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Mainstream, VOL LV No 44 New Delhi October 21, 2017

Peking’s Shadow Over NEFA • President’s Unique Initiative

Monday 23 October 2017, by Nikhil Chakravartty


From N.C.’s Writings

Fiftyfive years ago in this week itself the Chinese aggression of India rocked the country. It formally happened on October 20 but the preparations for it were going on for quite sometime and Chinese intrusion into Indian territory had taken place since the beginning of September 1962. To mark the anniversary we reproduce here N.C.’s ‘New Delhi Skyline’ in the Mainstream issue of October 20, 1962 (the October 20 issue did not carry the news of the formal aggression as the journal was put to bed before that date).

The flare-up in NEFA has assumed a serious form which is causing considerable concern in responsible quarters in the Capital.

The understanding even a few weeks ago was that Chinese penetration south of the McMahon Line was militarily a minor affair and that it was more in the nature of a move to force the inclusion of the eastern sector in the agenda of the talks that at the time were in the offing. Recent reports are believed to have made it clear that the Chinese have massed consider-able forces on our NEFA border and that they seem to be getting ready for an armed showdown in this sector. This has been reinforced by reports of new Chinese threat to Longju.

In a sense, this seems to have awakened our Defence planners to the grim realities facing us in this sector. Previously, it was thought that any big push to throw the Chinese out across the McMahon Line might touch off a counter-push on the part of the Chinese in the Ladakh sector; otherwise, there would be no difficulty in clearing them out of NEFA, we were assured at the time.

Now, however, it is felt that the new decision to drive the Chinese intruders to the other side of the border would by itself require a full-scale muster of our forces not only in terms of soldiers but of fire-power. An important assessment of the Defence position along the McMahon Line was thus made on the basis of the first-hand report brought by General L.P. Sen in charge of the Eastern Command, during his urgent consultations in the Capital last week.

As things stand today, the Chinese are reported to be entrenched along a narrow strip, three miles in width and about 15 miles in length, just south of the McMahon Line. Although all their attempts to widen this breach have been repulsed, it would require consider-able effort to smoke them out of this strip altogether.

While a military decision in the eastern sector is very much being talked about in the Capital just now, responsible quarters are not slow in assessing the political aspect of the new develop-ments in NEFA. One interesting implication of the present Chinese stand is that not only are they careful not to make the defiant claim that the McMahon Line did not exist in their concep-tion of the legal boundary, but that they have been forced, indirectly, to recognise the strength of the Indian stand that the McMahon Line is the boundary of India: the fact that they have violated this long-recognised Line is being sought to be covered up by the claim that the area of the present round of clashes is to the north of the McMahon Line.

The obvious duplicity of Peking’s stand is clear here from the fact that during the officials’ talks on the boundary question, the Chinese team did not make any observation disputing the alignment of the McMahon Line on this sector; they only disowned the McMahon Line as the frontier itself. What is significant is that the Chinese officials’ team put as many as eight questions on this particular stretch of the boundary, never disputing the location of the Thagla Ridge or questioning the fact that this marked the McMahon Line in this region.

The details that the Chinese officials sought during the talks on this sector referred not only to the co-ordinates but even such questions as “how far south was Khinzemane from the Indian alignment” or the “point where the Indian alignment crossed the Namjang river” or “the terrain features” of the Indian alignment in a particular stretch of the boundary here. The minutest interest shown by the Chinese in this crucial terrain just adjoining the tri-junction was regarded at the time as an index of Chinese anxiety to know the location of the sector that leads to Tawang with its wide ecclesiastical influence in this region, which no doubt has a bearing on the politics of disturbed Tibet. It was not realised at the time that presumably behind the extraordinary interest in this stretch of the border on the part of the Chinese officials lay the dictates of Peking’s military strategists. For it is now taken for granted here that no move on the part of the Chinese authorities—not even this sudden thrust across the McMahon Line—takes place without long-range planning prece-ding it.

Thus apart from the fact that the recent Chinese notes have given wrong co-ordinates about the location of the present clashes, it is clear to New Delhi that the Chinese were never in doubt that they had crossed the McMahon Line, for this very area was the subject of detai-led scrutiny on their part during the officials’ talks.

It is of course possible that the Chinese are deliberately pretending not to recognise that the Dhola area is inside India so that they might claim that there was discrepancy in our align-ment about the McMahon Line just as we have found patent discrepancy between their 1956 and 1960 maps concerning the Ladakh frontier. The only snag in the Chinese case is that during the officials’ talks, they made exhaustive enquiries about our alignment and did not even hint at any doubts regarding it.

In this embittered context, what is the prospect of negotiations opening, if at all, in the near future? This question is being seriously asked in the Capital’s political circles today. The deadline of October 15 is gone. The Prime Minister—and the President more categorically—has said that the status quo ante as on September 8 has to be restored before any talks could possibly begin.

