Map of western sector of LAC, with different claim lines. On July 1, 1954, Nehru wrote a directive ordering the withdrawal of “all our old maps dealing with the frontier – new maps should be printed showing our Northern and North-Eastern frontier…These new maps should also not state that there is any un-demarcated territory.” China built in Aksai chin a road for years, and India came to know of it only years later though it claimed the area belonged to India. AG Noorani provided maps and cited a host of official documents, and concluded “egregious blunders” were made by Nehru, who made false claims, and refused to resolve the dispute.
BJP day in and day out blames India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for all of India’s ills, including India-China border conflict; they did so recently again and in parliament too. Nehru-bashing (linking his ‘dynasty’ with Sonia and Rahul Gandhis) and praising Vallabbhai Patel is BJP’s staple food – its poll mantra- and needs to be exposed. In this Part-3 of the article, we focus on this myth as it was Nehru who was responsible for the dispute being unresolved, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi emulates him in refusing to resolve the problem. We also briefly deal with the Patel myth together with a few other false stories.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi, in the latest session of the parliament, said Congress members “ should study what we lost and gained, and how we lost during their grand old leader Nehru’s rule.” BJP accused Congress leader Sonia Gandhi of trying to help country’s “enemy” China by seeking an open debate on country’s preparations over tackling challenges at the border. (Times of India, TNN / Dec 22, 2022). Home Minister Amit Shah also frequently made such remarks on Nehru, and his ‘dynasty’. Taking a cue from such remarks, S Jaishankar, top bureaucrat-turned Minister of MEA, on Dec 19 hit out at Congress leader Rahul Gandhi; speaking at a media conclave he said Modi government’s is the biggest-ever, unprecedented, LAC deployment by India and is done in order to counter Chinese deployments which were scaled up massively since 2020.
Nehru and now Modi are often projected as India’s topmost leaders who made an impact on the world with their initiatives on foreign policy. Former Indian Army chief General Bikram Singh said on June 6, 2020, a few days before Galwan clash:
“It (the India-China border conflict) may get resolved today. But if not today, it may take two-three more meetings…This is a very opportune time to get a permanent solution to this issue because both countries are presently headed by strong leaders.” He said border disputes with China is a vexed issue because parliaments of both the countries have stated that the disputed territory is theirs. “But it can be resolved with a strong political leadership. It will have to be made a national issue that needs to be resolved.”
He said a final solution to the border dispute with China can be reached only at the political and diplomatic level. Thus Nehru vs. Modi is not merely academic, not merely to score political points, but useful to examine ‘the vexed issue’.
Nehru’s role was clear from the accounts of Avtar Singh Bhasin, as shown in Part-2 of this article. Bhasin is a most authentic and competent scholar: he retired from the India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in 1993 as Director Historical Division after three decades of service. He is the author of the book Nehru, Tibet and China (Penguin Random House India, 2021), and Author -Editor of India-China Relations 1947-2000 A Documentary Study (Vol I-V, 5,636 Pages, Geetika Publishers).
In this Part-3, we seek to examine the relevant questions based primarily on AG Noorani’s painstaking work on the subject. AGN, a great scholar-author, discussed the question in a most meticulous manner. Apart from a book (OUP 2011), India China Bouindary Problem- 1846-1947- History and Diplomacy, released by the then India’s Vice-President Hamid Ansari, a series of his scholarly essays were published years ago in the frontline magazine of The Hindu group, in which he pin-pointed Nehru’s follies.
Some of these things need to be repeated as the media is flooded with false stories, Bhasin said: “The debate that is unleashed today in the media by ill-informed experts on the basis of half backed facts, leaves the TV-driven public more confused than any wiser.”
1962 war: “Egregious blunders” made by Nehru
“The truth is a liberating force. The nation must be told the truth in its own interests so that it is prepared for a settlement.
