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Skeletons in the closet

November 21, 2012

Many say India makes a big deal about the 1962 war because it lost. China in comparison doesn’t even study the skirmish as part of their history. Until recently India was barely in the news in China and few Chinese knew that India was a neighboring country.

Living in a brave new world, where both China and India are assessing their historical pasts to enable themselves to move forward, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru comes up often. Nehru as few are bold enough to admit was responsible for the loss of face India realized when it lost the war.

If looked at from the Chinese perspective, Confucian rules point to not being the aggressor, but being able to defend ones land, which appropriately they did. A line drawn haphazardly by a British general McMohan however brought the two countries to war 50 years ago. An agreement, the Panchsheel which China never adhered to and India enforced, further led to the sub zero diplomatic relations between the two countries at a time when both were developing and India probably had a chance to gain more from China than to lose.

However, Nehru came to the rescue or so they say. Accused of putting his own political ascendency ambitions ahead of those of the country, he declined a warm hand shake with Chairman Mao, who had specially invited him over to thaw the icy relations. China, at the time ravaged by astute poverty was in need of India, if the two nations had built bridges at the time, our bilateral relations, regional discourses and international understandings would have been different.

P K Banerjee at the time Indian Ambassador in Beijing from June 1961 to December 1963; writes in his book ‘My Peking Memoirs of The Chinese Invasion of India’ – that he was invited to seven substantive meetings with then Premier Zhou en-Lai. At one such meeting on October 24, Premier Zhou received PKB; the atmosphere was ‘definitely chilly’.

PKB writes, ‘He then said that the conflict had to stop, it had to end! He had therefore written a letter to Mr Nehru with three proposals: 1. The two countries should immediately agree to respect ‘the line of actual control’, and their armed forces should disengage and withdraw 20 km from this line; 2. The Chinese troops in the eastern sector would withdraw north of the line of actual control; 3. The prime ministers of the two countries should meet to seek a friendly and peaceful settlement.’

The political adage – Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai was then created sometime later by Nehru to whitewash his mistakes. However, paint over it you can, heal you cannot. The scars, continue until today, where basic people to people contact between us has disabled us to understand each other, even though we’re moulded from the same Eastern philosophy.

For further information read:

The long, hard-hitting Soviet record of Khrushchev’s October 3, 1959 meeting with Mao where India figures prominently (digital collection: “Cold War in Asia”).

John W Garver’s long essay “China’s Decision for War with India in 1962”

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