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Home > India > News > Columnists > Rajeev Srinivasan

The sacrifice of Tibet: Extraordinary delusions and temporary insanity

March 25, 2008

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On November 18 every year, I silently salute the brave souls of C Company, 13th Kumaon Regiment, who in 1962 died practically to the last man and the last bullet defending Ladakh against the invading Chinese Army. These brave 114 inflicted heavy casualties and prevented the Chinese from overrunning Leh, much like Spartans at Thermopylae held the line against the invading Persians many moons ago.

But have you ever wondered why these brave men had to sacrifice themselves? One answer seems to be that is because of the extraordinary delusions that affected a number of the dramatis personae on the Indian side: notably Jawaharlal Nehru, KM Panikkar and VK Krishna Menon.

A deadly combination of blind faith, gross megalomania, and groupthink led to the debacle in the war in1962; but its genesis lay in the unbelievable naivete that led these worthies to simply sacrifice a defenseless sister civilisation to brutal barbarians.

Furthermore, they were far more concerned about China's interests than about India's! Generations to come will scarcely believe that such criminal negligence was tolerated in the foreign policy of a major nation.

In a well-researched book, timed for the one hundredth anniversary of the opening of Tibet [Images] by the British, Claude Arpi, born in France [Images] but a long-term resident of India, and one of India's leading Tibet and China experts, argues that India's acquiescence to the enslavement of Tibet has had disastrous consequences. The book is Born in Sin: The Panchsheel Agreement subtitled The Sacrifice of Tibet, published by Mittal Publications, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 241, Rs. 495, ISBN 81-7099-974-X. Unless otherwise noted, all of the quotations here are from this book.

Arpi also touches upon the difficulty scholars face with piecing together what actually happened in those momentous years leading to the extinction of Tibet and the India-China war of 1962, because the majority of the source materials are held as classified documents in the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund or the Ministry of External Affairs.

The historian is forced to depend on the sanitised Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru and the restricted Official Report of the 1962 War. If the relevant documents were made public at the very least we might learn something from them. Where is Aruna Roy, crusading champion of the people's right to know who has now accepted a sinecure under the UPA? Why are the Nehru Papers controlled by Sonia Gandhi [Images]?

The story really begins exactly one hundred years ago, in September 1904, when the British Colonel Francis Younghusband entered Tibet and forced the hitherto insular kingdom open at the point of a gun. The Lhasa Convention of 1904, signed by the British and the Tibetans, put the seal of British overlordship over Tibet. The parallels with Commodore Perry of the US and his black ships opening up Japan [Images] are obvious. However, unlike Japan, which under the Meiji Restoration took vigorously to westernisation, Tibet continued to distance itself from the outside world, much to its later disadvantage.

Perhaps we need to look further in history, as Arpi did in his earlier book, The Fate of Tibet: When Big Insects Eat Small Insects. The Tibetans were a feared, martial and warlike race that had always, in its impregnable mountain fastnesses, held the expansionist Han Chinese at bay. However, in the 7th century CE, Buddhism came to Tibet, and they became a pacifist nation. Says Arpi: 'Tibet's conversion had another consequence on its political history: a nonviolent Tibet could no longer defend itself. It had to look outside for military support to safeguard its frontiers and for the protection of its Dharma. This help came first from the Mongol Khans and later the Manchu Emperors when they became themselves followers of the Buddha's doctrine.'

The sum and substance of China's alleged historical claim to Tibet is this: that the Mongol Khans had conquered both China and Tibet at the same time. This is patently absurd, because by the same token India should claim Australia, New Zealand [Images] and Hong Kong as its own, because India and these territories were under British rule at the same time.

In fact, since the Mongol Khans and the Manchu Emperors accepted the Dalai Lama [Images] as their spiritual preceptor, it is clear that it was China that was giving tribute to Tibet, not vice versa: so Tibet could claim Han China as its vassal.

