Ajoy Chatterjee - 9/28/2011
Mao Zedong, the first Chairman and President of the independent People’s Republic of China, had spent more time to assess weakness of India than Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Premier of independent India, wasted in apprehending China’s strength. Nehru remained confused on whether China's strength was communism or Han nationalism.
His fantasy with ideological supremacy of western liberalism over eastern nationalism got further wild with a stroke of Chinese version of communism. Nehru was so scared and averse to nationalism that he was up with swords to crush Indian homegrown center-right nationalist movement under banners of Hindu Mahasabha and Bharaitya Jana Sangh.
On the other hand, Mao’s organization believed in the existence of two contesting winds – Eastern and Western. And every landmass kissed by the Eastern wind, essentially, is or should be Chinese. Mao looked down upon Nehru as undeserving, a sycophant, in servitude to the Western wind. The biggest of the issues with Nehru was that, he failed to gain confidence of both the leftist and rightist camps in India. Gandhian madhyapantha (the Middlepath) is a philosophy, not necessarily a diplomatic success sutra – he could never realize this truth. His pre-independence struggle with Jinnah over ‘political’ space did cost him Muslim support. His post-independence rivalry with indigenous nationalists alienated him from ‘political’ Hindus. His flashy liberal mind drew him closer to the US. His left-centrist cerebrum made him march with the USSR. India took the first step toward being a ‘confused state’ under Nehru.
Possibly the best evaluation of Nehru was made by U.S President Eisenhower who explored him enough in a Pennsylvania farm during the former’s second America trip in 1956. Eisenhower was perplexed at the Indian premier’s love for American condescendingness while at the same time his soft corner toward the abhorrent USSR and China. And thus termed him “a personality of unusual contradictions”. On the other hand, Mao had his eyes fixed on expanding Chinese grip over Asia. Communism was a mere tool for it.
Mao declared Tibet to be the palm of China whereas Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and North East Frontier Association (NEFA, modern Indian province of Arunachal Pradesh) as its five fingers and it is China’s responsibility to ‘liberate’ them all. Nehru, out of laziness and upragmatic whirl of ideologies, kept believing that China had no reason to be hostile toward India, even when China ‘liberated’ Tibet oppressively.
Nehru was among the first leaders in the United Nations to recognize People’s Republic of China in 1950 that left the West surprised. But he was not alive to realize this callousness till 1975 as China denied recognition to Sikkim’s accession to India. He got a harder blow of betrayal from his Chinese counterpart during his lifetime, though. In the form of Sino-Indian War, 1962.
The first offensive launched by China was across MacMahon Line (international boundary between India and China to the south of Tibet) into Tawang frontiers of NEFA and then across the remnants of Johnson Line (international boundary between India and China to the north of Tibet) through Rezang Pass of Ladakh. Ladakh and NEFA were the two ‘fingers’ who permanently aligned themselves with India; China was desperate to annex them. In spite of erecting huge resistance, it was an unprepared battle for Indian troops. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China succeeded to advance and grab tracts in AksaiChin, which essentially was Indian land till then.
There were attempts to establish treaty after both sides incurred considerable loss to human lives and exchequer. But things started deteriorating again when Nehru rejected Chinese counterpart Zhou Enlai’s claims on MacMahon Line. The diplomatic failure of Nehru was neither winning a strong support from the US and UK nor getting the feeblest of backing from the USSR. Ancient Chinese proverb says ‘before the Eastern Wind would prevail over the western winds, it will triumph over eastern ones’. Perhaps it was the intrinsic strength in Indic wind that still ensured prayer flags of Ladakh and NEFA flutter on their natural Indian habitat.
Amidst this pandemonium of Sino-Indian tussles, the Chinese initiated coveted diplomatic talks with another ‘finger’ – the sovereign kingdom of Nepal. Monarch Mahendra of Nepal was offered with the Chinese proposal to protect of his kingdom. But the king acted as if he foresaw it. China had to return without much success as Mahendra refused to be the buffer state for China. Nepal’s language, culture, religion and festivals are far closer to that of India. India was overwhelmed at this gesture of Nepal and opened its borders with it for flow of trade.
The little ‘finger’ Sikkim, though retained its autonomous status for long since the British left in 1947, popular King Tashi Namgyal of the sacred Chogyal dynasty signed a suzerainty pact with India in 1950. After Tashi, subsequent Chogyals eroded their capital of popularity fast enough to pave way for the rise of progressive Kazi Lhendup Dorjee to form Sikkim National Congress. Kazi realized the need to join India on obvious choice. Sikkimese citizens could never have any appetite toward China for its demonic atrocities in Tibet, the root of Sikkim. In 1975, Sikkim joined Indian confederation as Kazi’s party won a unanimous poll.
Bhutan’s long cultural relations of Buddhism with India dates back to 9th century through the migrating Vajrayana monks. Though India inherited the British suzerainty on Bhutan post-1947, it gradually transitioned as a partner of Bhutan from being a big-brother. 2007 Indo-Bhutan treaty is seen as a strong Indian patronage toward Bhutan’s move for democracy. Bhutan maintains its watertight Tibetan Buddhist identity and hence feels safe with India than China.
But the Red Dragon could never give up its dreams of resurrecting its Eastern Wind over ‘Five Fingers of Tibet’. Since 2009, border areas of Ladakh and Arunachal have been experiencing regular audacious Chinese intrusions. They have engineered a Maoist uprising with prolonged bloodshed in Nepal, resulting in an overturn of pro-India Hindu monarchy. They have been constructing mega-dams over the Tsang Po River that flows as lifeline through Arunachal and Assam, as the Brahmaputra. The Chinese have laid out superhighways along the borders, to the rim, for easy and efficient military logistics. They do object in international forums when Premiers of India or the Exiled Government of Tibet visits Arunachal. There have been instances of issuing Chinese staple visas to people of Indian province of Jammu and Kashmir, which exposes China's future outlook on Kashmir.
Manmohan Singh government is sleeping on these phenomena in the same way Nehru did. India is neither responding diplomatically nor adequately, fearing a second war that could be retrogressive to India’s economic bull-run perceptions. Well, the same fear could not avoid the first one and might not escape from another in near future. But will the history repeat itself? Can the ‘Five Fingers’ be shielded from being severed in the name of 'Liberation'? Or, can the world ever think of true liberation of mainland Tibet? Will the Eastern Wind of peace and democracy ever prevail over Eastern Wind of red ambitions? Answers are unknown. Both the countries will, perhaps, experience a bitter decade of tumultuous relationship over Tibet's 'five fingers'.