Monday, May 21, 2012

Thoroughly unscrupulous, unreliable and determined power at our doors

The same Assam Rifles accompanied the Dalai Lama in 1959
This letter of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India's Deputy Prime Minister to Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, the Secretary General of the Ministry of External Affairs is not as well known as Patel's letter to Nehru on the same subject, written 4 days later (November 7, 1950).
It is here apparent that Patel's 'clairvoyant testament' was based on a Note from Bajai.
It is unfortunate that this note has not yet been declassified, though one can understand that it has a direct relation with the border talks with China.
The question is: why the Foreign Minister (Nehru) did not take note of his Foreign Secretary's Report and it is only the Home Minister (Patel) who seemed concerned by the issue of having an "unscrupulous, unreliable and determined power at the doors"?
This was probably not glamourous enough for the Pandit.
One of the consequences of Patel's interest in the borders of India and the possibility to have China as a neighbour, was the question of Tawang, which legally belonged to India since 1914, but had never been properly administered.

The McMahon Line
At the end of 1950, the entire area down to Dirang Dzong (South of the Sela Pass) was under some vague Tibetan administration, with the Tibetan dzongpon (District Commissioner) of Tsona in Tibet, collecting 'monastic' taxes from time to time.
It is there that Major Bob Khathing of the Assam Rifles entered the scene.
Born on 28 February 1912 ,in Ukhrul district of today's Manipur, Ranenglao (Bob) Khathing belonged to the Tangkhul Naga tribe.
In 1942, Khathing joined the newly raised Assam Regiment in Shillong and became a captain. Later he was asked by Sir Akbar Hydari, the first Governor of Assam after Independence to join the Assam Rifles.
He served with the 2nd Assam Rifles in Sadiya and by 1951 he was inducted into the Indian Frontier Administrative Service as an Assistant Political Officer (APO).
I am quoting here from an excellent article written by Yambem Laba in the Imphal Free Press.

Summoned by then Assam governor Jairamdas Daulatram, [Khathing] was asked, “Do you know Tawang?” He was then given a 'secret' file to study and told to “go and bring Tawang under Indian administration”. This task could not be implemented by the British for 50-odd years.
On 17 January 1951, Khathing, accompanied by Captain Hem Bahadur Limbu of 5th Assam Rifles and 200 troops and Captain Modiero of the Army Medical Corps left Lokra for the foothills, bound for Tawang. They were later joined by a 600-strong team of porters. On 19 January, they reached Sisiri and were joined by Major TC Allen, the last British political officer of the North East Frontier Agency. Five days later the party reached Dirang Dzong, the last Tibetan administrative headquarters, and were met by Katuk Lama, assistant Tibetan agent, and the Goanburras of Dirang. On 26 January, Major Khathing hoisted the Indian flag and a barakhana followed. The party stayed in Dirang for four days, during which time they received airdrops.
On 1 February, they moved out and halted at Chakpurpu on their way to Sangje Dzong. On the third day, they made a five-mile climb to cross Sela Pass and pressed on to what was entered in Khathing’s diary as the “Tea Place” where water could be collected from the frozen surface to make tea. By 7.30 pm, the party closed in on Nurunang.
On 4 February, they reached Jang village where two locals were sent out to collect information and gauge the people’s feelings towards their coming. The next day, the headmen and elders of Rho,Changda and the surrounding villages of Jang called on Khathing, who lost no time in explaining the purpose of his visit and told them in no uncertain terms that they were no longer to take orders from the Tsona Dzongpens. That day, he, Captain Limbu, Subedar Bir Bahadur and Jamadar Udaibir Gurung climbed about half a mile on the Sela Tract to choose the site for the checkpost and construct a barracks.
On 6 February they camped at Gyankar and Tibetan representatives of the Tsona Dzongpens came to meet them. It was also Tibetan New Year or Lhosar, the first day of the Year of the Iron Horse. In the evening it snowed heavily and the villagers took this as a very good omen.
Tawang was reached on 7 February and two days were spent scouting the area for a permanent site where both civil and military lines could be laid out with sufficient area for a playground. A place was chosen north-east of Tawang Monastery and a meeting with Tibetan officials was scheduled for 9 February, but they had shown a reluctance to accept Indian authority overnight. Khathing told me in 1985 — when I’d accompanied him on his last trip to Tawang – that, left with no option, he told Captain Limbu to order his troops to fix bayonets and stage a flag march around Tawang to show he meant business. By the evening it had the desired effect and the Tibetan officials and elders of the monastery came to meet him. They were then given notice that the Tsona Dzongpens or any representatives of the Tibetan government could no longer exercise any power over the people living south of the Bumla range.
On 11 February, Khathing visited the monastery, called on the abbot and presented him and the other monks gifts that comprised gramophone players, cloth and tiffin-carriers. The next day all the chhgergans (officials) of the 11 tsos or Tibetan administrative units were called up and a general order was issued directing them not to take any more order from the Dzongpens or Drekhong or pay tribute to them any longer. That afternoon, Tibetan officials and the Nyertsang called for time and permission to exercise their authority till they heard from the Tibetan government in Lhasa. Khathing put his foot down and told them the “area is ours according to the Treaty of 1914” and there was no question of a reply from their government in Lhasa and, hence, no extension could be given. Thus did Tawang effectively become a part of India from that day on.
Some rumours have recently circulated that Nehru did not know about the operation; it would mean a truly serious lapse as the Assam Rifles worked directly under the Ministry of External Affairs and Nehru was then the Minister.
Did Patel and Bajpai (the Secretary of the Ministry) decided the operation on their own and ordered Jairamdas Daulatram accordingly? 

