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Let alone the people, even foreign policy experts in the country continue to gush over the ‘visionary’ preamble to the Panchsheel agreement between India and China, but gloss over the contents that damaged New Delhi
On April 29, India will ‘celebrate’ 60 years of the Panchsheel Agreement with China. But is there anything to celebrate?
What Acharya Kripalani once called an ‘agreement born-n-sin’, is the worst blunder Jawaharlal Nehru ever committed. The 1962 border war was only a consequence of that original ‘sin’.
Nehru is often eulogized for having introduced the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence into foreign policy; he shouldn’t be.
Several years ago, at a Conference in an Indian University, the Chief Guest, a senior Indian diplomat who had served at the UN, pontificated on the inclusion of the Five Principles; he said that it was Nehru’s greatest gift to humanity. That gentleman probably had no clue about what the agreement really signified for India and Tibet.
The ‘Panchsheel’ was the last nail in the coffin of a 2000 year-old nation.
The signature of the Agreement between India and China marked the tail-end of events set in motion by the entry of Chinese troops in Tibet in October 1950.
Signed after months of negotiation between Delhi and Beijing, the agreement does not talk about ‘principles’, but buries India’s ancient cultural and economic links with Tibet. The objective of the 'Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between the Tibet region of China and India', as its title indicates, was to regulate bilateral trade and the visit of Buddhist sites on both side of the Himalaya. It was a historic victory for Beijing, as for the first time, India, in the title itself, acknowledged that Tibet was merely a 'Region of China'.
Though the agreement only dealt with Tibet, the Lhasa government was shamefully kept unaware of its content.
This put a legal end to Tibet’s existence as a distinct nation, with incalculable consequences for India and the entire Himalayan region.
Though the agreement itself lapsed in June 1962, India still pays dearly today, 60 years later; to give one example the cultural and trade exchanges which existed for centuries between Tibet and India are no more.
Unfortunately the Indian public, like the ambassador quoted earlier, still remember the ‘visionary’ preamble (the Five Principles) and have long forgotten the content.
|US President Truman |
and Secretary of State Acheson
in the early 1950s (Illus. Shankar)
A spiritual civilization was turned into a Communist realm without the possibility of any legal resort. Simultaneously, the Agreement opened the doors to China's military control over the Roof of the World. The Machiavellian Zhou Enlai was of course delighted; he declared, “Let the Panchsheel shine like a sun over the universe”.
The ‘friendship’ reached such a height that on October 20, 1954, it was reported that India had decided to supply rice to the PLA stationed in Tibet. Can you believe it! Delhi offered food to the Chinese troops engaged in building a road (crossing the Aksai Chin) on Indian territory!
The Agreement, which was to be the bedrock of an ‘eternal’ friendship between the two nations specified some points of entry into Tibet: “Traders and pilgrims of both countries may travel by the following passes and route: Shipki-la pass, Mana pass, Niti pass, Kungri Bingri pass, Darma pass, and Lipulekh pass.” India wishfully, but erroneously believed that by signing the Agreement the border was being defined (in the Central sector at least). A few months later, the Chinese said: “these passes are in China, the border is located in the south. There are just points of entry for the traders into China.”
Apart from the full-fledged Mission in Tibet, which, for no-reason was downgraded into a Consulate General in 1952, India had three Indian Trade Agencies (ITA), two in Gyantse and Yatung (in Chumbi Valley, near the Sikkim border) and a seasonal one in Gartok (Western Tibet). The ITAs in Gyantse and Yatung were entitled to a military escort. The Post and Telegraph Service, a chain of rest-houses and the principality of Minsar (near Mt Kailash) were also under the Indian Government’s control.
Though the status of the Consulate General and the Trade Marts was confirmed in the Agreement, all the other privileges enjoyed by India were surrendered; the escort was repatriated, the P&T abandoned. All this was ‘offered’ to the Chinese without any compensation or even an attempt to obtain a fair settlement on the border issue in return.
Chinese authorities even confiscated the wireless sets of the ITA in Gartok.
After 1954, the Indian Government found it increasingly difficult to manage the Consulate and Agencies on the ground. An example, after the 1954 flash floods in Gyantse, the ITA building was destroyed; on one pretext or another, the Chinese never allowed its reconstruction.
Till the border was definitively sealed in 1962, Indian visitors and traders were constantly harassed by the Chinese authorities.
The border posts are still closed today.
Even for Indian officials, the situation became more and more untenable over the years and after Dalai Lama took refuge in India in March 1959; the situation turned from bad to worse with Beijing constantly accusing Delhi of interfering in China’s internal affairs.
In early 1960, a note from the Indian Trade Agent in Yatung says, “Just before the outbreak of disturbances in Tibet [March 10, 1959 uprising in Lhasa] there were 50 Indian shops at Yatung and 22 at Phari but now there are 18 Indian shops at Yatung including one panwalla and 2 cobblers and none at Phari”. Several such examples could be given.
When the Panchsheel Agreement lapsed in April 1962, there was no point in renewing it. The Trade Agencies were then closed and China asked the Indian officials to vacate the premises.
Sixty years later, China still refuses to reopen an Indian Consulate in Lhasa.
I recently came across some ‘personal’ letters written by Indian officers posted on the frontiers in the early 1950s. These missives are telling. In December 1950, a few weeks after the PLA entered Tibet, Harishwar Dayal, a senior ICS officer then posted in Gangtok as Political Officer responsible for Tibet, Sikkim and Bhutan, while discussing the Chinese advance towards the McMahon Line with his ITA in Gyantse, informed the latter of Sardar Patel’s death, “It is a heavy blow. He was the one person in this Government who had strong realistic view of things, including on foreign relations. Now, we are left at the mercy of the visionaries.”
Let us hope a new ‘realistic’ prime minister will be able to remind President Xi Jinping these few facts when he visits India later this year.