The Lhasa Convention was followed by the Simla Convention in 1914 that laid out the McMahon Line defining both the Indo-Tibetan border, and the division of Tibet into 'Outer Tibet' (which lies along the border with India) and 'Inner Tibet' which includes Amdo Province and part of Kham Province. It is worthwhile to note that the Chinese were not invited to discuss the McMahon line, nor was their acceptance of this line sought. Tibetans signed this treaty as an independent nation. The British government emphasised this in a note to the Chinese as late as 1943: 'Since the Chinese Revolution of 1911,... Tibet has enjoyed de facto independence.'

When India became independent, K M Panikkar wrote: 'A China [organised as a Communist regime annexing Mongol, Muslim and Tibetan areas] will be in an extremely powerful position to claim its historic role of authority over Tibet, Burma, Indo-China and Siam. The historic claims in regard to these are vague and hazy�' Yet soon thereafter Panikkar became the principal spokesperson for China's interests, even though his job was Indian Ambassador to China!

As soon as the Communists came to power, in 1950, they started asserting their claims: 'The tasks for the People's Liberation Army for 1950 are to liberate [sic] Taiwan, Hainan and Tibet.' A Scottish missionary in Tibet said the PLA officers told him that once Tibet was in their hands, they would go to India.

On October 7, 1950, Mao Tse-Tung's storm troopers invaded Tibet. But under Panikkar's influence, Nehru felt that the loss of Tibet was worth the price of liberating Asia from 'western dominance'. Panikkar said: 'I do not think there is anything wrong in the troops of Red China moving about in their own country.'

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was one of the few in the Indian government who recognised the menace from China. He wrote:
'We also have to take note of a thoroughly unscrupulous, unreliable and determined power practically at our doors� [It is clear that] we cannot be friendly with China and must think in terms of defense against a determined, calculating, unscrupulous, ruthless, unprincipled and prejudiced combination of powers, of which the Chinese will be the spearhead� [It is obvious to me that] any friendly or appeasing approaches from us would either be mistaken for weakness or would be exploited in furtherance of their ultimate aim.'

How prophetic Patel was! Unfortunately, he died soon after he wrote this. Interestingly, the very same words apply in their entirety to India's dithering over Pakistan today, 54 years later. The Pakistanis are also exploiting India's appeasement and friendliness.

But Nehru, it appears, had decided to sacrifice Tibet, partly in order to appease China, partly because of his distaste for what he considered 'imperialist treaties' (in this case the Lhasa Convention that gave enormous rights in Tibet to the British, and, as their successor, to the Indian government) and partly in order to act as mediator between China and the West over the Korean War.

Observers could see what was going to happen. The American ambassador Henderson noted: 'The UK High Commission would like to be able to argue with Indian officials that if GoI bows to Communist China's blackmail re Tibet, India will eventually be confronted with similar blackmail not only re Burma but re such areas as Assam, Bhutan, Sikkim, Kashmir, Nepal.' Absolutely correct, for this is exactly what is happening today.

Nehru and Panikkar simply did not see the threat from China, so enamoured were they of the great Communist Revolution there. Nehru said: 'The biggest event since the last War is the rise of Communist China'. Part of his admiration arose from his distaste for the Buddhist culture of Tibet: 'We cannot support feudal elements in Tibet, indeed we cannot interfere in Tibet'. Now doesn't that sound exactly like Xinhua propaganda, which Nehru seems to have internalised?

A Canadian high commissioner had a different theory: '[Panikkar] had no illusions about the policies of the Chinese government and he had not been misled by it. He considered, however, that the future, at least in his lifetime, lay with the communists, and he therefore did his best to get on well with them by misleading Nehru'. That might be considered treason in certain circles.

Whatever the reason, we can see why Zhou-en Lai is rumored to have referred to the Indians in general and Nehru in particular as 'useful idiots'. (There is no reference to this in the Arpi book). In every discussion with Panikkar, the Chinese hosts smilingly avoided the question of settling the border, but they made sure that India acknowledged Chinese hegemony over Tibet. The Indians were thoroughly outsmarted, partly because they were willing victims dazzled by the idea of Communism.