“The truth about how a boundary problem was, in the first place, allowed to assume the proportions of a dispute and, in the next, how an unnecessary dispute was allowed to trigger an unnecessary war…
“ This requires two steps…First publish the Henderson Brookes report on the war and the Zachariah report on the true history of India’s northern frontier. It is dishonest to suppress them from the nation,” wrote AGN. He wrote in an article with the caption, The Truth About 1962 :
AGN cites one of his sources: Volume 60 of the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru is a treasure trove. It contains the transcripts of the Nehru-Zhou talks and of Zhou’s talks with G.B. Pant, Morarji Desai, who was characteristically rude, V.K. Krishna Menon, and R.K. Nehru, former Ambassador to China who disagreed with the Prime Minister’s line. Officials of both sides also met, as did Swaran Singh with Chen Yi, the Foreign Minister (all emphases in the article are added).
“Here is a tabulation of the egregious blunders” made by Nehru, writes AGN, by no means a friend of RSS; in fact, he is known for his views and writings against the sangh parivar.
- Unilateral revision of the McMahon Line and the maps in 1954.
- Refusal to negotiate during the period 1954-58.
- Assertion of a false claim in 1959.
- Refusal to accept China’s claims in the Aksai Chin.
- Rebuff to Pour Tsu-Li in May 1959. Similarly, the rejection of Zhou’s proposal in April 1960 though it accepted the McMahon Line and the Forward Policy.
- The Forward Policy. It was approved on November 2, 1961, in a meeting presided over by Nehru.
“The stark truth is that India became independent in 1947 with the legacy of a boundary problem, and Nehru and his principal advisers were fully aware of that. The boundary dispute did not arise all of a sudden in 1958-59 to hit them in their faces, as was made out later.”
Nehru knew very well that: (1) India’s maps showed an undefined boundary in the west, so much so that in one of them the yellow colour wash did not extend to a huge part of Kashmir in the east (these were maps made by India’s Surveyor-General); (2) he had himself altered them unilaterally in 1954; (3) he had conceded in August-September 1959 that the Aksai Chin was disputed territory; (4) the Army Chief, General Thimayya, said in January 1959 that the Aksai Chin was of no strategic importance; (5) in 1958, the MEA had, in Thimayya’s presence, opined that “the exact boundary of this area had not yet been demarcated” (in the context, it meant defined); and (6) Dr. K. Zachariah, Director of the External Affairs Ministry’s Historical Division before Dr. S. Gopal took over, had endorsed that view. (Now Bhasin is a successor in the Ministry.)
“The record of Jawaharlal Nehru, as Prime Minister and the main, if not, indeed, the sole architect of India’s foreign policy, must be held to account...’
Nehru had no regard for facts or history. AGN wrote:
“The BJP decries Nehru, others laud him for “idealism”. He was in truth a unilateralist – he decided where the boundary lay and refused to negotiate on it. He also decided there was no dispute on Kashmir. He left successors with terrible legacies since he had moulded public opinion on both in support of impossible positions.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with his Chinese counterpart Zhou Enlai in New Delhi in June 1954. Communist China with Zhou’s initiative resolved its old border disputes with 12 -almost all- countries. “India has borders with six countries, and excluding Bhutan, it has disputes with all five.”
“Nehru was taken aback when Zhou indicated his intention to spend six days in New Delhi. He came to settle.” Nehru-Zhou summit in New Delhi went on during April 19-26, 1960.
Zhou made several trips to Delhi, but India refused the compromise offer made by him, and renewed by Deng later to Rajiv Gandhi. PM Vajpayee signed an agreement on Tibet, upholding Nehru’s in 1950s. Those in the Opposition always competed in jingoism.
It was indeed so: the “The McMahon Line, settled with the Tibetans in 1914, is a treaty line. The Notes exchanged between the parties do not define it. They drew a line on a map with a thick nib dipped in red ink, leaving room for dispute. Neither side has a right to alter it unilaterally. Nehru did so admittedly. He confidently informed the Lok Sabha on September 23, 1959, that in one area “it was not considered a good line and it was varied afterwards by us, by the Government of India”. By this test, a party can also unilaterally alter a provision in the treaty because it considers the language to be imprecise or inelegant”.