It is possible, but it is certain that a 'military' operation of this scale needed the approval and funds of the Central Government.
The website of the Assam Rifles explains:"Following the end of the war, the five Assam Rifles battalions became part of the civil police under the Assam Inspector General of Police. After independence, however, the Indian government assigned the Assam Rifles its own Inspector General. The Assam Rifles were then placed under command of the Ministry of External Affairs as part of the North Eastern Frontier Agency."
It clearly means that the order to send Khathing to Tawang came from South Block. Whether or not the Minister was informed is irrelevant.
It is only relevant to realize that Nehru may have not known what was happening in his own Office.
But it could also be Bajpai's last homage to Sardar Patel who had passed away on December 15 and who had understood the meaning of integrating all territories belonging to the Union of India and above all that a "thoroughly unscrupulous, unreliable and determined power" was knocking at India's doors.
The Chinese 'Liberation' Army arrived in Lhasa on September 1951, just a few months after Khathing had taken the control of Tawang.

Letter from Sardar Patel to Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, I.C.S.,
Secretary-General, External Affairs Ministry, New Delhi.

4 November 1950
My Dear Sir Girja,
Thank you for your letter of the 3rd November 1950. I am sending herewith the note which you were good enough to send me. I need hardly say that I have read it with a great deal of interest and profit to myself and it has resulted in a much better understanding of the points at issue and general though serious nature of the problem.
The Chinese advance into Tibet upsets all our security calculations. Hitherto, the danger to India on its land frontiers has always come from the North-West. Throughout history we have concentrated our armed might in that region.
For the first time, a serious danger is now developing on the North and North-East side; at the same time, our danger from the West or North-West is in no way lessened. This creates most embarrassing defense problems and I entirely agree with you that a reconsideration of our military position and a redisposition of our forces are inescapable.
Regarding Communists, again the position requires a great deal of thought.
Hitherto, the smuggling of arms, literature, etc. across the difficult Burmese and Pakistan frontier on the East or along the sea was our only danger. We shall now have to guard our Northern and North-eastern approaches also.
Unfortunately, all these approaches-Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and the tribal areas in Assam-are weak spots both from the point of view of communications and police protection and also established loyalty to India.
Even Darjeeling and Kalimpong area is by no means free from pro-Mongolian prejudices. The Nagas and other hill tribes in Assam have hardly had any contact with Indians. European missionaries and other visitors have been in touch with them, but their influence was, by no means, friendly to India and Indians.
In Sikkim, there was political ferment some time ago. It seems to me there is ample scope for trouble and discontent in that small State.
Bhutan is comparatively quiet, but its affinity with Tibetans would be a handicap. Nepal (we all know too well, a weak oligarchic regime based almost entirely on force) is in conflict with an enlightened section of the people as well as enlightened ideas of the modern age. Added to this weak position, there is the irredentism of the Chinese. The political ambitions of the Chinese by themselves might not have mattered so much; but when they are combined with discontent in these areas, absence of close contact with Indians and Communist ideology the difficulty of the position increases manifold. We have also to bear in mind that boundary disputes, which have many times in history been the cause of international conflicts, can be exploited by Communist China and its source of inspiration, Soviet Russia, for a prolonged war of nerves, culminating at the appropriate time, in armed conflict.
We have also so take note of a thoroughly unscrupulous, unreliable and determined power practically at our doors. In your very illuminating survey of what has passed between us and the Chinese Government through our ambassador, you have made out an unanswerable case for treating the Chinese with the greatest suspicion. What I have said above, in my judgment, entitles us to treat them with a certain amount of hostility, let alone a great deal of circumspection. In these circumstances, one thing, to my mind, is quite clear; and, that is, that we cannot be friendly with China and must think in terms of defense against a determined, calculating,unscrupulous, ruthless, unprincipled and prejudiced combination of powers, of which the Chinese will be the spearhead. There might be from them outward offers or protestations of friendship, but in that will be concealed an ultimate hideous design of ideological and even political conquest into their bloc. It is equally obvious to me that any friendly or appeasing approaches from us would either be mistaken for weakness or would be exploited in furtherance of their ultimate aim. It is this general attitude which must determine the other specific questions which you have so admirably stated. I am giving serious consideration to those problems and it is possible I may discuss this matter with you once more.
Yours sincerely,

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