Incisive Account On India-China Relations
Not long ago India had an image in the West of a country on the ascendance. Even with our reluctant and limited opening to the world market, we had some six per cent rate of growth during the regime of the Norasimha Rao government in the nineties. Then came the boom years in the NDA and the UPA governments in the decade of 2000, and the West talked of India catching up with China economically by 2020. Goldman Sachs and Morgon Stanely said that India could reap the demographic dividend and it could become the world’s second largest economy. Raghvan Behl capped the mood of the country here when he asked whether we would catch us with China economically.
The shine was gone and in its place came the dust of coal. The coal scam, the 2G swindle, threatening structural deficit and inflation, this was combined with the steepest downturn in world, economy, signaled by the collapse of the Lehman Brothers in September 2008, The GDP growth came down to about 4.5 per cent, just about half of what we had in the NDA and UPA-I governments.
The West had given up on us. It was China that mattered to them. It was China that stood by the United States and Europe in their hour of need. Communist China behaved like a responsible capitalist country during the world recession that hit the West since the great 1929 Depression. Arun Shourie’s Self Deception belongs to a different period, a period marked by a newly independent India, with hardly economic power to speak of, also a model on the world stage with pride and confidence: the Nehru years.
Why was the border issue not resolved in the fourteen years of Nehru rule (till 1964), did it have to become a contest of arms in 1962 and was it tied up, in the Chinese mind, with our stand on Tibet?
A very large part of this book deals with these questions.
As always Shourie’s research is solid. Whether he is investigating the before issue as editor of The Indian Express or whether he is presiding over disinvestments of some national assets as a minister or whether he is writing on the Nalanda University as a scholar, he is solid.
Nehru’s letters, speeches, press statements, writings or even a stray remark are his sources for constructing Nehru’s policy towards China, from our Independence to border conflict of 1962. Shourie also talks of how we have economically fared in comparison with China though it is not central to the theme of the book. India’s China policy was dithering at times duplicitous, unmindful of the force equation between us, naive and patronizing. From Zhou En-lai first visit to India in 1954 to the border war in October 1962, Nehru displayed all these quality in his interactions with the Chinese leadership. Why did he not clearly state to the Chinese where we think our border lay? Why did he naively believe that our stance on Tibet, particularly the refuge we gave to the Dalai Lama won’t affect Chinese views on the border problem? Why was he so patronizing to Zhou? Did he have take on the role of a guru to Zhou? on the subject of international politics?
Shourie’s book also brings out well Nehru’s larger thinking on international politics. Broadly speaking, he belonged to the post-war British left and in line with its thinking, he believed that the Chinese communism was committed to socially and economically uplifting China from backwardness, that the Chinese Revolution was a port of the Asian resurgence and that communist China, if handled with care and affection by the West, could contribute to peace and prosperity of the international community.
Shouri cites an incident that brings out well Nehru’s bent of mind. During his 1954 visit to Delhi, a film, “Jhansi ki Rani” was shown and, later when talking about the film, Nehru said that he was touched by Jhansi revolt against the British. Nehru was speaking like a member of the Labor Party that was quite influential in the post-war years in Britain. Nehru also similarly characterized the resistance against the Chinese communist intervention in Tibet as resistance by the feudal classes.
Panditji, as Shourie calls him throughout the book, was willing to take Zhou at his words. The question is what he could have done to get a negotiated settlement of the border with China. Did we have sufficient force to effectively help Tibetan resistance or prevent the Chinese from building roads in Aksai Chin (a point of serious contention)? No.
There was one point on which Shourie’s fine account of the early years of India-China relations could be faulted: his treatment of the April 1960 visit of 2 hour to Delhi. Shourie’s says the meeting decided to let “officials of both sides to jointly examine documents each has for subsalting its (border) clerics”.
There was much more to this meeting. According to some serious students of India-China relations, Indian and foreigners, Zhou offered Nehru at the April 1960 meeting Chinese acceptance of the April 1960 meetings Chinese acceptance of India’s border claims on Aksai Chin. Since Sikiang was of vital strategic significance. Nehru, it is said, was inclined to accept this deal but not some in the Congress Party like G.B.Pant, Morarji Desai. The records of this meeting, as well as those of other meetings ought to be made public now.
A similar proposal was repeated by Deng in 1983, and that was turned down by G. Parthasarthy. Last section of Shourie’s book deals with China and India participating in the phase of globalisation. China did it in 1979 and India did it during Narasimha Rao in 1990. China has done much better than we have, as shown by the immense disparity in the economic strength of the countries.
In thinking about the border issue one must now remember that both India and China are each other’s large trading partners. In fact China is an important trading partner of its principle adversaries; Japan, India, the United States. It is in this setting of global interdependence, so different from the simpler and familiar setting of rivalries between sovereign states that India and China must negotiate their border conflict that had its origins in a byegone age.
By Bharat Wariavwalla