When confronted with the question of the undefined border, Nehru said, "All these are high mountains. Nobody lives there. It is not very necessary to define these things." And in the context of whether the Chinese might invade India, here's Nehru again: "What might happen is some petty trouble in the borders and unarmed infiltration. To some extent this can be stopped by checkposts� Ultimately, however, armies do not stop communist infiltration or communist ideas� Any large expenditure on the army will starve the development of the country and social progress."

The naivete leaves the neutral observer speechless. What might be even more alarming is that there are supposedly serious Old Left analysts today, in 2004, who mouth these same inanities about not spending money on the Indian Army. Why they do not take their cue from China, with its enormous Army, is mysterious, because in all other respects they expect India to emulate China. Except that is, no nukes, no military might for India.

By not asserting India's treaty rights in Tibet, which would have helped Tibet remain as a neutral buffer zone, Nehru has hurt India very badly. For, look at what is happening today. Nepal is under relentless attack by Maoists, almost certainly supported by Chinese money. Large parts of India are infested with violent Maoists. Much of West Bengal is under the iron grip of Marxists, who clearly take orders from Beijing [Images].

It is in this context that the so-called Panchsheel Agreement was written. Given that the Indian side had a priori decided to surrender all its rights to the Chinese, in return for vague promises of brotherhood, it is perhaps the most vacuous treaty ever signed. However, Nehru opined: "in my opinion, we have done no better thing than this since we became independent. I have no doubt about this�I think it is right for our country, for Asia and for the world."

Famous last words.

Nehru believed that the five principles which are referred to as Panchsheel were his personal, and major, contribution to world peace. Based on his impression of his stature in the world, he thought that the Panchsheel model could be used for treaties all over the world, and that it would lead to a tremendous breaking out of peace everywhere.

Nehru was sadly mistaken. There was nothing particularly remarkable about the principles themselves: they were not his invention, but were merely common-sense provisions used widely. And he had a megalomaniac idea of his own influence around the world: he did not realise that he cut a slightly comical figure. In his own mind, and in the minds of his toadies, he was the Emperor Ashoka returned, to bring about World Peace.

Here are the Five Principles:
1. Mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty
2. Mutual non-aggression
3. Mutual non-interference in each other's internal affairs
4. Equality and mutual benefit
5. Peaceful co-existence

The Chinese immediately violated every one of these principles, and have continued to do so happily. For instance, even while the treaty was being negotiated, the Chinese were building a road through Aksai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir [Images], and in perhaps the most unbelievable aspect of this whole sorry mess, India was actually supplying rice to the Chinese troops building the road through Indian territory! This is distinctly surreal!

The problem was that Nehru had no sense of history. He should have read RC Majumdar: "There is, however, one aspect of Chinese culture that is little known outside the circle of professional historians� It is characteristic of China that if a region once acknowledged her nominal suzerainty even for a short period, she would regard it as a part of her empire for ever and would automatically revive her claim over it even after a thousand years whenever there was a chance of enforcing it."

And this was the 'ally' Nehru found against the 'imperialists' of the West! He went so far as to decline a seat at the UN Security Council because the China seat was held by Taiwan. He did not want India to be in the Security Council until China was there too!

Since many people are curious about this, here is chapter and verse: it is in the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Series II, Vol. 29, Minutes of meeting with Soviet Leaders, Moscow [Images], 22 June 1955, pp. 231. Here is the conversation between Nehru and Soviet Premier Marshal Bulganin:

"Bulganin: While we are discussing the general international situation and reducing tension, we propose suggesting at a later stage India's inclusion as the sixth member of the Security Council.

