Thursday, November 8, 2012
Dumped by friends, bullied by others
Following the Chinese attack in 1962, India asked the Soviet Union for support. But the Soviets backed Beijing on the McMahon Line. The US promised to help only if New Delhi compromised on Kashmir
Despite the comprehensive coverage of the 1962 conflict in the Indian media, one angle has not been analysed: The views from Moscow. In the 1950s already, Beijing’s and Moscow’s outlook on the world had started diverging; Khrushchev dared speaking of the possibility of ‘peaceful coexistence with the West’, while Mao Zedong believed in an ideological war with the ‘class enemies’. For Beijing, the Soviet Union’s attitude was ‘Marxist revisionism’.
When the first Sino-Indian border clash occurred in a place called Longju on the McMahon Line in August 1959, the misunderstanding between the People’s Republic of China and the USSR became deeper. When the Dalai Lama escaped Tibet in March 1959, following an uprising of the Tibetan population of Lhasa against the Chinese invaders, Moscow supported Beijing, but five months later, the Soviet stand changed.
Nikita Khrushchev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, refused to unequivocally support China.
Using new documents from the Soviet Archives, MY Prozumenschikov, a Soviet scholar, wrote a paper on the Sino-Indian Conflict and the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was published by the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Prozumenschikov asserted: “Soviet leaders believed that in many ways the flare-up was provoked by the Chinese themselves, in order to demonstrate in practice their refusal to accept the McMahon line (a 1914 boundary agreed on by British and Tibetan officials and which Indian accepted as the correct Sino-Indian frontier) as the state border between the PRC and India.”
A month after the Longju incident, TASS News Agency issued a statement calling on both the warring sides to resolve the conflict by peaceful means. The fact that Moscow refused to take a clear ‘class’ stand in a conflict between a Socialist state and a Bourgeois state, deeply upset China. On September 13, 1959, the Chinese Communist Party accused the Soviet regime of “compromise”.
Beijing pointed out: “The TASS statement showed to the whole world the different positions of China and the Soviet Union in regard to the incident on the Indian-Chinese border, which causes a virtual glee and jubilation among the Indian bourgeoisie and the American and the English imperialists.”
When Jawaharlal Nehru and Krishna Menon decided to ‘throw out the Chinese’ from the Thagla Ridge in early October 1962, they were probably under the impression that they would get the tacit support of the Soviets, or that at least that Moscow would remain neutral. That was not to be the case as, by that time, Khrushchev had got entangled in the traumatic and volatile Cuban missile crisis.
The notes taken by Vladimir Malin, the Chief of the General Department of the Party’s Central Committee, bring some light on the Soviet change of heart. Malin recorded all the discussions of the top party officials of the Politburo.
On October 14, 1962, six days before the Chinese attacked India, the comrades in Moscow mentioned the forthcoming ‘Indian attack’ on the Chinese forces.
According to Malin, “Decision was taken: 1. Delay the shipment to India of MiG-21 aircrafts; 2. On instructions to the Soviet Ambassador in India, Cde. [comrade] [Ivan] Benediktov. Say to [Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal] Nehru: ‘We are disappointed.’ Are they [India] thinking about how this conflict will end?”
The McMahon Line was then questioned: “By whom was the McMahon Line created? By whom was it recognised? When was it introduced?” For the Soviet Politburo, the PRC’s “proposals for troop withdrawals spanning 20 km are reasonable.” The conclusion was: “We are in favour of eliminating the conflict; ...India is hardly going to gain anything from the conflict.” Nehru had clearly lost a friend in the Socialist world; Moscow was now parroting Beijing’s stand: India was about to attack China.
Three days after the Chinese attack (on October 20), a Romanian delegation led by Foreign Minister Corneliu Manescu stopped over in Moscow after visiting Indonesia, India and Burma. They were invited for dinner by Khrushchev Manescu later reported: “Comrade NS Khrushchev insisted [to know] more on the attitude of Nehru and the Sino-India problem. In this context, comrade Khrushchev generally mentioned that Nehru had oscillated between the line of imperialist countries, neutrality and the socialist countries. Lately, [being] under the influence of the ruling party, of the reactionary forces, Nehru seems to be closer to the line of imperialist countries.”
Again, there was a mention of the Chinese proposal: “Also under the pressure of the reactionary forces, the Indian side rejected this proposal on the grounds that the border should remain the McMahon line.” Khrushchev commented that this was not fair because “the McMahon line was established by the British in 1912 , when India was a British colony and, of course, the British had every incentive to take as much Chinese territory as possible.”
Khrushchev was, however, disturbed by the fact that then CPI general secretary EMS Namboodiripad was “in a wrong position this time” as he supported Nehru”s view on the conflict. “This is dangerous because it can lead to divisions among the party”, he commented.
A few days later, Benediktov, the Soviet Ambassador to India met Namboodiripad. By that time, Moscow had made official its change of stand (in an article in the Pravda on October 25); this was mainly triggered by the difficult Soviet position in the Cuban missile crisis. The CPI leader told Benediktov that the CPI believed “this publication in all probability will inaugurate a new period of anti-Soviet hysteria in India.” This document shows the servile attitude of the Indian comrades.
Namboodiripad was happy by the new Soviet stand: “The publication of this article …truly will help our party get out of the extremely difficult position it is now in. Before this [help] there were moments when we felt ourselves to be simply helpless, but now the party will be able to remedy this situation.” The CPI leader pleaded with the Soviets to push China to resolve the border dispute “without damage to the prestige of India and of Nehru himself. On November 19, Nehru began panicking. He shot two secret letters to President Kennedy. India’s non-alignment position had gone for a toss.
As a result of Nehru’s letter, Averell Harriman, then US Assistant Secretary of State visited India on November 22. The visit, on the day China declared a unilateral ceasefire, supposedly was to assess India’s needs to resist Communist China; but the US envoy (and his British counterpart) “made clear their Governments’ willingness to provide military assistance to India, but pointed out the related need for negotiations to resolve the Kashmir dispute.”
A clear signal to India, which had not recovered from the blackest month of its history: Compromise on Kashmir.