The course of the country would have been different if Nehru had heeded Sumul Sinha’s warning, the Indian official who had forewarned him about communist China’s objectives.
One doesn’t frequently honor obscure diplomats, but perhaps if their counsel had been taken, the course of the country would have been different. Sumul Sinha, the official in charge of the Indian Mission in Lhasa between 1950 and 1952, is the subject of this lawsuit.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) seized the Tibetan capital in September 1951, five months after forcibly imposing a 17-Point Agreement on Tibetan delegates (and forging the seals of the Lhasa Government). The Red generals were pure honey in the early going. Sinha noticed their altered behavior and informed his superiors.
The young diplomat who spoke Mandarin observed that Tibetans had begun to “shed their concerns” and had once more “found confidence for the future.” Many Tibetans thought that perhaps the Chinese weren’t as awful as they thought, despite the fact that the PLA had mercilessly destroyed an unprepared and disorganized Tibetan Army in eastern Tibet 11 months earlier.
“Credit is due to the Chinese [general] who is managing the challenge of pulling Tibet into the fold with patience and sensitivity,” Sinha said in response to Delhi. When the offensive started, they had already instilled fear in the minds of Tibetans; it was then crucial to crush resistance and triumph. In subtle and almost apparent ways, the battle for Tibet’s mind and spirit has already begun.
The Chinese generosity at the time was astounding. Prime Minister Nehru was deeply offended by Sinha’s language; according to Nehru, Sinha was unable to understand that the Chinese had come to assist the Tibetans in shedding their medieval outlook and that, in any case, India and China’s fates were inextricably linked for the benefit of humanity.
He once stated, “Mr. Sinha needs to be enlightened.” Poor Sinha was only attempting to accurately portray reality as it existed.
The Chinese crossed into eastern Tibet on October 7, 1950. The Tibetan Government initially responded “cautiously” to the invasion because they did not want to “upset” the Chinese, even though the people of Lhasa had already begun to worry.
Under the direction of KM Panikkar, the Indian Ambassador in Beijing who was unexpectedly appointed to the position of Nehru’s main advisor for Tibet matters, India’s Tibet policy had lately undergone a drastic change. The new mottos were to avoid conflict with China at all costs, world peace was the ultimate goal, and Tibet might be sacrificed as a result.
The relationship between the Prime Minister and the Indian Representative in Tibet quickly deteriorated. Nehru wrote to Sinha on November 23 with the following observation: “Government of India have noticed that certain letters from Lhasa and Sikkim regarding Tibet are dogmatic, disputatious, and admonitory. We want of course our representatives to give us full information … [But] once a decision has been taken by Government [read to abandon Tibet to its fate], it should be accepted gracefully and followed faithfully; any insinuation that Government has been acting wrongly or improperly is objectionable.”
Sinha recognized a different perspective on the significantly developing Tibetan situation; India was about to gain a new neighbor, endangering her boundaries. Sinha’s reports, however, did not correspond to Nehru’s “bigger” worldview. Furthermore, at a time when Tibet was being removed from the map of the world, Sinha showed too much sympathy for the Tibetan people for Delhi.
Because of Nehru’s reprimanding tendencies, sincere and capable officers frequently suffered; the Prime Minister was especially harsh with those who attempted to warn him of the ramifications of his “friendship at all cost” policy with China.
The response to Sinha’s email needs to be viewed in light of the letter Sardar Patel, the deputy prime minister, sent to Nehru on November 7 regarding Tibet.
“This may be an element for stability and peace of the globe or risk to us and to world peace,” the cable said in praise of China’s revolution. Because of this, we made an effort to build cordial ties with China, which, in our opinion, helped to stabilize the situation when the Korean War broke out.
“My shortcoming is inexperience,” Sinha cabled the Foreign Secretary on November 27, 1950 (a rookie officer could not answer directly to the Prime Minister, but copies were designated for the PMO). However, I am aware that I have made an effort to adhere strictly to Government of India policies. In my telegrams which had to be TERSE, I tried to reflect faithfully the reactions of the Tibetan Government to the situation facing them in the belief Government of India would like to know.”
Sinha would receive repeated criticism in the years that followed for alerting Nehru to the real goals of Communist China but couldn’t succeed.
In the summer of 1952, just before his time in Lhasa came to an end, Sinha offended the Prime Minister once more. Sinha made the bad decision to request a loan of two lakh rupees in order to support the forces supporting the Tibetan independence movement.
Nehru was indignant. It would be “improper and undesirable for our representative to get engaged in Tibetan domestic matters or intrigues,” the Prime Minister warned Sinha in a message to the Mission in Lhasa.
He continued by saying that although India was naturally favorable to Tibetans, no one should assume that India was interfering with or providing assistance. “We have to judge these problems from a bigger world point of view which may be our Tibetan friends have no way of grasping,” he said in closing to his representative.
On March 5, 1953, Nehru became agitated once more about a document sent by Sinha, who was now serving in the Ministry as an Officer on Special Duty. In hindsight, Sinha’s note, which was labeled “Chinese intentions on the North-East Frontier of India,” was prescient.
However, one may suppose that the Prime Minister did not like the title.
The former Indian Representative in Tibet’s strategy was once more criticized by the prime minister. “I feel Mr. Sinha’s approach to be heavily influenced by certain notions and conceptions that hinder him from taking an objective assessment of the situation,” he said. The note’s initial allusion to the Chinese people’s yearning for conquest serves as its foundation.
“Looks back with a certain nostalgia to the past when the British exerted a good bit of control over Tibet,” Nehru claimed of Sinha. “He would have loved very much for India to fill the position of the British of those days.”
When the Chinese invaded NEFA and Ladakh six years later, the Prime Minister likely realized Sinha was correct, but it was already too late. Since then, the Chinese have “transgressed” into Indian territory every summer.
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