastern and in the western sector. To quote Maxwell, “that the Chinese would not interfere with Indian posts once they were established had been the rock of faith upon which the forward policy was built...” China’s diplomatic notes warning that she “would react and most forcefully” were ignored by Nehru and his colleagues. [64] “The forward policy”, as Maxwell said, “did not appear to them  –  as it did to the soldiers  –  as a military challenge to a far stronger power, but as the necessary physical extension of a subtle diplomatic game. By peaceful, even non-violent methods, seeding the disputed territory with Indian flag posts and criss-crossing it with patrols, Aksai Chin was to be won back for India, probably without firing a shot except in random skirmishes.” [65] Indian military posts were established even behind Chinese posts. In the east the Indian troops set up their posts not only upto the McMahon line but even beyond it. The first clash with the Chinese border guards occurred on 25 August 1959 when Indian soldiers crossed the McMahon line and set up a military post at Longju, which was on the other side, and was acknowledged to be so even by Nehru, however reluctantly. [66] Soon after, there was another clash when a patrol of the Indian para-military force went up to the Kongka Pass in the western sector, where the Chinese had already set up a post. [67] Chauvinist hysteria was roused to a feverish pitch in India. Even most Indian communist leaders, who were really ‘Nehruite communists’, swam with the tide.

Some years ago B.N. Malik, the then director of the Central Bureau of Intelligence, disclosed in his memoirs (published from New Delhi) that the Kongka Pass action of 21 October 1959 (in which nine Indians were killed and which triggered off a chain reaction, with the Soviet Union, through Tass, its news agency, intervening in the Sino-Indian dispute, disregarding the Chinese request) was initiated by Indians.” [68]

In a letter of 7 November 1959 to Nehru Chou En-lai proposed that the two prime ministers should meet and try to settle the boundary problem in the interest of friendship between the two countries. Chou En-lai also proposed that the armed forces of the two countries should withdraw 20 kilometres at once from the McMahon line in the east and from the line upto which each side exercised actual control in the west.

‘Talks’ but no ‘negotiations’

Earlier appeals from China for negotiations for a peaceful settlement found no echo in the hearts of the Nehrus. But in 1960 Nehru agreed to Chou En-lai’s proposal to meet. The Chinese prime minister, accompanied by Chen Yi, China’s foreign minister, came to India in April 1960 to negotiate a peaceful settlement. But the hosts were not quite friendly; Nehru had assured the Indian hawks that there would be ‘talks’ but not ‘negotiations’ [69] Chou En-lai agreed to concede India’s claim in the eastern sector, which meant a large chunk of territory which was inhabited by tribes and parts of which like the Towang tract, were under Tibetan administration. He wanted India to recognize China’s claim to the Aksai Chin area in the western sector, a ‘desert of white stones’, “17,000 ft. above sea level, where nothing grows and no one lives, lying between the towering ranges of Karakoram and the Kuen Lun”. Across it ran an ancient trade route between Sinkiang and Tibet, which was used by the People’s Republic of China in the 1950s. [70] A road connecting the two regions across Aksai Chin was built by China; and when, on the completion of this major engineering feat, China announced it in 1957, India became aware of it. [71] Aksai Chin, uninhabited and desolate and so far away from the nearest area administered by India, was useless to her while it was of great importance to China. Nehru rejected the Chinese premier’s proposal and claimed Aksai Chin as India’s inalienable part. The Chinese proposal of ‘reciprocal acceptance of present actualities in both sectors and constitution of a boundary commission’ was summarily rejected. Nehru also refused to agree to Chou’s proposal that both sides should refrain from patrolling along all sectors of the boundary in order to avert clashes and “ensure tranquillity on the borders so as to facilitate the discussions.” [72] The summit meeting failed to solve the problem.

Later, in his convocation address to the Indian School of International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, in December 1969, K.P.S. Menon, who had been India’s first foreign secretary, said:

“when Chou En-lai came to India in 1960 ... we missed an opportunity to improve relations. Then there was a faint hope that a settlement could be reached, under which the Chinese Government would recognize the McMahon Line, which no previous Chinese Government had recognized, in return for some recognition on our part of Chinese claims in the ‘disputed’ Aksai Chin. I deliberately say ‘disputed’, because the maps, treaties, agreements and other documents on which both sides rely cannot be said to place the boundary, as conceived by the other party, beyond the region of doubt or the need for negotiations. The watershed principle on which we have heavily relied on other sectors of the frontiers, is, in the Aksai Chin area, not in our favour. Moreover, it cannot be forgotten that Aksai Chin is of no importance to India, whereas, to China, it is of utmost importance, because it is the link between two historically troublesome regions, Tibet and Sinkiang.” [73]

India continued to pursue her forward policy. As Major K.C.Praval of the Indian army wrote, “As part of the forward policy, an Assam Rifles post was set up in June 1962 at an isolated place called Che Dong [wrongly called Dhola], which happened to be a few kilometres north of the map marked McMahon line but was claimed by India as her territory.” [74] Kunhi Krishnan quotes Brigadier Dalvi, who wrote that “from the Corps Commander down to myself as the Brigade Commander, we had grave reservations about the wisdom of the policy”. [75]

