ARTICLES
Of Tibets victory in the 62 war

A Clash of Political Cultures: Sino-Indian Relations (1957-62)
by Sudarshan Bhutani. Roli Books, New Delhi. Pages 282. Rs 450

THE 1962 war is one of the watershed events of free India, considering that it jolted the country out of its idealistic frame of mind and brought it back to the hard ground of real politic with a thud.

The sense of betrayal was all consuming. No wonder there is insatiable curiosity about what went wrong. This sense of bewilderment continues even four decades after the event.

The writer, who joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1955 and was sent to Peking in August 1957 to work at the Embassy and also study Chinese language, throws intimate light on that crucial period when war clouds were gathering steadily. Through official papers as well as his incisive analysis of developments, he makes the real events come alive.

It goes to his credit that he dovetails bone-dry official papers into the commentary in such a masterly fashion that at times the book reads like a mystery thriller. It is another matter that since this happens to be a real-life incident, you already know the end of the tale.

The writer does not look at the events as a border skirmish, but adopts a pan-Asia perspective.

The role of the US and the USSR is discussed in detail, to make sure that the jigsaw puzzle is solved by putting every single piece in place. China’s ties with Tibet and Nepal are also delineated threadbare.

The border dispute between India and China is extremely country. Both quote partially from history belonging to different periods to prove one’s point.

Even agreements had contradictory provisions. The flashpoint came when the Tibetan way of life was compromised by Chinese forces.

There was similar difference in the approach of the Chinese and the Tibetans regarding what was meant by the word "autonomy". Things were simmering for long, but came to a boil during 1957-62, the period that this book refers to.

It underlines the fact that the Dalai Lama came to India of his own accord, although the Chinese gave an entirely different spin to the incident. They accused India of "interference" and blamed the "Indian interventionist policy followed by the ‘big’ bourgeoisie" for the souring of relations.

But Tibet is not the only strand. There are many others which the writer has woven in dexterously.

Bad treatment of the Indians in Tibet began in 1961 and severe restrictions were placed on Indian agencies in 1962. What is not widely known is that intrusions had started even in 1954, which later escalated into armed clashes. Detailed correspondence of Nehru and Chou En-Lai throws light on the situation.

There are not many details about what happened during the war, but that is not the subject matter of the book. It rather focuses on the events leading to the war.

Perhaps, it is hindsight which helps one perceive that things were inexorably moving towards a showdown.

One question which remains unanswered is whether any advance preparations were being made to deal with the situation.

The military shock that India suffered points to the contrary. Why this lapse occurred is one of the enigmatic mysteries which Nehru’s government cannot live down.

The book reveals that despite the ceasefire and announcement of withdrawal, India went ahead and proposed a tacit air defence pact with the US on December 1, 1962. After ground preparations, joint exercises of the Indian, US and Commonwealth air forces were held in late 1963. These were the first and last joint exercises.

The writer says that the Chinese inflicted a memorable defeat on India, but there was no surrender. The war set India on a course to strengthen its defences.

The ability of the Chinese and their friends to threaten India with dire consequences if their demands were not met diminished considerably in subsequence years.

The book reaches an unconventional conclusion: if China and India were both losers, there was one winner: Tibetan Buddhism.

Peking (Beijing) controls Tibet today, but there is a global interest in protecting Tibetan identity.


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