Nehru: Perhaps Bulganin knows that some people in USA have suggested that India should replace China in the Security Council. This is to create trouble between us and China. We are, of course, wholly opposed to it. Further, we are opposed to pushing ourselves forward to occupy certain positions because that may itself create difficulties and India might itself become a subject of controversy. If India is to be admitted to the Security Council it raises the question of the revision of the Charter of the UN. We feel that this should not be done till the question of China's admission and possibly of others is first solved. I feel that we should first concentrate on getting China admitted."

The casual observer might wonder whether Nehru was India's prime minister, or China's. Besides, the Chinese have now repaid all this support. India insisted that India should not be in the Security Council until China was in it, too. Now China insists that India should not be in the Security Council until Pakistan is in it, too. Seems fair, doesn't it?

What is the net result of all this for India? It is a strategic disaster. Forget the fact that the Tibetan civilisation has been decimated, and it is an Indic civilisation with practically no relationship to Han Chinese civilisation. Strictly from India's security perspective, it is an unmitigated catastrophe.

Analyst Ginsburg wrote in the fifties: 'He who holds Tibet dominates the Himalayan piedmont; he who dominates the Himalayan piedmont, threatens the Indian subcontinent; and he who threatens the Indian subcontinent may well have all of Southeast Asia within his reach, and all of Asia.'

Look at the situation in Tibet today.

  • The Chinese are planning the northward diversion of the Brahmaputra, also known as the Tsangpo. This would make North India a desert
  • The Chinese have on several occasions used 'lake bombs' to flood Indian territory: as the upper riparian state based on their occupation of Tibet, they are able to do this, for example on the Sutlej
  • Hu Jintao, who was the Butcher of Tibet, is now a top strongman in Beijing. Under his sponsorship, a railway line will be finished in 2007 linking Lhasa to eastern China. This would be an excellent mechanism for bringing in both large
    numbers of Han immigrants to swamp the remaining Tibetan people, and also to deploy mobile nuclear missiles
  • The Chinese are deploying advanced nuclear missiles in Tibet, aimed at India, Russia [Images] and the US. With the railway line, they will be able to move these around and even conceal them quickly in tunnels and other locations
  • The Chinese dump large amounts of nuclear waste in Tibet, which will eventually make its way down to India via the rivers
  • The India-Tibet border is still not demarcated.

It is difficult to imagine a more disastrous foreign policy outcome than what happened between India and China. Claude Arpi is owed a debt of gratitude by all of us in India who care about the nation's progress and even its survival.

If the rather well-thought-of founding prime minister of the country was so uncaring about India's interests, one shudders to think what might be going on today with some of the ministers who are accused in criminal cases.

But even more than that, Arpi's detailed analysis and painstaking research on the process through which Tibet was enslaved is an instructive case study in how barbarians are always at the gates, and how, as Will Durant said, 'Civilisation is a precious good, whose delicate complex order and freedom can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without and multiplying from within'.

One of the profound lessons to be taken away is that it is the lack of respect for the spiritual that has led to this cataclysm. As Ministry of External Affairs observer, Apa Pant, pointed out about Tibet and the Han Chinese colonisation: 'With all its shortcomings and discomforts, its inefficiencies and unconquered physical dangers, here was a civilisation with at least the intention of maintaining a pattern of life in which the individual could achieve liberation� The one so apparently inefficient, so human and even timid, yet kind and compassionate and aspiring to something more gloriously satisfying in human life; the other determined and effective, ruthless, power-hungry and finally intolerant... In the corridors of power [in official India], Tibet, Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, were all regarded as ridiculous, too funny for words; useless illusions that would logically cease to exist soon, thanks to the Chinese, and good riddance.'

In the final analysis, Tibet was lost because those in power in India were dismissive of matters spiritual. It is the Empire of the Spirit that has made India what she has been all these millennia, and once the rulers start dismissing that, it is clear that we are in the Kali Yuga, the Dark Ages. It is the end of living, and the beginning of survival.

This perspective was written in 2004; comments welcome at http://rajeev2007.wordpress.com


Rajeev Srinivasan




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