“This approach was extended to the west with yet graver consequence and greater illegality. India’s official maps of 1948 and 1950 showed the entire northern boundary from the China-India-Afghanistan trijunction in the west to the China-India-Nepal trijunction to the east as “undefined”. That, be it noted, very much includes the area which is the subject of the China-Pakistan Boundary Agreement of March 2, 1963. Those maps were published in Frontline (July 13, 2012; pages 46-47).
Then as now the opposition played a negative role. They accuse Modi of personalized diplomacy, of lack of transparency, but things were no different then:
Nehru the democrat “objected to Indian papers carrying advertisements of Peking Review. On August 1, 1960, he presented a list of 24 in Parliament. Among them were The Hindu, The Times of India, The Illustrated Weekly of India, The Hindustan Times and The Statesman.” There were, have always been, restrictions on telling the Chinese version.
“It is, however, only fair to emphasise that on China the entire Opposition adopted a rancorous and chauvinistic role—the Socialists, the Swatantra Party and the Jana Sangh. So did the press. The Communist Party of India (CPI), then united, was the solitary exception; but it was suspect because China was a Communist state. For the rest, these men vied with one another in advocating mindlessly a hard line on the boundary question—R.M. Lohia, Ashok Mehta, Nath Pai, J.B. Kripalani, M.R. Masani, N.G. Ranga and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Their culpability is lessened a little by the fact that Nehru controlled the flow of information. Until 1963, no scholar went to the National Archives of India to seek the historical truth.”
Often Nehru and Krishna Menon are clubbed as co-conspirators. Reality is both of them were aware that the Chinese maps and claims were old; they were not manipulated by communist China like Nehru admittedly did.
AGN cites many things including a Note by Nehru to Krishna Menon, Minister without Portfolio, dated May 6, 1956 : It bears quotation in extenso, for it holds instruction for Nehru’s detractors as well as apologists. He wrote: “You know that, in Chinese maps, quite a good part of Assam is shown as if it belonged to Tibet. Also, a bit of the U.P., bordering on Tibet. Some two or three years ago, we drew the attention of the Chinese government to this. Their reply was that these maps were old maps from Chiang Kai-shek’s time and that they had had no time to revise them…
“3. Even when I went to China (in 1954) I casually mentioned Chinese maps to Zhou Enlai and, so far as I remember, he said something about the maps being old and that we can settle frontier questions in a friendly way later. In effect, therefore, China never clearly accepted our frontier as it is. All that they have said is that the old maps are not reliable. We have stated to them and in Parliament that our frontier is as given in our maps.”
Modi emulates Nehru with a new Forward Policy
Will Modi go back to the friendly spirit of Chennai summit, or play junior partner to the US and its Asia Pacific strategy? The new year 2023 begins with the appointment of a new Foreign Minister by China: Qin gang, a polit buro member in Xi Jinping’s team, renewed the desire for peace and wrote: “Both sides are willing to ease the situation and jointly protect peace along their borders.” China now “ is a stronger force for peace, not a growing power to break the status quo,” which the US is out to disturb.
