Monday, September 11, 2017

Tibet: The Last Months of a Free Nation — India Tibet Relations (1947-1951)

My book Tibet: The Last Months of a Free Nation India Tibet Relations (1947-1951) published by Vij Publishers for the United Service Institution of India (USI) was released  by Ambassador Shiv Shankar Menon (former National Security Advisor and Foreign Secretary) on September 7 at the USI.

This is the first of a series of four books on the India-Tibet Relations between 1947 and 1962.
The four volumes will cover the following periods:
•    Volume 1 (1947-1951) ending by 17-Point Agreement
•    Volume 2 (1951-1954) ending by Panchsheel Agreement & foods in Gyantse
•    Volume 3 (1954-1957) ending by Dalai Lama’s visit to India
Volume 4 (1957-1962) closure of the Consulate General in Lhasa

The book is based on Indian archival materials only.

It is available on

I am posting here the concluding remarks of the first volume.

A few concluding remarks
At the end of this first volume on “The Relations between Tibet and India between 1947 and 1962”, it is important to draw some lessons from the tragic happenings of the Year 1950 which led to the signature of the 17-Point Agreement in May 1951. The end result was that Tibet lost her independence and India lost a frontier.

Strategic thinkers vs ‘visionaries’
A first observation: India had some of the best strategic thinkers, but the government did not use their competence.
Though their conclusions were not accepted by the Prime Minister Nehru, I have tried to pay homage to some of these foresighted Indian thinkers. One should not forget that India is still suffering from some of the decisions taken in 1950-51.
The hundreds of letters, cables, telegrams, notes that I could access show that two factions emerged during the tumultuous last six months of 1950: one led by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and K.M. Panikkar, his ambassador in Beijing, both obsessed by an imaginary friendship with New China and fixated on the ‘larger implications for World Peace’; the other, which immediately saw the strategic implications for India, would Delhi let Tibet down, was led by Sardar Patel, the Deputy Prime Minster with Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, the Secretary General of the Ministry of External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations as his main adviser. They were fed by reports ‘from the ground’ by Harishwar Dayal, the Political Officer in Sikkim and Sumul Sinha, the Head of the Indian Mission in Lhasa. At that time, India had a full-fledged Mission in Tibet as well as three Trade Agencies in Gyantse, Yatung and Gartok.
The ‘Chinese’ Ambassador Panikkar had opposite views. In one of his lengthy reports, Panikkar explains to Nehru: “Tibet is now in the process of being ‘liberated’. The word ‘liberation’ (Chieh fang), it may be made clear, does not in Chinese signify a military conquest. It means the introduction of new life and the elimination of misery, moral degradation, inequality of sexes, etc. - in fact liberation from the oppression of tradition. The ‘liberation’ of Tibet is, therefore, being attempted mainly through education and propaganda.”
Sixty five years later, the Tibetans have still not understood from what they needed to be ‘liberated’. China, however gained not only a huge landmass, the access to the ‘water tower of Asia’, large mineral resources and a strategic position dominating the subcontinent.

Who were the ‘visionaries’?
Unfortunately, Sardar Patel, who articulated so presciently the dangers of the Chinese invasion for India’s frontiers, passed away on December 15, 1950, barely two months after the entry of the People’s Liberation Army in Eastern Tibet. Thereafter, Nehru’s line prevailed, with the disastrous consequences which still can be seen today on the Indian borders, whether in Ladakh, Uttarakhand or Arunachal Pradesh.
In the text, I have quoted a personal letter written by Dayal to Maj S.M. Krishnatry, then posted as Trade Agent (ITA) in Gyantse. While discussing the Chinese advance towards the McMahon Line, the PO informed the ITA 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.”
In hindsight, Patel, Bajpai, Dayal or Sinha were the real ‘visionaries’.

Tibet: a temporary setback for India’s ‘peace’ policy
An important factor in our story was the role that India wanted to play in the Korean conflict. It greatly influenced Delhi’s Tibet policy. By January 1951, the Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian Embassy in Beijing had started to spend most of their time and energy on ‘peace-making’; in the process: Tibet was abandoned.
In fact by the beginning of 1951, the ‘Tibetan incident’ was over for the Indian Ambassador in China. India could start dreaming of an eternal friendship with China. In the Annual Report of the Indian Embassy for 1950, Panikkar wrote: “The exchange of Notes on Tibet, following the Chinese attack on Chamdo gave a temporary setback to our relations, but the reaction of the Chinese Government to the Indian protests was restrained and neither country permitted this incident to have more than a temporary effect. India consistently supported Chinese claims in the United Nations and her sustained efforts to settle the Korean issue have been fully appreciated in China. There is every reason to hope that the next year will see even better relations established between the two countries.”
But India had lost a peaceful border and a friendly neighbour.

Three phases towards a so-called liberation
If one analyses the events, the period covered in this first volume could be divided in the three phases.
•    Phase 1: August 1947- September 1949
•    Phase 2: October 1949- August 1950
•    Phase 3: September 1950 – May 1951
During the first two phases, the policy of the Government of India towards Tibet remained as it had been during the British period.
Through Phase 1, life on the Roof of the World continued as in the past several decades.
The Dalai Lama was growing into a bright adolescent and nobody bothered much about the revolutions happening in the world …and the decolonization.
Nehru’s government had reappointed two Britishers to their jobs: Arthur Hopkinson, who had served as the last British Political Officer in Sikkim (Hopkinson continued to officiate till mid 1948) and Hugh Richardson, as the head of the Mission in Lhasa. Both played an important supporting role with their great clarity of mind; they understood the importance to maintain relations with Tibet ‘on the old basis’, and more particularly for India, they realized the implications of an eventual Chinese ‘adventure’ on the plateau.
It must be noted that Dayal and Sinha would be treated very differently by the Indian Prime Minister than Hopkinson and Richardson. Had Richardson received from Nehru one of the reprimands that Sinha received a few months later, he would have immediately returned to his native Scotland. But Sinha had no island to leave for; after his tenure in Lhasa, he was a broken man.
July 1949 saw the preemptive expulsion of all Chinese living in the Tibetan capital. But all was to change on October 1, 1949 when the Communists took over the Middle Kingdom.
Independent India primarily sought to maintain a kind of status quo, i.e. Tibet continuing to be a buffer between China and India, while trade and religious exchanges through the Indian borders flourished. By June 1948, Lhasa had accepted the past treaties and conventions between British India and Tibet, but there were no efforts to delineate, demarcate and secure the northern boundary as Buddhist Tibet was a friendly neighbor.
All was well.
The second phase (from October 1, 1949 till August 1950) was marked by the emergence of an irredentist New China. The relations between India and Tibet however remained unchanged even when the Communist propaganda started announcing the ‘liberation’ of Tibet. Very few in Delhi took it seriously. What was the Indian Intelligence doing? Did they ever read the speeches or declaration of the Chinese leaders? It is a question which needs to be answered.
India clearly failed to evolve a strategy to deal with Communist China, or at least a pragmatic policy; further, leaders like Panikkar or V.K. Krishna Menon thought that the arrival of Mao on the stage was the best thing which could have happened to China …and Tibet.
The third phase starts with the beginning of the military operations in Tibet. It was officially announced by a letter of Marshal Liu Bocheng which was dismissed by the ‘visionaries’; around the same time (August 1950), Panikkar changed ‘suzerainty’ into ‘sovereignty’, giving a green card to Communist China to invade (or ‘liberate’ in Red jargon) Tibet.
Indian policy during this period was marked by accommodation and shameless appeasement towards China.
The strategic interests of India were sacrificed on the altar of ‘wider world views’ such as the ‘World Peace’ or the fear of jeopardising the chances of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) gaining entry into the United Nations Security Council. From the Western powers’ point of view, the main concern was “let us not rock the boat”, as in any case, “it is India’s business”.

Military as an Instrument of State Policy

Another dimension of India’s Tibet policy is the fact that the Prime Minister often disregarded the military as an instrument of State policy. Of course, this was in strong contrast with what was happening in China.
In the Chinese account of the so-called Liberation published as an annexure, during a meeting in Chengdu in August 1950, Deng Xiaoping, the Political Commissar of the Southwestern Bureau mentioned the importance of both the military and civilian factors to liberate the Roof of the World.
Some strategic notes of Lt Gen Nathu Singh, GOC-in-Chief, Eastern Command are quoted in the last chapter; they were regularly discarded by the Indian civilian leadership.
Even the attempt by the Indian Military Intelligence to send an officer to Tibet was thwarted; instead, Maj (later Lt Gen) Z.C. Bakshi was sent to Tibet on behalf of the Ministry of External Affairs. He nevertheless gave interesting suggestions, which were never implemented.
As I completed this first volume, these words of Sri Aurobindo came to mind: “There are moments when the Spirit moves among men and the breath of the Lord is abroad upon the waters of our being; there are others when it retires and men are left to act in the strength or the weakness of their own egoism. The first are periods when even a little effort produces great results and changes destiny; the second are spaces of time when much labour goes to the making of a little result. It is true that the latter may prepare the former, may be the little smoke of sacrifice going up to heaven which calls down the rain of God's bounty. Unhappy is the man or the nation which, when the divine moment arrives, is found sleeping or unprepared to use it, because the lamp has not been kept trimmed for the welcome and the ears are sealed to the call. But thrice woe to them who are strong and ready, yet waste the force or misuse the moment; for them is irreparable loss or a great destruction.”
An occasion was definitively missed for Tibet and India too.
Some call this Karma.

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