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Ab Ki Bari, Atal Bihari!

June 30, 2003

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's clarification in Shanghai on one feature of the Sino-Indian joint declaration -- that "whatever had been decided on Sikkim will take us in the right direction and our objective will be fulfilled," and that a formal acceptance by China of Sikkim being a part of India is imminent -- is extremely credible and tremendously cheering for Indians. That is, for Indians of a particular persuasion.

In 1948, when the fledgling Indian Army needed less than a week to recover all the territory illegally occupied by Pakistan, PM Jawaharlal Nehru -- much against the advice of Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel -- took the decision to cease fire and take the case to the UN Security Council.

This peaceable step taken by, whom Gandhiji called, the "Jewel of India," produced immense exhilaration amongst like-minded Indians. Just as it established, what is now known as, "Azad Kashmir," and "Northern Areas."

In 1955, Pandit Nehru elevated India's station in the world's estimation by declaring, "Informally, suggestions have been made by the US that China should be taken into the UN but not in the Security Council and that India should take her place in the [Security] Council. We cannot, of course, accept this as it means falling out with China and it would be very unfair for a great country like China not to be in the Council." So, for the next 50 years, there went India's chance of attaining a permanent seat, with full veto rights, because China had "to take her rightful place, and then the question of India might be considered separately."

How very noble of this torch-bearer of modernity, this Child of Renaissance, to make such a sacrifice -- on behalf of the entire nation. Warmed the cockles of most Indian hearts. Especially in 1962, when China attacked 'little brother.'

In January 1966, in the aftermath of the 1965 war, PM Lal Bahadur Shastri and Pakistan President Ayub Khan signed the Tashkent Agreement. This was the war that, by some accounts, supposedly ended in a stalemate, after which, India "restored" to Pakistan all the territories that Pakistan had illegally held since the war of 1947-48, but which the Indian Army had now regained. Yup, "stalemate."

Indians, as is their wont, fiercely clung to the "Spirit of Tashkent" -- ie, "both sides will exert all efforts to create good neighborly relations... consider measures towards the restoration of economic and trade relations, communications as well as cultural exchanges..." About the three conditions that Pakistan had agreed to, Foreign Minister Swaran Singh told the Lok Sabha: "Even one of these considerations and conditions is enough to correct the mischief that can be created by the infiltrators' movement... Based upon this agreement, we are fully satisfied that the question of infiltrators is not likely to arise hereafter."

Thirty-seven years later, Indians still cling to this gallant Spirit of Tashkent. Especially after it was established that the territories that India "returned" included the Haji Pir Pass and Thithwal Pass -- those through which infiltration occurs even today.

In July 1972, just after the Bangladesh War, PM Indira Gandhi and President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto signed the Simla Pact. The 1971 war, apart from bringing about the dismemberment of Pakistan, caused it to lose about 12,000 square kilometres of territory in the west. Also, over 93,000 of its super-valiant, 1-Muslim-equals-10-Hindus type of soldiers surrendered to India. The West, of course, brought pressure for a 'peace accord' and argued that India must be 'magnanimous' and make concessions to encourage democracy in Pakistan. That is, just what Miya Musharraf is saying now.

When the two leaders met at Simla, Mrs G obviously had the upper hand; in fact Miya Bhutto pleaded with her not to humiliate him. Therefore, how could an Indian, she who had played on the laps of Panditji and Gandhiji, not forgive and forget all? That would have been so... I don't know... mean? Callous? Grasping? Realpolitik...?

As before, the two countries agreed to settle differences "by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations," that both would respect each other's territorial integrity, widen cooperation in trade blah blah blah. And, along with this, Indian forces would withdraw to their side of the international border (ie, "return" those regained 12,000 sq kms), and, in Jammu & Kashmir, respect the line resulting from the ceasefire of December 1971 -- the genesis of the "Line of Control." But best of all, Miya Bhutto secured even his 93,000 POWs a few months later.

All this made some Indians very, very happy. And why not?! After all, the Mahatma's devotees had resisted the temptation to vanquish and humiliate the invading enemy, and, instead, had initiated "the process of establishment of durable peace."

Of course, every pact has one hiccup or other, and so it was with this one: On his return to Islamabad from Simla, Miya Bhutto declared that Pakistan reserved the right to move the UN on Kashmir and that it would not hesitate to shed its blood to support "the liberation war" launched by the Kashmiris.

However, ox-hearted Indians weren't to be daunted by such piddling issues; Foreign Minister Swaran Singh (yes, again!) told the Rajya Sabha on July 31, 1972, that the pact was the "first step" towards establishing "durable peace" on the sub-continent "if faithfully worked out."