We dealt with this in part-2. We may recall Home Minister Amit Shah’s assertions in August 2019 in parliament – that PoK is ours, Aksai chin is ours, they are part of JK, we will get them, and you will see this in future…This was during the debate on re-organization of JK and Art 370 in August 2019. This was repeated by him in a rally; and by a responsible former diplomat, P.Stobdan hailing from Ladakh, whose words carry weight as he had served in National Security Council Secretariat. He swore ominously:
“We (India) also want to do it (change the narrative). We also decided that after abrogating Article 370, we will take Aksai Chin. This is not about LAC…” He alleged that the real reason why the Chinese are now reacting is because “we have now become offensive, because we are now building roads, constructing infrastructure there and doing deployment. This is our Forward Policy and we need to be firm on this. If we have to fight we will, if we have to die we are ready for it”.(For more https://theprint.in/diplomacy/former-diplomat-stobdans-comments-on-dalai-lama-spark-row-leh-markets-shut-on-monday/433018/)
AGN exploded the Patel myth
BJP leaders and Nehru critics often quote, Goebbels like, a ‘letter by Patel’, exposed by AGN. But it is still circulated:
“Vallabhbhai Patel’s famous letter to Nehru on November 7, 1950, was drafted by Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai. It referred cryptically at the end to “The Policy in regard to the McMahon Line”. The Aksai Chin was farthest from anyone’s consciousness. But the thorough professional Bajpai (then Secretary General of MEA) referred to a notorious fact, which Nehru was at pains to ignore. He wrote the letter for Patel because he knew that his chief would have ignored his own adviser’s letter. Nehru had scant interest in professional advice. He knew it all. The letter referred, in paragraph 3, to “the undefined state of the frontier”, presumably referring to the north-east. Nehru’s note in reply, dated November 18, 1950, said “our major possible enemy [ sic] is Pakistan. This has compelled us to think of our defence mainly in terms of Pakistan’s aggression. If we begin to think of, and prepare for, China’s aggression in the same way, we would weaken considerably on the Pakistan side. We might well get into a pincer movement.”
“Boundary undefined”: Sardar Patel’s Ministry of States
“ Nehru went further. On July 1, 1954, he wrote a directive ordering the withdrawal of “all our old maps dealing with the frontier – new maps should be printed showing our Northern and North-Eastern frontier”; that is, both the McMahon Line in the eastern sector as well as a new line for the frontier for the western sector in Kashmir. “These new maps should also not state that there is any undemarcated territory.”
The maps attached to the two White Papers on Indian States, published by Sardar Patel’s Ministry of States in 1948 and 1950, bore the legend “boundary undefined” for this sector while depicting the McMahon Line. The contrast was glaring. (Frontline, August 14, 1998). Nehru added: “This frontier should be considered a firm and definite one which is not open to discussion with anyone” (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Volume 26, pages 481-484).
‘Pakistan and China conspiracy’: myths predominate
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of China’s BRI, is another pet theme for the rulers, past and present, and for the big media, both gripped by pro-West agencies. An ‘expansionist’ China struck a deal with Pakistan, the ‘mother of terrorism’, goes the tale, repeated ad nauseam…But the dispute has been there ever since partition in 1947, i.e., much before communist China was born.
“ Two myths predominate: India’s two adversaries ganged together to cut a deal on the border and Pakistan gifted China with large chunks of territory. In truth, China was most reluctant to accept Pakistan’s proposal and responded only belatedly. It got no territory. Instead, it was Pakistan which secured from China 750 square miles of administered territory.”
In fact Pakistan was then in US lobby, which was dead opposed to communist China. That did not stop China from resolving its border dispute with Pakistan. AGN wrote long ago:
“ Meanwhile, Chinese maps had exercised Pakistan as well; even more so. India was non-aligned and had friendly relations with China. Pakistan was the United States’ much allied ally; bilaterally, in the Baghdad pact, and in the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO). Its relations with China were strained, as, indeed, were Sino-U.S. relations.
“ On April 2, 1953, its pro-West Foreign Minister, Sir Mohammad Zafrullah Khan, complained of China’s incursions into Hunza…On October 23, 1959, President M. Ayub Khan warned China of “dire consequences” if the “hovering giant cast a baleful shadow over Pakistan”. But, he admitted that the boundary was not defined and said that he would propose talks on the border to China. Inconsistently enough, Pakistan twice contested (December 3, 1959, and December 23, 1960) India’s right to enter into any accord with China on Kashmir’s borders.
In November 1959, “Pakistan approached China… with the proposal for demarcation of the border between their two countries..”
“In a little over three years, Pakistan’s move resulted in a Boundary Agreement, which was signed in Beijing on March 2, 1963. Over time a close entente developed. News of the accord shook India. Myths grew. To this day hardly anyone is willing to shed them and look facts in the face.”