The Chinese advanced to a position dominating the Indian post. Against the advice of responsible military commanders the Indian government decided to move forward and confront the Chinese militarily. As the Times of India wrote on 23 September 1962, “The Government of India took the political decision ten days ago to use force, if necessary, to throw the Chinese intruders out.” [76] Then, on 12 October, before leaving for Sri Lanka, Nehru announced that the armed forces had been given orders to evict the Chinese from “our territory”. In its issue of 14 October, the Chinese People’s Daily advised Nehru: “Pull back from the brink of the precipice and don’t use the lives of Indian troops as stakes in your gamble.” [77] The advice was ignored.

Referring to this Himalayan adventure, S. Radhakrishnan, then India’s Rashtrapati, is reported to have said:

“We had no business to have sent the Army on this mission. We seemed to have gone mad about Thag La [a ridge in the eastern sector north of the McMahon line, to occupy which the fighting started]. At best Thag La is disputed territory. What does Nehru mean by saying ‘I have ordered the Army to throw the Chinese out’? Is this the language to be used in international affairs? Is this the manner in which grave national issues are handled?” [78]

The Himalayan debacle

No doubt, the decision of the Indian ruling classes to go to war with China was, as the Times of India noted, a political decision  –  a decision which was in conflict with military advice. And this political decision invited a rebuff from China under which the Indian army, the Indian government and Nehru reeled. Between 20 and 24 October, the Chinese forces overran Indian positions, penetrated into the NEFA territory, occupied Towang (not far south of the McMahon line), halted and again began diplomatic exchanges. But Nehru was his old self  –  self-righteous, apt to turn truth on its head and determined not to enter into negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the boundary problem.

In the meantime China had concluded boundary agreements with Burma, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Mongolia  –  all neighbouring countries, except India and the U.S.S.R. (which too preferred to determine its borders with China unilaterally).

On 17 November the Chinese began a second campaign and their troops reached the borders of Assam, occupied the entire disputed territory of the NEFA and again halted. The Indian government was seized with panic, almost wrote off Assam as lost and did not know where the Chinese would halt next time. [79]

Chinese troops launched a simultaneous attack in the western sector and wiped out the Indian posts which had been set up in the Aksai Chin area. As Neville Maxwell wrote, “the forward policy, like Operation Leghorn [code name for India’s military operation to throw the Chinese out from the area around the Thag La ridge], had met with the fate which from the beginning the real soldiers had foreseen.” [80]

In the meantime the Indian army chief, General Thapar, resigned; the defence minister, Krishna Menon (Nehru’s intimate friend), was forced to resign; and Nehru was told that it might be his turn next time. [81]

Immediately after the Chinese had started their operation in October, utter panic gripped New Delhi. When asked by journalists where he thought the advancing Chinese could be stopped, Krishna Menon, still the defence minister, said: “The way they are going, there is not any limit to where they will go. [82] Entries in the US ambassador J.K.Galbraith’s journal during these days are rather illuminating. On 25 October he noted that Chester Ronning, the then Canadian high commissioner in India, had seen Krishna Menon earlier, who “talked about a ten-year war and implied that the Chinese might head for Madras”. [83] (By then the Chinese had seized only a small slice of the NEFA.)

On 28 October (one may mark the date), Galbraith noted: “Nehru was frail, brittle, and seemed small and old... Our military relations, with the Indians, always rather distant, have become extremely intimate these last days. Orders of battle and other military information are being provided.... And I have just brought up from Wellington, for such advice as he can give, an American specialist in guerrilla operations...” [84]

On 29 October Galbraith recorded in his journal: “The Prime Minister said they did indeed have to have aid and it would have to come from the United States.” [85] On 13 November the US ambassador informed president Kennedy: “Much so-called non-alignment [has already gone] out the window.” [86]

On 16 November the Indian finance minister T.T. Krishnamachari saw Galbraith, who found him “worried about the danger of Calcutta being bombed”. Krishnamachari asked [him] “for interceptor aircraft” and for one-half billion dollars. [87] On 17 November, when the Chinese troops resumed their march, the US ambassador noted: “... now tonight it is clear there has been a major defeat....The Indians want us to supply them with transport aircraft. In further modification of the non-alignment policy, the Indians also wish pilots and crews to fly the aircraft.” [88] On 19 November Gaibraith wrote in his diary: “The Chinese have taken over most of NEFA and with incredible speed. Not one but two pleas for help are coming to us, the second one of them still highly confidential.” In a footnote he added: “These requests which sought full defensive intervention by our Air Force, were transmitted through the Indian Embassy in Washington.... The Indians are pleading for military association....” [89]