Mrs G defended the pact with: "These things do not come about by wishing or wanting. I think President Bhutto is making a sincere effort to take his people towards a new future... I think it is in our interest that his effort to turn the face of Pakistan from its past hatred and bitterness to a new future of peace and friendship is very much worth supporting."

All this was soooooo lonnnng ago that it's perfectly understandable why Indians -- even those of a differently-particular persuasion -- forgot all about the lessons of history and went into celebration mode during the Lahore Bus Ride. Naturally, nice-nice Indians can't possibly hold old grudges and, thus, it was inevitable that they would be overcome by shock! surprise! horror! intelligence failure! when kicked in the teeth at Kargil...

Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi -- all have made crucial compromises at critical moments in chasing the chimera of "durable peace." Evidently, it is a national characteristic -- one that shows no signs of petering out. For, Ab Ki Bari, Atal Bihari!

Is "our objective" limited to the Line of Actual Control at Sikkim? Is the Indo-China dispute over the LAC just about Sikkim? Hey, I'm no China-watcher and have never been one. I don't even know whether there is or not an international border between us and them. But even in my limited knowledge regarding the China frontier, I know for sure that there are many disputed areas -- even in the western sector -- as depicted in Chinese maps. To name a few: Samar Lungpa, near the Karakoram pass; Trig Heights, which China calls 'Manshen Hill'; Depsang Ridge, below Trig Heights; Rezang Pass, east of Chushul; Barahoti near Dehra Dun; Ladakh and Aksai Chin, of course. And what about Arunachal Pradesh -- all of which China claims?!

To top that, in a report datelined June 26, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan is quoted as having said that the new Sino-Indian memorandum on border trade cannot be interpreted as China's implicit or potential recognition of Sikkim as an integral part of India. He emphasised that it was just a "border trade agreement," the implication being that it wasn't a border agreement that could actually define Sikkim's status. Is this supposed to be our "right direction"...?

But wait! To top even that is the Asian Age report asserting that the Indian Army is opposed to the opening of the Nathu La on strategic grounds: "The army has made it very clear to the political leadership, for several years now, that the trade route could be used by the Chinese to infiltrate into Sikkim. Prime Ministers Narasimha Rao and H D Deve Gowda both rejected Chinese proposals to open this route, insisting that it could be considered only if Beijing recognised Sikkim as an integral part of India." The army's advice was ignored in the decision to accept the long-standing Chinese demand, in the hope that it would eventually lead to a recognition of Sikkim as an Indian state.

Worse, Maj Gen (retd) APS Chauhan admitted that the opening of Nathu La to China has created "a militarily very dangerous and sensitive situation" as trade is often the route "to other things." The apprehensions stemmed from increasing Chinese influence in Sikkim, leading to insurgency in the sensitive north-east region. "We should have insisted that they first recognised Sikkim as part of India and not as unfinished business that they could now use the trade route to try and resolve for themselves," the general said.

To tell you the truth, I was all into Miya Mushy's butt getting whipped at Camp David, and didn't see our own raw one in Beijing. The PM's "embedded" spinmeisters gave such a lulling slant to the memorandum that I continued focusing on the F-16s... That is, till the CPI-M erupted with a joy uncharacteristic in relation to the Hindu fundamentalist BJP: "We feel that a lot of ground has been covered and the relation has been carried forward... The pending border issues, we feel, have been given a new thrust. Overall it is a significant development... It would open new vistas for development..." etc.

Uh-oh! I became dead-sure that the spinmeisters were only that, and that the Nobel Peace Prize contestant has given away the only bargaining blocks that we had. Done for. Again.

But here's the bitch of it: After Miya Bhutto's taking Mrs G for a ride in 1972, a certain parliamentarian moved an amendment to the official motion in the Lok Sabha, which said that the Simla Pact failed to assure the "durable peace" that Mrs G had promised to achieve through a "package deal" to end the Kashmir dispute forever; and it condemned the Pact for ceding gained territory without requiring Pakistan to return the territories it illegally occupied.

Another parliamentarian who refused to buy Mrs G's claims said in the Rajya Sabha that the pact was not only a betrayal of the nation and of the jawans, but also a wilful contempt of Parliament.

That Lok Sabha member was Atal Bihari Vajpayee. And the Rajya Sabha member was L K Advani... Makes one see the China memorandum and the "hand of friendship" to Pakistan in a whole new light, nah?

Is it any wonder why Jawaharlal Nehru -- as quoted by RSS chief K S Sudarshan -- said after meeting the young Vajpayee: "I see my image in him"...? Ab Ki Bari, Atal Bihari!


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Varsha Bhosle

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