“ Agha Shahi, former Foreign Minister, revealed how this came about at a seminar in Geneva: “As one who was involved in the negotiations with the People’s Republic of China during 1962-63 over the delimitation and demarcation of the boundary between Northern Areas of Kashmir under Pakistan’s control and China’s Sinkiang province, let me recall that a study of the archives of British rule over the Indian empire failed to reveal credible evidence of any plausible claim to territory beyond the watershed of the Karakoram mountain range. The Agreement is based on the internationally recognised geographical principle of the watershed as a natural divide in boundary settlements” (News; November 29, 1998).
Pakistan has solved its border problem with China, but India is still caught in a prolonged dispute, wrote AGN. China clarified repeatedly that the dispute would be reviewed as and when India and Pakistan come to an agreement on it. ..
The then Pakistan’s SEATO boss America was witness to all this. Today the US fans mistrust, encourages war-like situation, and exploits it all to serve its Asia-Pacific strategy, seeking to draw India as its junior partner. In fact, they know well how Nehru worked up the dispute.
The Doklam myth:
Then there was a fracas on Doklam, in the same eastern sector, and initially it was alleged China violated the LAC. Later it was revealed that Doklam really had nothing to do with India, and the dispute was between Bhutan and China that were sorting out the issue. About 270 Indian troops crossed the Sikkim border into Doklam (Operation Juniper, 2017 June 18). Ultimately on August 17, both sides had announced that they agreed to pull back their troops, which they did under mutual verification.
This Doklam story is repeatedly presented as if it is a result of claims by an ‘expansionist China flexing its muscles’. Reality is otherwise: It has been a dispute since late 1950s, as noted by AGN:
“ India’s Foreign Secretary’s letter to the Prime Minister of Bhutan, dated September 13, 1960, makes interesting reading. Bhutan’s National Assembly objected to China’s maps, as also India’s.” It reads:
“The National Assembly also drew the Government of India’s attention to the delineation of the Bhutan-India frontier in the latest map. It is true that the frontier is not marked by a line which is ordinarily employed to delineate international boundaries. The present manner of delineation of the frontier is, however, the one which had been used from 1915s till 1950. It is only for two years from 1950 to 1952 that the international symbol was used for making the frontier between Bhutan and India. Whatever the manner of delineation on the maps, the relations between Bhutan and India are governed by the Treaty between the two countries and there should be no doubt about the status of Bhutan. It occurs to the Government of India, however, that the present is not a suitable time to attempt a revision of the map. This is more specially so since the Chinese Government claim a large area of Bhutan, and we feel that nothing should be done at this stage which might add to the difficulties of the situation.
“I also take this opportunity to refer to your letter dated 18th June to the Political Officer, forwarding the English translation of a letter from the Bhutan National Assembly. The Assembly’s letter raises the question of the right of Bhutan to conduct her external relations, stating at the same time that Bhutan has no present intention of establishing relations with foreign countries. You had yourself raised this question in your letter of September 1959 to our Prime Minister. In his reply of 29 September 1959, the Prime Minister fully explained the facts…”
The issue was resolved by the recently concluded treaty with Bhutan. But there is little sign of change in the mindset of 1960, which drove India to take up an unrealistic and impossible stand. We are still stuck with the border dispute, while China has resolved all other border disputes on the same basis that it proposed in 1960—“historical background and present actual situation”.
Bhutan must conduct its foreign affairs in consultation with India, the big brother. That was conveyed by Nehru. It is as old as the India China dispute, and has nothing to do with expansionist China.
“Bhutan can solve its border problem with China – if India lets it”
Map courtesy: scmp.com.
The above line is the cryptic title of an article (22 Jul, 2017) by an independent scholar, Tsering Shakya of University of British Columbia, author of the book, The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947. He wrote:
“In the 1950s, China negotiated and settled most of its land borders, but never completed discussions with Bhutan, because India insisted on the right to negotiate on behalf of Bhutan, which the Chinese refused to accept. China wanted direct negotiations with Bhutan. Eventually India had to relent.”