It was Nehru who “made a desperate appeal” to Kennedy “for air protection” [90] On 21 November Galbraith noted: “...the Indians yearn for the sight of American uniforms and about tomorrow I will allow our officers to wear them.” [91]

There was complete bewilderment in Delhi. As Kunhi Krishnan wrote, “There was panic in Delhi. The air was thick with rumours that the Chinese were about to take Tezpur and that a detachment of 500 paratroopers was about to drop on Delhi.” [92]

On 20 November Chavan, Bombay’s chief minister, became India’s new defence minister. The same night Biju Patnaik, chief minister of Orissa, saw him. Biju said to him: “But why have you come all the way to Delhi? The Chinese are moving with great speed and possibly Bombay would soon be the war front.” [93] This might have been said jokingly but it also reflected the bewilderment and alarm of the Indian rulers.

Fortunately for them, instead of overrunning Assam and proceeding to Madras or Bombay, or dropping bombs on Calcutta or paratroopers on Delhi, the Chinese announced on 20 November a unilateral cease-fire and their decision to vacate the NEFA and withdraw north of the McMahon line in nine days. After withdrawing twelve miles north of the disputed border, they again showed their readiness to negotiate. Bertrand Russell, a professed anti-communist, commented:

“The difficult fighting in passes was finished, and no powerful military obstacle existed to prevent a Chinese occupation of the Indian plains. I cannot think of any other instance in which a victorious army has been halted in this way by its own Government. Because it had seemed to me, from Chou En-lai’s letter and from my talk with the Chinese Charge d’Affaires, that the Chinese were, in the matter of the border dispute, reasonable and temperate, I had thought it worth while to write to Chou En-lai as I had done, appealing for such magnanimous action on the part of the Chinese Government, but I was taken by surprise, as was the rest of the world, that they believed sufficiently clearly and strongly that war must be avoided to take such extreme measures, to make such a sacrifice of their gains.” [94]

In a footnote Galbraith noted on 29 November: “They [the Chinese] retired when they had shown beyond any doubt that they could defend their claim to the areas they held or sought to hold in Ladakh.” [95]

On 1 December, to quote the US ambassador, “M.J. Desai [then India’s foreign secretary] raised with me the question of a tacit air defence pact.” Galbraith asked Nehru on 27 December “if we could count on India to help contain the Chinese should they break out somewhere else in Asia. He told me that this could be a matter of great concern to them and they would help”. On 5 January 1963 Galbraith recorded in his journal: “M.J. Desai told me about Indian thinking on containment of the Chinese. They are willing to work with the United States both politically and militarily in the rest of Asia... Nehru a week ago hinted that their thoughts were moving in this direction.” [96]

What emboldened the Nehrus to throw caution to the four winds and pursue the forward policy in both the eastern and western sectors in spite of repeated warnings from China, and against the advice of their military commanders, and to undertake the Himalayan adventure, which soon ended in a Himalayan catastrophe? One reason perhaps was that the leaders of the erstwhile Soviet Union had assured the Indian leaders that China would never launch a counter-offensive for fear of black-mail. Durga Das, a prominent journalist of the time, wrote that M.J. Desai had told him that he had received an assurance from Russia in 1959 that China would never resort to force to settle the border dispute.” [97] Durga Das added that Nehru “openly ticked off General Thimayya, Chief of Army Staff at a Governors’ Conference months earlier for even suggesting the possibility of an attack by China.” [98]

Chou En-lai blamed the Soviet rulers for ‘India’s China War’. According to him, they had told the Indians in 1962 that there would be no resistance on the part of the Chinese. [99]

Another reason must have been the encouragement and support of both the super-powers  –  the USA and the erstwhile Soviet Union  –  that the Indian ruling classes received. About three months before Nehru’s death in May 1964, Mao Tsetung remarked: “Nehru is in bad shape, imperialism and revisionism have robbed him blind.” [100] China’s many appeals to the Indian rulers for negotiations and peaceful settlement of the border dispute were perhaps misconstrued by the Indian leaders as China’s weakness.

The Chinese withdrew twelve miles north of the McMahon line and returned captured Indian soldiers (whom they had treated well) and arms. They again offered to negotiate a settlement of the border problem. But the Nehrus would not negotiate. The border dispute became a semi-dispute. To keep it like this is of political advantage to the Indian ruling classes. Whenever necessary, they can revive it and rouse chauvinism among at least a section of the people.

Though there was no mutual agreement, China presented the NEFA region (now Arunachal Pradesh) to India and retained what was of vital importance to her in the western sector. The border has remained where China proposed in 1960.

When India’s ‘phony war’ (to use Maxwell’s expression) ended with China’s declaration of unilateral cease-fire, the Nehru government issued orders for the arrest of the communists who did not support unequivocally their claims. But due to confusion, so characteristic of the Indian government, the large number of arrested communists included some who were ‘Nehruite communists’. But that helped the government for, after their release, they could pose as revolutionary ‘Marxists’ and deceive the people.

Last updated on 26 January 2021