मंगलबार, असार १२, २०८१

Doing Justice to Nehru Vis-A-Vis’ China

नेपालखोज २०७७ भदौ २६ गते १६:१५


The one good thing that has happened from the recent attack on Indian troops by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is that the often mindless criticism of Jawaharlal Nehru over the Sino Indian border row has abated, at least for now.

Suddenly there is a realization that if one can keep parroting that Nehru was fooled by China, the same charge would hold true today too. And so there is a fresh review of what happened in 1962 when Chinese troops invaded India. Was Nehru a weakling? One who did not see through China’s nefarious designs? A idealist who was deceived by the ‘HindiChini Bhai Bhai’ slogan? A soft-headed Fabian socialist who was soft towards Mao’s regime in the name of Third World and Non- Alignment? A Prime Minister who did not pay adequate attention to military preparedness when others like Sardar Patel demanded?

Until some years ago I would have answered these questions with a resounding ‘yes’. But a deep perusal of documents of the period as well as books written by those who then mattered allowed me to take a fresh look on India’s first Prime Minister and his policy towards Communist China. Although Nehru deployed the Indian Army on many U.N. missions, let it oust the Nizam of Hyderabad who wanted to merge with Pakistan and helped the military to grow steadily in strength, he did not give unqualified support to the armed forces. He had his own reasons to mistrust some of the Generals in newly free India, with some publicly speaking on issues which today would be considered treason.

Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa had not only said there was a need for a military rule in India but had openly supported the coup led by General Ayub Khan in Pakistan. Both Gen Cariappa and General J.N. Choudhry used to meet the British High Commissioner in Delhi. Between 1948 and 1955, there were 24 military coups around the world and this number rose to 46 between 1956 and 1964. Sixty percent of the coups were successful in dislodging the civilian authority. It was with a view to clip the wings of the military that Nehru decided to strengthen the Reserve Police (now CRPF) and Assam Rifles. He decreed that every state will have its own Armed Police. The DIGs in police were allowed to put up a flag mast on their cars – a privilege until then reserved only for senior military officers.

The role of civilians in the military’s functioning was stepped up. When the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 after the Communist takeover of Tibet, Nehru decided to give refuge to the spiritual leader, angering Beijing. Nehru also told US President Dwight Eisenhower’s aide Major William Corson: “If India was to accept the Dalai Lama, the US would have to help New Delhi develop nuclear weapons.” Major William wrote: “Nehru was a hard bargainer and made it amply clear to Eisenhower that India wants its own nuclear assurance against China.” The US President decided to accept 400 Indian students into American graduate programmes in nuclear sciences. “The course of the negotiations left no doubt that Nehru would assign the American trained scientists to produce nuclear weapons,” wrote Major William, Nehru had of course already set up in August 1948 the Atomic Energy Commission and its first head was Dr Homi K. Bhabha. He also set up four arms and ammunition factories besides nationalizing four companies catering to military needs. INS Vikrant air craft carrier was purchased in 1954.

Nehru’s penchant for industry was because he was convinced that no country which is not industrialized could be militarily strong. On Dec 7, 1961, he told the Lok Sabha, in clear evidence that he was aware of the threat from China: “A huge elephant of a country sitting on our borders is itself a fact that we could not ignore.” Nehru had a vision that included an aircraft carrier and atomic energy and not just a disputed land border. Sarder Patel was a serious and respected leader but he lacked a similar global vision. After a mysterious explosion blasted Air India’s ‘Kashmir Princess’, a chartered Lockheed aircraft in mid air while flying from Hong Kong to Indonesia, Nehru dispatched then Intelligence Bureau officer R.N. Kao (later RAW chief) to investigate incident & meet Zhou En lai, who was to have been one of the passengers but who gave the flight a miss at the last moment due to a supposed medical emergency.

IB Director B.N. Mullick was against sending Kao but Nehru did not pay heed. According to the late Kao, Nehru considered Zhou En lai as the key person behind power in China and to that extent a danger; he also wanted to make Tibet free and make Baltistan and Aksai Chin a part of India; and to ensure that China didn’t intervene in Sikkim, Nepal and Bhutan. Nehru had told Kao to convince China that Taiwan was to blame for the Air India crash. Fortunately, Taiwan’s and CIA’s hands were already being suspected. Curiously, the chief pilot of the crashed Air India, Damodar Kashinath Jatar, who too perished in the disaster, was awarded an Ashok Chakra – a military honour( 1 st time in Indian history military award to civilian ) The families of other crew were also honoured and looked after financially. A Chinese intelligence officer who later defected wrote that Zhou En lai feared Nehru. Unlike many Indians, Mao was convinced that Nehru was a threat.

In 1960, he came out with a pamphlet titled “The Revolution in Tibet and Nehru’s Philosophy,” outlining his views on the Indian leader. Mao also felt that Nehru’s pro-socialist image and policies as well as leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement, was an impediment to the spread of Communism. Nehru’s controversial “Forward Policy”, which some say triggered the Chinese attack on India, was an example of his aggressiveness although he came across to most people as a ‘softie’. The Forward Policy, which included setting up posts on all the border routes leading to Lhasa, was carried out under the supervision of the Intelligence Bureau. The military was against it and even made fun of it. China’s domestic turmoil too contributed to the invasion of India.

The Great Leap Forward had turned to be an economic disaster, causing untold deaths among the peasantry, and challenging the Russian theory that newly independent countries (which would have included India) needed help, Mao decided in June 1962 that aggression was needed to humiliate India and decided to wait until winter. The final go ahead for the invasion came at the 10th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Early in October, the Chinese government took a guarantee from the Soviet Union, which was a friend of India, that it will not support New Delhi in the event of a military showdown. Mao was lucky too.

This was also the month when the Cuban missile crisis almost brought the US and the Soviet Union to war. On October 20, 1962, Chinese troops invaded India and declared a ceasefire on November 21. The Cuban missile crisis lasted from October 16 to 28, 1962. One could say that Nehru – who all said and done did not expect China to launch an open aggression, just like today many in India didn’t think Beijing will kill 20 Indian soldiers — was made to pay the price for his Forward Policy, the help given clandestinely to Kampha rebels in Tibet and the military support to Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim vis-à-vis China. More than half a century later, China has not changed!

-Deepak Saxena

Saxena is a Psephologist and a Journalist.