“India’s acceptance of direct Bhutan-China negotiations was based on observation of China’s past strategy in territorial negotiation with smaller states such as Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar that are not seen as a threat to China’s security. For them, China adopted a benevolent position and conceded their demands. But with Bhutan, it has taken a tough stand, and many in Bhutan blame New Delhi for it…
“ Bhutan and China identified seven disputed areas. Most of these are of no great significance to China, and which it is willing to concede to Bhutan…
“ In 1996, after the 10th round of talks, it appeared that Bhutan and China had reached an understanding that China would concede to Bhutan’s claims in the northern sector of the border, while Bhutan would accept China’s claims to the south. When, 15 months later, the two sides met for the 11th round of meetings, there was much expectation that an agreement would be signed. But to China’s surprise, Bhutan revised its claims in the south and asserted a claim to larger territory than before, leading the talks to break down. China suspected the new claims were made at India’s behest and began to harden its stance.
“ That would be tantamount to India sabotaging an agreement between Bhutan and China. The Indian media’s sabre-rattling on defending Bhutan from Chinese encroachment may be good for arousing nationalistic sentiment but does not find echoes in Bhutan. While the Bhutanese don’t fear invasion from the north, an increasing Indian presence will surely undermine its sovereignty.”
“As its history has shown, Bhutan can fully handle its own affairs – if India would let it.”
In fact, it is not only Bhutan but the small neighbors of India also face the same pressures:
“The current situation is portrayed by India’s hyper-nationalistic media in terms of encirclement by China and Beijing’s designs on India. However, for the small Himalayan states and border regions, it’s not China that makes them nervous, it’s India.”
America, the new Goebbels
We have seen in earlier parts how America invents Chinese aggression along LAC, even after India – the PM, the defense minister, and the military Chief – officially clarified that there were no incursions by China; and there arose problems because of “perceptional differences” on where the LAC lay.
Nehru ‘practically outsourced the defence of India to the US’, wrote Bhasin. But America- that knows all about the dispute India refuses to resolve -tells lies and half-truths. And it does not allow the dispute being resolved by mutual give and take. Whenever talks take place, it engineers frenzy and jingoism with the help of a slavish media.
The Indian Forward Policy’s implications were tersely summed up by a source by no means hostile to India but very hostile to China during the period. In May 2007, the U.S. government published a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Staff Study commissioned by the Department of Defence on “The Sino-India Border Dispute” from 1950 to 1962. It throws neglected light on relations between the two countries, says AGN who wrote:
“The CIA study cites confidential reports to the Indian Cabinet. Nehru said: “We will continue to build these things up so that ultimately we may be in a position to take effective action to recover such territory as is in their position.”
This CIA Study, hostile to China, records: “Ever since the Chou-Nehru talks of April 1960, the Chinese leaders without exception had been receptive to any high-level Indian exploratory approach to talks. Only after they had ascertained that the Indian representative was stating the same old position – that is, Chinese withdrawal as a pre-condition for negotiations – did they act to reject an Indian overture.”
“Indian posts were set up behind Chinese posts in Ladakh,” reports revealed.
“ .. reflect on the light which the CIA’s Study sheds on how we (India) responded to the diplomatic challenge. It is in these parts, covering 1950-59; 1959-61 and 1961-62. It draws on inputs by the Defence Department, the CIA and the U.S. Embassy’s reports…
“ The U.S. was then hostile to China. All the more damning is its exposure of the arrogance and sheer folly that marked Nehru’s stand on the boundary question. But remember – the Jan Sangh, the Lohiaites, the Swatantra and the Congress right wing, in fact the entire media and academia backed him to the hilt and urged a harder line. It was a truly national failure rooted in hubris and ignorance. There is little sign today of either abating and yielding to serious introspection on such issues.”
(See countercurrents.org, June 16, 2020, for more on America’s role:
The link is part of an earlier series before and after Galwan clash.
For more on AGN’s stories, visit frontline.thehindu.com
See also India-China war at 60 : A Review, 01/12/2022
India-China conflict in the Global Context: Part-1 ( 25/12/2022)
and part- 2 on The Arunachal sector.
Part-4 will focus on other aspects of the conflict and the Chinese perspective of the related issues.
The author is a political observer who contributed to countercurrents.org.