|Can India ask for the return of Minsar?|
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While blocking India’s NSG membership, China must look back into history when India twice refused a seat at the UNSC for the sake of the Middle Kingdom. Perhaps, India has been too good in its dealings with China
India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) as a full-fledged member was rejected (or ‘postponed’) last week in Seoul. This outcome was expected since ‘one country’ wanted to play by the rules, and India is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), though Delhi has always strictly adhered to non-proliferation norms.
This has generated a lot of ink from analysts who have examined the issue from all angles. Shyam Saran, a former Foreign Secretary, wrote: “Why has China taken a more public and upfront position opposing India’s membership in the NSG?” His answer is that China today is a more confident and assertive power; it is “a demonstration of its newfound great power status rather than a sign of international isolation.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesman who usually speaks in circumvoluted terms (sorry, in ‘diplomatic language’) made it clear: “There was only ‘one country’ which persistently raised procedural hurdles, as a result of which no decision could be arrived at in Seoul.”
It simply means: China is not ready to be nice to India. The minimum Beijing could have done was to show gratitude. Chinese are far better than Indians at remembering history. I am sure diplomats in Beijing still recall that India twice refused a seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC) for the sake of the Middle Kingdom.
Today, while China has a permanent seat in the UNSC with veto power, India has nothing. Why? Perhaps India has been too ‘good’ in its dealings with China.
One remembers the 1955 Soviet offer to sponsor India’s case for a permanent seat. Sarvepalli Gopal, Nehru’s biographer, wrote: “He [Nehru] rejected the Soviet offer to propose India as the sixth permanent member of the Security Council and insisted that priority be given to China’s admission to the United Nations.”
Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin had told Nehru: “We propose suggesting at a later stage India’s inclusion as the sixth member of the Security Council”. Nehru answered: “This is to create trouble between us and China. We are, of course, wholly opposed to it. Further, we are opposed to pushing ourselves forward to occupy certain positions because that may itself create difficulties and India might itself become a subject to controversy.”
In August 1950, the US was also ready to sponsor a seat for India at the UN. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, then posted as Ambassador to the US, wrote to her brother: “One matter that is being cooked up in the State Department should be known to you. This is the unseating of [Nationalist] China as a permanent member in the Security Council and of India being put in its place. …Last week I had interviews with [John Foster] Dulles and [Philip] Jessup... Both brought up this question and Dulles seemed particularly anxious that a move in this direction should be started.”
Nehru told Pandit: “The State Department is trying to unseat China as a permanent member of the Security Council and to put India in its place. So far as we are concerned, we are not going to countenance it. That will be bad from every point of view. It will be a clear affront to China and it will mean some kind of a break between us and China,” the Indian Prime Minister added: “We shall go on pressing for [Communist] China’s admission in the UN and the Security Council.”
All the more shocking as at that particular time, China was preparing to invade Tibet; a position in the UN would have helped India’s prestige and influence …and perhaps saved Tibet.
China has shown little gratitude towards India; perhaps Beijing is unable to appreciate kindness and generosity. India could also one day decide to be not nice with Beijing and ask for the return of territories belonging to India presently occupied by China.
Apart from the Shaksgam Valley, illegally ‘offered’ by Pakistan to China in 1963, the Government should ask for the return of Minsar, an Indian principality in Tibet. The Indian rights to this small town were inherited from the Peace Treaty between Ladakh and Tibet signed in Tingmosgang in 1684.
Besides the confirmation of the delimitation of the border between Tibet and Ladakh, the Treaty affirmed: “The king of Ladakh reserves to himself the village of Minsar in Ngari-khor-sum [western Tibet]”. For centuries, Minsar has been a home for Ladakhi and Kashmiri traders and pilgrims visiting the holy mountain.
The inhabitants of Minsar, although surrounded by Tibetan territories, paid their taxes to the kingdom of Ladakh. During the 19th century, when Ladakh was incorporated into Maharaja Gulab Singh’s State, Minsar became de facto part of the Jammu & Kashmir State which collected taxes from Minsar till the early 1950s. What happened then?
In 1953, wanting to be nice and have his Panchsheel Agreement signed, Nehru decided to abandon all Indian ‘colonial’ rights, inherited from the British. Even though Minsar had nothing to do with the Crown, being the outcome of an old treaty between Ladakh and Tibet, it was offered to China.
Though Nehru knew that the small principality was under the Maharaja of Kashmir’s suzerainty and, therefore, part of the Indian territory, he felt uneasy about this Indian possession, near Mt Kailash in Tibet. Nehru believed that India’s rights should unilaterally (and discretely) be renounced as a gesture of goodwill towards Communist China.
He instructed the diplomats negotiating the Panchsheel accord in Beijing: “Regarding the village of Minsar in western Tibet, which has belonged to the Kashmir State, it is clear that we shall have to give it up, if this question is raised. We need not raise it. If it is raised, we should say that we recognise the strength of the Chinese contention and we are prepared to consider it and recommend it.”
Beijing had not asked for anything. Nehru, however, added: “The point is that we should not come to a final agreement without gaining the formal assent of the Kashmir Government.” Delhi never referred the issue to Srinagar. The return of Minsar was never ratified by the Indian Parliament. Legally, Minsar still belongs to India. John Bray, the President of the International Association of Ladakh Studies wrote: “The status of Minsar is no more than a minor footnote to these concerns, but one that has still to be cleared up.”
Nehru’s perception that old treaties or conventions could be scrapped greatly weakened the Indian stand in the 1950s. Nehru’s wrong interpretation made it easy for the Chinese to tell their Indian counterparts, “Look here, McMahon was an imperialist, therefore, the McMahon line is an imperialist fabrication, therefore, it is illegal”.
If China wants today to be legalistic, India can also start claiming its territories in Tibet. Has Delhi the guts to do so?