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Mainstream, Vol. XLVI, No 23

On World Situation, Tibet and Nepal

Thursday 29 May 2008, by Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru’s fortyfourth death anniversary falls on May 27 this year. Remembering the architect of modern India on this occasion, we are publishing excerpts from one of his speeches on foreign affairs in Parliament (on December 6, 1950) that are of relevance in the present context. We are also reproducing, besides a piece (New Delhi Skyline) by N.C., three articles on Nehru by noted personalities that appeared in Mainstream (May 28, 1966).

I have always welcomed a debate on foreign affairs in this House because they are no longer the concern merely of experts and specialists. Foreign affairs concern almost every human being now and an event in one part of the world may have consequences which affect people in another. Foreign affairs are the concern of this House, in particular, because on it rests the great responsibility for both domestic and international affairs.

I further welcome this opportunity of discussing the international situation because the world as the House well knows, is passing through a very grave crisis...

I should like to say a few words about two ... neighbouring countries—Tibet and Nepal. Some questions were asked earlier this morning in regard to the advance of the Chinese forces into Tibet. I could not give much information then; nor can I do so now. The story of Tibet, so far as we are concerned, is very simple. I am going into past history. Ever since the People’s Government of China talked about the liberation of Tibet, our Ambassador told them, on behalf of the Government of India, how the latter felt about it. We expressed our earnest hope that the matter would be settled peacefully by China and Tibet. We also made it clear that we had no territorial or political ambitions in regard to Tibet and that our relations were cultural and commercial. We said that we would naturally like to preserve these relations and continue to trade with Tibet because it did not come in the way of either China or Tibet. We further said that we were anxious that Tibet should maintain the autonomy it has had for at least the last forty years. We did not challenge or deny the suzerainty of China over Tibet. We pointed all this out in a friendly way to the Chinese Government. In their replies, they always said that they would very much like to settle the question peacefully but that they were, in any event, going to liberate Tibet. From whom they were going to liberate Tibet is, however, not quite clear. They gave us to understand that a peaceful solution would be found, though I must say that they gave us no assurance or guarantee to the effect. On the one hand, they said they were prepared for a peaceful solution; on the other, they talked persistently of liberation.

We had come to believe that the matter would be settled by peaceful negotiation and were shocked when we heard that the Chinese armies were marching into Tibet. Indeed, one can hardly talk about war between China and Tibet. Tibet is not in a position to carry on war and, obviously, Tibet is no threat to China. It is said that other countries might intrigue in Tibet. I cannot say much about it because I do not know. It is certain, however, that there was no immediate threat. Violence might, perhaps, be justified in the modern world but one should not resort to it unless there is no other way. There was another way in Tibet as we pointed out. That is why the action of China came to us as a surprise.

The House is aware of the correspondence that was exchanged between the Chinese Government and our Government. We have continued to press upon them that it would be desirable for them to halt their advances and settle matters with Tibetan representatives peacefully. There is no doubt that during the last few weeks they have checked their main advance. However, I cannot say for certain what their future intentions are. Some small groups may have continued to advance in some places but so far as we know there has been no advance towards Lhasa, where conditions are still normal. That, of course, does not mean that the problem is solved.

COMING to Nepal, I must say that it has been the scene of strange developments during the last fortnight. Ever since I have been associated with this Government, I have taken a great deal of interest in Nepal. We have desired, not only to continue our old friendship with that country but to put it on a still firmer footing. We have inherited both good things and bad from the British. Our relations with some of our neighbouring countries developed during an expansive phase of British imperial policy. Nepal was an independent country when India was under British rule; but strictly speaking, her independence was only formal. The test of the independence of a country is that it should be able to have relations with other countries without endangering that independence. Nepal’s foreign relations were strictly limited to her relations with the Government functioning in India at the time. That was an indication that Nepal’s approach to international relations was a very limited one.

