Join our Mailing List

"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Book Review: Tibet: The Lost Frontier -- India sentimental, China pragmatic

August 4, 2008

This has resulted in the loss of Tibet, a buffer state between India
and China, says NS Rajaram
NS Rajaram
The Daily Pioneer (India)
August 2, 2008

Tibet: The Lost Frontier
Author: Claude Arpi
Publisher: Lancer Publishers
Price: Rs 795           

Claude Arpi is an Auroville-based French scholar with an abiding
interest in Tibetan history and culture. His knowledge of source
materials combined with his extensive contacts with high Tibetan
officials including the Dalai Lama allow him to write on Tibet and
the India-China relations from a perspective that is not available in
other works. Tibet: The Lost Frontier is an invaluable work on Tibet
and its role in India-China relations. It supplements and extends his
earlier work The Fate of Tibet published in 1999.

At the very outset it must be recognised that any scholar researching
the vital area of India-China-Tibet relations has to work under a
severe handicap: access to these vital records, even in India's
National Archives requires approval by Jawaharlal Nehru's heirs,
meaning the present occupants of 10, Janpath. Successive Indian
Governments have done nothing to correct this scandalous situation.
The author discovered however that some of the same records are
available at the India Office in London. These allow him to shed
valuable light on the policy blunders and incompetence on the part of
Nehru and his favourites that led to the humiliation of 1962 and beyond.

Two factors contributed to the loss of Tibetan independence and
India's still unresolved border with its giant neighbor -- Tibetan
insularity and Nehru's obsession with world peace. The first resulted
in Indo-Tibetan relations getting off on the wrong foot immediately
after Indian Independence; this was a minor irritant that might soon
have been corrected. But the second, far greater in its impact led to
Nehru abandoning India's vital interests in Tibet in pursuit of
international glory in Korea, soon followed by a mirage called Panchasheel.

In addition to his utopian dreams, Nehru showed singularly poor
judgement in his choice of advisers during this vital period. Of
these Krishna Menon, now consigned to the dustbin of history is
justly infamous. Equally pernicious was the influence of KM Panikkar,
India's Ambassador to China. A confirmed Marxist, he seemed more
interested in polishing up Communist China's international image in
the aftermath of its invasion of Tibet than safeguarding Indian interests.

Noting this, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the one leader who shines like
a beacon in this sordid saga of folly and betrayal, observed that
Panikkar "has been at great pains to find an explanation or
justification for Chinese policy and actions." This was to lead
eventually to India repudiating its right to have a diplomatic
mission in Lhasa on the ground that it was an 'imperialist legacy'.
This was only one of several concessions made by Nehru -- a list that
includes giving up the Indian mission in Gyantse as well as a
pilgrimage centre in the Mount Kailash-Manasarovar area.

There were fundamental policy errors at the conceptual level as well.
It was a common belief among English-educated Indian officials that
they were superior to and more sophisticated than Chinese officials
most of whom did not speak English. They had only outfoxed
themselves. Later, when India did raise the border question, the
Chinese blithely asked, why did the Indians not bring up the border
in 1954 if it was so important?

The problem was that Indian officials, led by Nehru, were living in a
world of make-believe. S Gopal has observed in his biography of
Nehru: "By asserting that not only questions ripe for settlement but
'all outstanding questions' were being settled, the Indian side
sought to score a debating point of no value. Semantics cannot
guarantee an international frontier."

The tragedy as the author observes is: "Fifty years later, the border
tangle remains unresolved." Worse, for all the hopeful noises made by
Indian politicians and diplomats, it appears more intractable today
than it was 50 years ago. "Beijing still claims 90,000 sq km of
Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh and occupies 38,000 sq km more
in Ladakh (Aksai Chin)."

The author seems to see the Chinese posture in Arunachal Pradesh as a
pressure tactic meant to force India to acquiesce to Chinese control
of Aksai Chin, which is far more vital to China. As he sees it, it
basically boils down to: "Is India ready to give away Aksai Chin in
exchange for something it already possesses -- Arunachal Pradesh?
(Perhaps with free access to Kailash and Manasarovar added to sweeten
the pill?) Is any other solution feasible?"

In the final analysis, as the author observes: "Today, like
yesterday, the main problem is that while the Chinese remain
pragmatic, most Indian leaders are sentimental." Most except Sardar
Patel that is, who shortly before his death in 1950 memorably wrote:
"Even though we regard ourselves as friends of China, the Chinese do
not regard us as friends." Has India learnt the lesson?
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank