|Discussing 'larger issues'|
Zhou Enlai, Panchen Lama, Mao, Dalai Lama, Liu Shaoqi (October 1954)
Without going into the (unnecessary) controversy, it is interesting to see the views of the first Prime Minister of Independent India on what he called the ‘Tibetan émigrés’ in the early 1950s, three months after signing (without informing the Tibetans), The Agreement on trade and intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India (infamously remembered as the ‘Panchsheel Agreement’.
In a note dictated on June 18, 1954, Nehru answers some of the questions raised by BK Kapur, the Political Officer (PO) in Sikkim (from March 1952 to March 1955).
The PO was looking after Tibet (including Western Tibet till the Ladakh border), Bhutan and Sikkim).
The note gives some hints on Nehru’s policy vis-a-vis the Tibetans (‘Naturally, the Tibetans have our sympathy. But that sympathy does not take us far’).
It is addressed to the Secretary General of the Ministry of External Affairs (NR Pillai), the Foreign Secretary (RK Nehru) and Joint Secretary (TN Kaul). It is available in the Nehru Papers (Nehru Memorial Museum and Library)
Nehru’s note brings first and foremost the ‘larger issues’ which four years earlier, decided the Prime Minister to ‘drop’ a Tibet ‘verging independence’ (in Nehru’s own words), for the sake of a friendship with China.
These ‘larger issues’, the local officials (Harishwar Dayal before Kapur in Gangtok, Sumul Sinha in Lhasa or Maj SM Krishnatry in Gyantse) ‘could’ not understand them, at least according to the Prime Minister.
But one could ask: did Nehru understand that, with the arrival of the People’s Liberation Army on the plateau, India was in the process of losing its peaceful border with Tibet.
It has to be noted that June 1954 corresponds to the first Chinese intrusions in Barahoti in today’s Chamoli district to Uttarakhand.
This obsessive concern for ‘wider issues’ will lead India to an utter disaster in October 1962, when China attacked India in NEFA and Ladakh; India was not ready to defend its borders.
“Mr Kapur has not fully appreciated this wider policy of ours”, said Nehru, though more than 60 years later, it is clear that officers like Kapur had grasp a far truer image of China than the corridors of South Block.
Nehru commented “I do not like Mr Kapur talking about Chinese communists, although they are communists. He should talk about the Chinese Government.”
Unfortunately, Mao’s government was ‘Communist’ and proud to be; India paid dear to realize this.
The various questions raised in these notes and in Mr Kapur's letter an important not only in themselves, but because they are concerned with much larger issues. Indeed, they are concerned with our wider policy towards China and our general world policy.
2- Naturally, the Tibetans have our sympathy. But that sympathy does not take us far and cannot be allowed to interfere with a realistic understanding of the situation and of our policy. I have an impression that Mr Kapur has not fully appreciated this wider policy of ours. It is necessary, therefore, that he and others concerned should understand it and should realise that this policy is the only one which might be helpful to the Tibetans, not in the measure perhaps that they desire, but to some extent. Any other policy of encouraging the Tibetans to oppose Chinese over lordship over Tibet would be raising false hopes in the Tibetans which we cannot fulfil and is likely to react unfavorably on the Tibetans. It would, of course, be opposed to the principles we have laid down in our recent Agreement with China.
3- Mr Kapur talks that the Chinese Government is not likely to be influenced by considerations of non-interference, etc. At the same time he hints that we should also not be influenced by any such considerations, except in so far as that we should not do anything which might create obvious difficulties for us. That is neither a moral nor a practical proposition.
4- No country can ultimately rely upon the permanent goodwill or bona fides of another country, even though they might be in close friendship with each other. It is conceivable that the Western Atlantic alliance may not function as it was intended to and there might be ill will between the countries concerned. It is not inconceivable that China and the Soviet Union may not continue to be as friendly as they are now. Certainly it is conceivable that our relations with China might worsen, though there is no immediate likelihood of that. Therefore, we have always to keep in mind the possibly of a change and not be taken unawares. Adequate precautions have to be taken. If we come to an agreement with China in regard to Tibet, that is not a permanent guarantee, but that itself is one major step to help us in the present and in the foreseeable future in various ways. If there is an agreement at Geneva about the problems of Indo-China and Korea, that La no guarantee about the future, but it is certainly a big step forward to lessen tension which enables the countries concerned to think more objectively and peacefully and perhaps find a surer basis for peace. In spite of that agreement they will not give up their suspicions or their preparations, but other factors will also come into the picture. At present an objective and realistic understanding is made almost impossible by emotional responses. The Russians and the Chinese are full of charges against ‘Western Imperialism’ and aggression and all that. The Americans and others can only think in terms of Communist aggression and villainy, of international communism trying to dominate over the world and so on. All this prevents intelligent thought. If we wish to discuss these matters helpfully, we must avoid certain terms which create powerful reactions in the mind, such as imperialists, communists and the like. I do not like Mr Kapur talking about Chinese communists, although they are communists. He should talk about the Chinese Government. In the same way, I do not like people talking about the Iron Curtain. The mere mention of these words confuses thought and shows that we are not considering a matter objectively.
5- Of course, both the Soviet Union and China are expansive. They are expansive for evils other than communism, although communism may be made a tool for the purpose. Chinese expansionism has been evident during various periods of Asian history for a thousand years or so. We arc perhaps facing a new period of such expansionism. Let us consider that and fashion our policy to prevent it coming in the way of our interests or other interests that we consider important.
6-I can quite understand that many people in Tibet have been disappointed at the agreement between us in China over Tibet. This must be partly because of the colour put on it by the Chinese in Tibet. That agreement, however, was quite inevitable. It was a recognition of a certain factual situation which we could not possibly change. We have, in fact, at least got some advantage out of that agreement in other respects. If we had not had that agreement, the position would have been no better for us in Tibet and a little worse for the Tibetans. It certainly would have been worse for us from a wider point of view.
7- We must remember that our so-called interests in Tibet derive largely from our inheriting certain British interests to which they succeeded in establishing in the days of British expansionism. We became the inheritors of British imperialism to a slight extent. We were popular with the ruling classes of Tibet at this stage because they thought we would come in the way of Chinese expansionism. We could not do so in Tibet and we could not possibly hang on to privileges which had no meaning in the present state of affairs.
8- Mr Kapur says something about our not throwing cold water on various movements in Tibet against the Chinese though we should not associate ourselves with them, that we should allow them to simmer and not die out. Let us be clear about this. Whatever happens in Tibet proper is beyond our reach. We can neither help nor hinder it. The question is what we do in our own territory. Do we encourage this or not? It is clear that we cannot encourage it. Al best we can tolerate it, provided it is not too obvious or aggressive. A very delicate balance will have to be kept up.
9- Kalimpong is and has been a nest of intrigues and spies. It is not only a centre of Tibetan émigrés, but also of Communists (Chinese). Also of Americans, White Russians and many others. We tolerate all these persons and we can tolerate also the Tibetans of various kinds and views. But if any of these indulge in aggressive activities which might lead to violence, then obviously we cannot tolerate them. I am sure that the Tibetan émigrés in Kalimpong, etc, are in close touch with the Americans, White Russians, etc, and are being encouraged by them with money and in other ways. In fact, I heard that there was a question of their collecting arms also. All this seems to me childish and totally unrealistic.
10- Even one of the major and much advertised efforts of the Americans to bring down the People's Government of China through Formosa is now recognised to be futile. Is it then in the slightest degree conceivable that some petty violent effort organised by Tibetans and others on our border would produce results in Tibet? This can only be thought of in terms of some aggressive Americans as a diversion from their larger world policy or in case a big war occurs. From the Tibetan point of view, it can only prove harmful. There is not the least chance in the world of China leaving Tibet or being driven out of Tibet unless China is defeated in war. Of that there appears to be no chance. Therefore, these adventurous tactics beyond the borders of Tibet have no meaning and call only embarrass and prove harmful. We need not come in the way if they are peaceful and unobtrusive but I quite agree with SG [Secretary General] that we should explain our policy and the world situation to the people from Tibet so that they may not misunderstand us. It is clear that if they indulge in any aggressive action and the Chinese Government complains to us, we shall have no alternative left but to take some steps against them, at any rate to curb them. We shall certainly not hand them over to the Chinese State, because they have a right of asylum in our country and we can give them the fullest assurance about this. At the same time we cannot permit our territory to be used as a base of operations against the Chinese.
11- The real argument in favour of Tibetan freedom or autonomy is the nature of the country. It is most inhospitable to others, it cannot maintain large numbers of foreigners and the like. If the Tibetans are stout enough to keep up a spirit of freedom, they will maintain a large measure of autonomy and the Chinese will not interfere. If the Tibetans actively rebel, they will be ruthlessly put down by the Chinese and even their autonomy will go. They are between the Soviet Union and China and one or other of these two Powers will have a dominating political influence there. We in India cannot exercise it for geographical as well as other reasons. As a friendly Power to China we can be helpful occasionally hi the diplomatic field.
12- The brother of the Dalai Lama [Gyalo Thondup], whom I met some years ago, is obviously connected with various under-ground activities. Some time back we warned our officers not to get entangled in them. That warning should be given again. That does not mean that we should be unfriendly to him. It simply means that we should be friendly and frank and should explain the limitations of the position.
13- We must remember that Tibet has been cut off from the world for a long time and, socially speaking, is very backward and feudal. Changes are bound to come there to the disadvantage of the small ruling class and the big monasteries. Religion may continue to be a powerful force to hold the Tibetans together, but social forces are also powerful. Thus far the Chinese have been careful not to interfere with social customs, religion, etc.
So far as I know, they have not even interfered with the land system which is feudal. I can very well understand these feudal chiefs being annoyed with the new order. We can hardly stand up as defenders of feudalism.
14- I want to make one thing perfectly clear, and this should be made clear to the Tibetans who are in India, that there is no question of our handing them over to the Chinese. They have every right to live in India or to seek asylum in India and we shall respect that.
15- As regards the Tibetan Mission in Kalimpong, we need not take any step about it and so far as we are concerned, they can continue for the present, but I rather doubt If they will be allowed to continue by the Chinese authorities. We must make sure, however, that the Tibetan Mission, as the Joint Secretary says, is not used as a cover for something else.
16- As regards the Dalai Lama's treasure which is now in Gangtok, I do not see the point of transferring it to Calcutta or elsewhere. First of all we have no direct knowledge of the Dalai Lama's wishes. Secondly, so long as it is in India, it does not much matter whether it is in Gangtok or in Calcutta. It is under our control. If adequate guards are not there, we should make arrangements for proper protection. Any attempt to move it will probably get some kind of publicity. It Is far better to allow this matter to lie low. If at any time the Chinese claim it, then we shall have to consider what we should do about it. For the present, our view should he that it is a private treasure of the Dalai Lama and it is for the Dalai Lama to dispose of it.
17- Our policy thus should be an observance, in letter and spirit of our agreement with China in regard to Tibet, at the same time we continue our friendly feelings for Tibet and her people and make it clear that our traditional friendship with them continues. This, however, cannot lead us to any course of action which is against our agreement with China and which we think will be harmful even to Tibet and her people. For the rest, we have to be vigilant and wide awake.
18- SG suggests a holiday camp for soldiers at Kalimpong. This is not a bad idea and it might be investigated.
19- Our general position as contained in this note should be explained to Mr Kapur.
20- Mr Mullik [Bhota Nath Mullik, Director, Intelligence Bureau between 1950 and 1964], should also be made to understand it. I shall be seeing him also. We have to be very careful about our activities in Kalimpong because of the espionage and counter-espionage that is continually going on there.