When we came into the picture, we assured Nepal that we would not only respect her independence but see, as far as we could, that she developed into a strong and progressive country. We went further in this respect than the British Government had done and Nepal began to develop other foreign relations. We welcomed this and did not hinder the process as the British had done. Frankly, we do not like and shall not brook any foreign interference in Nepal. We recognise Nepal as an independent country and wish her well. But even a child knows that one cannot go to Nepal without passing through India. Therefore, no other country can have as intimate a relationship with Nepal as ours is. We would like every other country to appreciate the intimate geographical and cultural relationship that exists between India and Nepal.

Three years ago, we assured Nepal of our desire that she should be a strong, independent and progressive country. In the nature of things, we stood not only for progressive democracy in our own country but also in other countries. We have said this not only to Nepal but it has consistently been a part of our policy in distant quarters of the world. We are certainly not going to forget this when one of our neighbouring countries is concerned.

We pointed out in as friendly a way as possible that the world was changing rapidly and if Nepal did not make an effort to keep pace with it, circumstances were bound to force her to do so. It was difficult for us to make this clear because we did not wish to interfere with Nepal in any way.

We wished to treat Nepal as an independent country but, at the same time, saw that, unless some steps were taken in the internal sphere, difficulties might arise. Our advice, given in all friendship, did not, however, produce any result. During the last fortnight, some new developments have taken place in Nepal. Our interest in the internal conditions of Nepal has become still more acute and personal, because of the developments across our borders, to be frank, especially those in China and Tibet. Besides our sympathetic interest in Nepal, we were also interested in the security of our own country. From time immemorial, the Himalayas have provided us with a magnificent frontier. Of course, they are no longer as impassable as they used to be but are still fairly effective. We cannot allow that barrier to be penetrated because it is also the principal barrier to India. Therefore, much as we appreciate the independence of Nepal, we cannot allow anything to go wrong in Nepal or permit that barrier to be crossed or weakened, because that would be a risk to our own security. The recent developments have made us ponder more deeply over the Nepal situation than we had done previously. All this time, however, we had functioned in our own patient way, advising in a friendly way and pointing out the difficulties inherent in the situation in a spirit of co-operation.

As the House knows, the King of Nepal is, at the present moment, in Delhi along with two other members of the Nepalese Government. The talks we have had with them have yielded no results thus far. May I, in this connection, warn this House not to rely too much on the statements that appear in the newspapers? Nowadays, they have seldom any basis in fact.

Needless to say, we pointed out to the Ministers who have come here that, above all, we desire a strong progressive and independent Nepal. In fact, our chief need—not only our need but also that of the whole world—is peace and stability. Having said that, I should also like to add that we are convinced that a return to the old order will not bring peace and stability to Nepal.

WE have tried, for what it is worth, to advise Nepal to act in a manner so as to prevent any major upheaval. We have tried to find a way, a middle way, if you like, which will ensure the progress of Nepal and the introduction of, or some advance in, the ways of democracy in Nepal. We have searched for a way which would, at the same time, avoid the total uprooting of the ancient order. Whether or not it is possible to find such a way, I do not know...

We are a patient Government. Perhaps, we are too patient sometimes. I feel, however, that if this matter drags on, it will not be good for Nepal and it might even make it more difficult to find the middle way we have been advocating.

We, in this country, speak a good deal of foreign affairs and offer advice, for what it is worth, to other countries. But the fact remains that such value as our advice may have is only moral or psychological. The fate of the world depends far more on the great Powers, on what they do and do not do. The fate of the world depends more on the USA, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and China than on the rest of the world put together. I should like to make an earnest appeal to these great countries to make every effort to solve the present tangle by negotiations or other peaceful means. The consequenes of not doing so are too terrible to contemplate. The irony of the situation is, in fact, that people in every country desire peace; but at the present moment, some evil fate seems to pursue humanity. It is driving mankind in a direction which can only end in stark ruin. So, I hope that these great countries will apply themselves to securing peace and I am sure the House will join me in this appeal. On behalf of my Government and, if I may say so, this House, I should like to make a pledge, namely, that we will do everything in our power to promote peace and to avoid war.

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