Does the present temper of Peking warrant any such development? Frankly speaking, no. Not only the stepping-up of armed operation in NEFA but the tone and postures of the Chinese leaders give little opening for any talks to begin. The extraordinary performance of Marshal Chen Yi at the reception to mark the anniversary of the Nepal-China Agreement has shocked New Delhi not only because of the bombastic threat held out about coming to Nepal’s aid in case she is menaced by aggression—the obvious reference being to “expansionist” India—but also by the vicious language used in calling the Government of India “jackals of the same lair” as British imperialists. Even the bitterest of New Delhi officials or Ministers have not uttered such language with regard to China, and the Marshal happens to be the Foreign Minister of China. Choice terms of abuse, such as calling the Prime Minister a “maniac” could by no means be inter-preted as a sign of thaw in Peking’s intemperate mood.

At the same time, it seems fairly on the cards that New Delhi will avail itself of any oppor-tunity to open talks with Peking, for, as the Prime Minister made it clear in his address to Ceylon’s MPs, this whole business of armed clash with China went against the very grain of India’s foreign policy.

From all this, the impression is gaining ground here—even in circles which were optimistic about negotiations coming up only two months ago—that what Peking is planning is to “show up” India as the erring party, at least before the Asian audience.

Viewed in this background, the Prime Minister’s patient and elaborate explanation of India’s case in Colombo assumes importance. His narration of the entire dispute with China from the beginning has, according to observers here, helped to clarify many of the doubts in the Ceylonese mind about the validity as well as the propriety of India’s stand on the border question.

There is a general feeling of satisfaction here over the impact of the Prime Minister’s visit on Ceylon. It is believed that the Ceylonese leaders are now more favourably disposed towards India on this particular issue. Thereby, it marks the enlistment of an important ally while China is parading King Mahendra as “an outstanding statesman”—vide Marshal Chen Yi’s already-referred-to speech. In the prevailing cold war between India and China, the rallying of friends on this border issue has become a major task of the External Affaris Ministry, and everybody here recognises that the Prime Minister has done a fine job of it with dignity and dispassion.

The gains of the Ceylon visit are being assessed here from another angie, and that is, of the Second Bandung. The latest position is that India has been able to put across her misgivings about it effectively to Colombo. And observers here think that Mrs Bandaranaike will also be less enthusiastic now about the project. The Prime Minister has more or less convinced her of the undesirability of highlighting inter-State differences in the Afro-Asian world through the medium of a conference called to demonstrate the solidarity of the peoples of this important part of the world.

A second hitch has come over the question of sharing the financial burdens of the conference. The Indonesian suggestion appears to be that the eleven sponsoring countries alone should share the expenses. In contrast, New Delhi wants that all the participating countries should con-tribute, though their quotas may vary according to the limits of their resources.

The overall picture of Second Bandung pros-pects is that, apart from Nigeria and Lebanon, UAR also is opposed to the proposal for a Second Bandung. India is not interested, nor is Ceylon. It is learnt that Indonesia at the moment is rather subdued over the question, a marked change from its attitude two months ago.

Dr Radhakrishnan’s call for national unity in the face of Chinese aggression is regarded as a splendid example of Presidential initiative at a very opportune moment. Apart from the august office that he holds today, the personal regard that he commands from all sections of public opinion has added weight to this timely call.

It is clear here in the Capital that this call for national unity has two aspects. One concerns those critics of the government, particularly of the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister, who blame them for a policy of what they call “appeasement and unpreparedness” with regard to the Chinese. By this call the President has tried to lift the national issue out of the narrow grooves of petty party politics and urged that all such carping critics should support the government.

The other edge of the Presidential appeal is directed, according to New Delhi observers, to the Communists and they were asked to come out in a forthright manner against Chinese violation of the McMahon Line. While the Indian Communist stand on the McMahon Line was made clear two years ago, the need to come out in open condemnation of the latest Chinese intrusion is widely felt. It is also learnt that the Home Ministry is in touch with the State govern-ments with regard to the Communist stand on the border question, and a very close scrutiny is being made of Communist pronouncements on the India-China dispute. The latest list of proscribed publications with regard to the border is indicative of the tightening-up process that has already started. It appears that the government will be watching the reactions in Communist Party circles to the stand of the party’s Central Secretariat before deciding whether the official policy needs re-examination. Governmental reappraisal of the Communist Party stand with regard to China is understood to be in the offing.

Surprise is evident in New Delhi circles over the two recent Ambassadorial appointments. Is not the Moscow assignment too big for Sri T.N. Kaul’s feet? Along with this is heard the other query: does not Sri Parthasarathy deserve a more important responsibility than High Commissionership in Rawalpindi?

(‘New Delhi Skyline’, Mainstream, October 20, 1962)

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