Nehru and China

Shashi Tharoor, the Indian diplomat who stood for the post of United Nations secretary-general last year but was rejected by the Americans in favour of the South Korean Ban Ki Moon, quietly dropped a bombshell in his book, Nehru: The Invention of India, published four years ago. India could have apparently become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, but, no, said Nehru (picture from the BBC): Give the seat to China!

Such generosity is unheard of in international diplomacy. But Tharoor wrote:   

“Indian diplomats who have seen the files swear that (in the early 1950s) Jawaharlal … declined a US offer to take the permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council then held, with scant credibility, by Taiwan, urging that it be offered to Beijing instead.”

If true, it was foolish in the extreme. Leaders are expected to put their own countries’ interests first. But idealism coloured Nehru’s vision. He regarded China as another ancient civilisation freed from colonialism and preached: “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai.” The Hindi phrase means, “Indians and Chinese are brothers.”

He was to be bitterly disillusioned when China fought India in the 1962 border war. Two years later, he died in his sleep at the age of 74.

Nehru shouldn’t have been caught unawares by the border war. Tharoor writes:

“China’s re-establishment of its authority in Tibet in 1950 brought the People’s Liberation Army to the frontiers of India along a British-demarcated boundary (the McMahon Line) that Beijing had never recognised… Nehru did not, however, press Beijing to a negotiated settlement on the border, preferring to take at face value a statement by (Chinese foreign minister) Chou (En Lai) in 1952 that China had no border dispute with India.”

In 1962, Chinese troops poured across the border. “It was a rout,” says Tharoor. After a month-long war, he adds, “On Nov 21 China… unilaterally declared a ceasefire and withdrew from much of the territory it had captured, retaining some 2,500 square miles in the western sector.”

The border dispute still remains unsettled. But no one seems to mind. The foreign ministers of China, India and Russia met in Delhi last month, ostensibly to discuss trade and energy issues.

The International Herald Tribune reported:

“The three countries have vehemently denied that they are forming a coalition against American dominance in international affairs. But … the leaders emphasized their ‘strong commitment’ to ‘multilateral diplomacy’ …”

Sure, let’s all work together and give peace a chance.

But Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, 71, is certainly old enough to remember the 1962 border war. It wasn’t the Russians who helped India then but the Americans under President Kennedy, who at the same time repulsed the Russians in the Cuban missile crisis.

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