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Revealed: Nehru didn't trust the Chinese

June 02, 2018 10:30 IST

'Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai? Don't you believe it. I don't trust the Chinese one bit,' Nehru told Gopalaswamy Parthasarathi before he traveled to China as India's ambassador.
Asking GP to be ever vigilant, Nehru advised the diplomat to send telegrams on important matters only to him.
Many such anecdotes from a long and eventful career as diplomat and bureaucrat crowd the pages of GP: 1912-1995, discovers Uttaran Das Gupta.

A sketch of then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru against the backdrop of China's capricious leader Mao Zedong who ordered his troops to invade India in October 1962.

IMAGE: A sketch of then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru against the backdrop of China's capricious leader Mao Zedong who ordered his troops to invade India in October 1962.

A dinner with Ho Chi Minh would be the stuff of stories for the grandchildren but being served white mice soaked in syrup is a pretty hair-raising experience to recall.

That's exactly what India's ambassador to Vietnam, Gopalaswamy Parthasarathi -- or GP as he was popularly known -- and his family were served by the North Vietnam leader in 1962.

After a rollicking dinner, also attended by Prime Minister Pham Van Dong and the legendary army chief General Vo Nguyen Giap, the final dish arrived: A large jar with white objects floating in a thick syrup.

"I know what this dish is," GP said, "We call it rasagolla at home."

Chairman Ho smiled and replied: "Ambassador, I don't think so. These are specially bred white mice in sugar syrup."

Ho then picked up one by its tail and swallowed it whole.

As the jar was passed to GP, he did likewise.

"I just said Harihara, Shiva Shiva and sent the mouse down my gullet!" he would later recall.

Many such anecdotes from his long and eventful career as diplomat and bureaucrat crowd the pages of GP: 1912-1995, written by his son, Ashok Parthasarathi, who was science and technology advisor to then prime minister Indira Gandhi.

Not all diplomatic assignments comprised such exotic dinners though.

 

Just before he was sent to China in 1958, then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru called GP for a meeting.

"So what has the Foreign Office told you? Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai? Don't you believe it. I don't trust the Chinese one bit," the PM said.

Asking GP to be ever vigilant, Nehru advised the diplomat to send telegrams on important matters only to him.

This revelation challenges the traditional belief that the Indian government was taken completely by surprise at the Chinese aggression of 1962, resulting in a humiliating defeat in the war.

The book also casts light on what happened to the 'package deal' offered by Deng Xiaoping to India in 1982.

According to Ashok Parthasarathi's version -- and there are others -- Deng had offered that while China keep some of the territory they had acquired in 1962, India would keep all of Arunachal Pradesh.

Indira Gandhi had apparently approved the deal and had sent a letter to Deng confirming it.

However, an unauthorised miscommunication resulted in the best possible deal India and China could have had being scuttled.

Gopalswamy Parthasarathi -- 'GP' --  then prime minister Indira Gandhi's special envoy, left, with then Sri Lankan president J R Jayewardene in Colombo, August 26, 1983.

IMAGE: Gopalswamy Parthasarathi -- 'GP' -- then prime minister Indira Gandhi's special envoy, left, with then Sri Lankan president J R Jayewardene in Colombo, August 26, 1983.

Ashok Parthasarathi does not use a cellphone or e-mail. My meeting with him took place at his home in South Delhi.

When I arrived mid-morning, he was busy working, with his dining table stacked with papers. His memory, however, has no clutter: He recalled dates in the book with startling accuracy, not consulting any notes.

"I hope you don't mind me smoking," he said, as he lit another cigarette from the many packs on his table. "This is a habit I shared with my late, great father."

He spoke fluently about his experiences as a young professor at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, soon after it opened in the early sixties, and the many experiences of his father. The colloquial style is apparent also in the book.

Asked why he decided to write it now, Ashok Parthasarathi said: "There is no reason for this. It took me two-and-a-half years to write this book, get all the papers. More than 60 people were informed."

He added that he had initially wanted to release the book next November -- to, in his word "coincide with the birth anniversary of Indiraji."

The most startling revelation in the book, described as a 'bombshell' by a senior newspaper editor, is about Indira Gandhi's plans to march on Peshawar in the days following India's quick victory in the 1971 Bangladesh War.

Both GP and Ashok Parthasarathi were present in the meeting where Mrs Gandhi asked army chief Sam Manekshaw, along with senior members of her Cabinet -- Y B Chavan, Jagjivan Ram and Swaran Singh -- and senior bureaucrats.

To a query about how long it would take the army to reach Peshawar, Manekshaw said "three days".

The near-unanimous view at the meeting was that India should invade Pakistan; the only dissenting voice was that of P N Haksar, then principal secretary to the prime minister.

Later in the evening, All India Radio announced the ceasefire, ending all hostilities between the two countries.

Uttaran Das Gupta
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