The 50th anniversary of the Chinese attack on India in October 1962 saw the eruption of a veritable rash of articles on the cathartic as well as catastrophic confrontation.
With all the 20/20 hindsight the commentators could command, they have discussed and dissected threadbare the circumstances leading to it and the roles of the dramatis personae at both the Indian and Chinese ends.
Unsurprisingly, all of them have heavily drawn upon the phenomenal corpus of copious writings produced in the period following that event by scholars and analysts from all over the world (including the classical India’s China War by Neville Maxwell and the self-serving The Chinese Betrayal by India’s Chief of the Intelligence Bureau at the time, B.N.Mullik).
The Government too, under pressure from Parliamentary and public opinion, set up a committee comprising Lt Gen Henderson Brooks and Brigadier P.S.Bhagat, which undertook an overall review of the whole gamut of military operations pertaining to the Chinese invasion.
But the Government is continuing to keep it under wraps, raising dark suspicions about the omissions and commissions on the part of those at the helm of the Government and the armed forces.
Not many know, though, that well before the invasion itself, Dr K.Zachariah, Director of the Historical Research Division of the Ministry of External Affairs, had prepared a thoroughly professional and candidly objective paper (Studies on the North Eastern Frontier) about the tenability or otherwise of the claims and counter-claims of India and China with respect to the eastern, central and middle sectors of the border. His report too has not seen the light of day.
The result is that there is no completely authentic exposition of the genesis of the war, the sequence of happenings connected with it and the steps that could have been taken to avert it.
Of all the narratives that the 50th anniversary had spawned, I find A.G.Noorani’s The Truth about 1962 published in Frontline of November 17-30 most absorbing as well as enlightening.
He distils the following egregious blunders committed by India from his study of the available material: Unilateral revision by India of the McMahon Line and the maps in 1954; Nehru’s refusal to negotiate during the period 1954-58 despite Chinese pressing pleas; assertion of a false claim relating to Aksai Chin area and refusal to consider the merits of the Chinese case; and refusal of the offer of the Chinese Premier, Zhou Enlai, in April 1960 to settle the border question on the basis of acceptance of McMahon Line and India’s Forward Policy.
But I am not into any of those learned discourses. Having watched Jawaharlal Nehru closely from 1961 when I was asked to service the National Integration Council (that had been newly started by him) until 1964 when he passed away, I am still trying to unravel the mystery of his behaviour with China.
Here was a “gentle colossus” (as the veteran Parliamentarian and CPI stalwart, Hiren Mukerjee described him in his book) who was the embodiment of idealism and sacrifice, and who, in the course of fighting the mighty British Imperialism, spent a total of 14 years in prison.
Why did he, an apostle of peace and harmony, and a sworn enemy of colonialism and oppression in any form, succumb to the devious ways of lesser mortals, veering away from the Bandung spirit of Panch Sheel and the Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai euphoria which he himself put his entire weight to generate?
How did his historical sense and the romantic streak fail to bring home to him the majesty of the two ancient civilisations of India and China and the tremendous and lasting impact both countries could have made by burying their differences and joining hands in the cause of a new world order supplanting the existing one of inequality, injustice and iniquity?
I have an answer of sorts from the great man himself. There was one occasion in 1963 when I had a brush with him on an English usage and became the victim of his wrath.
By way of soothing any feeling of hurt he might have caused, he called me in some time later and permitted himself a long soliloquy on a wide range of subjects, with me sitting before him, in the course of which he revealed a side of his personality that nobody suspected existed.
What I recorded in my notes immediately after I left his presence is not a verbatim reproduction of what he said, but is something close to it:
“People take me to be idealistic, devoid of any understanding of the Machiavellian realities that govern the conduct of countries and the relations between them. That is not so.
The fact that from a very young age, I came under the influence of Mahatma Gandhi, has a lot to do with my approach to people, issues and nations.
You remember he was even for disbanding the armed forces and for India to stand forth with only trust and faith in humanity as its shield. We could not go that far, but the sheer grandeur of his ideas left its mark on my personality.
“In retrospect, many decisions may look wrong or even against national interest. Do I regret them? At least some of them, yes. As regards Kashmir and China, definitely yes.
But as regards the state’s role in shaping the economy and the government going out of the way to win over minorities, especially the Harijans and the tribals, I think no government in India can ever afford to have any other policy. Epithets like pro-Muslim etc have been flung at me, implying perhaps that I am against Hindus or Hinduism. This is utter nonsense. I am for protection of minorities, that’s all.”
I think any speculation over Nehru’s decisions and actions in retrospect is a waste of time. Gandhi, no mean judge of persons, who had closely watched him for close to thirty years in all moods and situations, had no doubt about his being a genuine jawahar (jewel).
None of Nehru’s critics had the same advantage as Gandhi. Therefore, what the Mahatma said should suffice for history.