There is a long history of border dispute between India and China.
Its origin can be traced to the war between the two countries in 1962.
Though Indian and Chinese civilizations are among the most ancient civilizations of the world, both nations are relatively young.
In the last century both the countries became independent fighting against imperialism.
While China took to communism, India became a democratic nation.
The present face-off between India and China reminds one to an interesting book called ‘Unarmed Victory’ by Bertrand Russell.
But, before we discuss that book, there is another book which shows how Indo-China conflict affected Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India.
This is a biography of Jawaharlal Nehru by eminent historian Sarvepalli Gopal.
Jawaharlal Nehru was not merely the first Prime Minister of India, he was a rising star in the international arena of his times.
In world politics, particularly in the Afro-Asian countries Nehru was a leading statesman.
India was a nascent democracy and Nehru played a vital role in strengthening the non-aligned movement.
But, the Indo-China border dispute in 1961 which led to a war in 1962 where Indian forces faced a humiliating defeat in the hands of Chinese army unnerved Nehru.
“The Prime Minister, despite his public assertions that he had no doubt of India’s final victory, couldn’t close his eyes to the immediate helplessness of Indian armies to withstand the Chinese. In the West, with the shelling of the airfield at Chushul, an advance to Leh seemed likely; and in the east, the loss of Assam, Tripura, Manipur and Nagaland appeared imminent.
Chines troops were also poised for moving across the border in the middle sector into the Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
Nehru wrote two letters to Kennedy describing the situation as ‘really desperate’ and requesting the immediate despatch of a minimum of 12 squadrons of supersonic all-weather fighters and the setting up of radar communications.
American personnel had to man these fighters and installations and protect Indian cities from air attacks by the Chinese till Indian personnel had been trained.
If possible, the United States should also send planes flown by American personnel to assist the Indian Air Force in any battles with the Chinese in Indian air space; but ariel action by India elsewhere would be the responsibility of Indian Air Force.
Nehru also asked for twoB-47 bomber squadrons to enable India to strike at Chinese bases and airfield; but to learn to fly these planes Indian pilots and technicians would be sent immediately for training in the United States.
As an immediate response Galbraith asked that units of the Seventh Fleet should move into the Bay of Bengal.
Here ended Nehru’s non-alignment.
After independence Nehru’s major concerns were economic development, building of infrastructure for public health and education.
Defence preparedness was not a priority.
So when India had to suddenly engage itself in a war with China it was completely ill equipped.
Now let us turn to Russell’s book.
Bertrand Russell, the mathematician and philosopher was probably one among the most influential intellectuals of the twentieth century.
He was a pacifist to the core and he launched a forceful campaign against the nuclear war.
Russell also played a significant role in defusing conflicts between many countries.
So far the border tension between Indian and China was concerned, Russell thought that a war between India and China had the potential of turning into a nuclear war involving the nuclear powers.
So when territorial dispute between the two giant countries of the world took place, he was very worried.
He took the initiative of personally contacting Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India and Chou En-lai, the Prime Minister of China.
When fighting began in the disputed regions, Russell like most people in the West thought that China was wholly responsible for it, but as things developed further he also made India equally responsible for the standoff.
Russell wrote many letters to Nehru and Chou En-lai requesting them both to settle the border disputes through negotiations.
It is not possible to reproduce those letters here for want of space.
But if one goes through the letters one will appreciate how passionately Russell felt for peace.
And India and China reposed enough faith on Russell to share all the details of their claims and complaints on boarder dispute with him.
Russell wrote to both the Prime Ministers through their respective embassies in London and Chou En-lai and Nehru respectfully replied to his letters.
Responding to his request, at one point China declared unilateral ceasefire.
Below I reproduced the samples of two letters.
“Dear Mr. Chou En-lai,
I am writing to you to express my deep anxiety concerning the rapidly deteriorating state of world affairs. You will know that I lived in China, although not as long as I might have wished. —— I am deeply troubled by the conflict between India and China. I don’t wish to pass judgement on the definition of borders between China and India, for I am not competent to do so. I am anxious about the fighting because, it seems to me, the arousal of national passions can but cloud the actual source of difference and make calm and true consideration of facts impossible to conduct.—”
In writing to you this further letter, I cannot claim any right from diplomatic status, nor do I speak as more than an individual, I am writing in the hope that we may still exchange such views as individuals, although the conditions of grave crisis are upon us. You know that I have urged that you should accept the Chinese proposal for a ceasefire. I feel compelled to place this plea in the broadest context- the material from which whatever hopes we may have for this world of ours spring.———.”
Paresh Malakar is a commentator based in Guwahati. He can be reached at: [email protected]