1962: THE WAR WITHIN CHINA AND NEHRU’S BLUNDER

Mao faced enemies within his party – 

In a 2019 article by Chaowu Dai, a distinguished professor at Yunnan University and director of the YNU Institute for Indian Studies in Kunming, China, admitted that from 1960 to October 1962, judging that India was unwilling to negotiate a solution, China “made preparations for the deployment of its military,” creating interlocking positions “for long-term armed coexistence on the border issue ultimately proceeding to the border conflict”.

This statement is nearest to the truth and India was not prepared for an attack. But the fact is that between 1960 to 1962, China was in a state of turmoil.

On September 8, 1962, Nehru left for London to attend the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference. He returned on October 2, after visiting Paris, Lagos and Accra, and then left for Colombo on October 12, returning to New Delhi on October 16. Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon was in New York from September 17-30 for the UNGA session. On October 2, the Chief of General Staff, Lt Gen B M Kaul, an inefficient close relative of Nehru, was holidaying in Kashmir.

No country that is preparing for an attack would allow its Prime Minister or senior generals responsible for war planning to be away from its capital.


Nehru with Mao in Beijing, 1954

The immediate provocation was an avoidable statement of the Prime Minister to journalists on October 12 while leaving for Colombo that “he had instructed the Army to clear the Indian territory of Chinese intrusions and the date had been left to the army to decide.”

He was perhaps referring to a decision taken in the Defence Ministry to clear the recent limited intrusion in the Kemong Division of NEFA, now Arunachal Pradesh. People’s Daily, the Chinese communist party mouthpiece, taking advantage of Nehru’s remarks, said on October 14, “so it seems Nehru had made up his mind to attack China on an even bigger scale”.

The unfortunate statement of Nehru has been used by Chinese communists to fabricate the theory of “self-defence counter-attack”. At the same time, India cannot escape blame for not being serious about settling the border question, despite repeated Chinese pleas. Whatever the Indian stand, it had certain fissures that do not stand scrutiny.

Nehru, in explaining his reluctance to discuss the border question, had said in Rajya Sabha on December 8, 1959, that since we’re “sure of our borders, the question was why to invite discussions about a thing on which we had no doubt”.

Even this statement was opaque. The western border, which created the major dispute, was “undefined” in the Survey of India maps that India inherited in 1947, and which were later reprinted. Similarly, Nehru was not unaware that China in the past had never accepted the McMahon Line in the eastern sector, the outcome of the Simla Convention of 1914, and it was unlikely to accept it — and yet insisted this was non-negotiable.

In 1954, at the time of talks on Tibet, India had taken the stand that the border question would not be discussed. An opportunity to settle the border was allowed to slip. The Tibet Agreement signed on April 29, 1954, also called the Panchsheel Agreement, officially the Agreement on Trade and Intercourse Between Tibet Region of China and India, was signed by China and India in Peking. The preamble of the agreement stated the panchsheel, or the five principles of peaceful coexistence, that China proposed and India favoured.

The agreement reflected the adjustment of the previously existing trade relations between Tibet and India to the changed context of India’s decolonisation and China’s assertion of suzerainty over Tibet. Swedish author and China/India expert, Bertil Lintner (3) records that in the agreement, “Tibet was referred to, for the first time in history, as ‘the Tibet Region of China.”The agreement expired on June 6, 1962, as per the original term limit, in the midst of Sino-Indian border tensions.

Nehru ordered in 1954 July that a line should be drawn to demarcate the Ladakh-Aksai Chin border, which would not be open for discussion — ignoring that this was an international border, and required consultations and agreement of the other stakeholder.

Having changed the status of the border unilaterally, he created a vacuum by not establishing a check post, or even unfurling a flag.

The area was neglected to the extent that India was unaware that China had constructed a 120 km highway through it. In his letter of January 23, 1959, the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai had suggested talks since, as he said, historically no agreement on the boundary had ever been concluded, and the absence of formal delimitation created discrepancies which often led to “minor border incidents which are probably difficult to avoid”.

While these parleys were on, an event was waiting to happen, which would alter the Sino-Indian relationship forever.

(To be continued in next article……….)

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