You are wrong General (retd) V.K. Singh!

For a former Indian Army chief, the retired General seems remarkably ignorant of history

 You are wrong General (retd) V.K. Singh!

Arun Sharma

Speaking at a RSS webinar on the eve of the Independence Day, Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways, General (Rtd) VK Singh blamed Nehru for gifting away Tibet to China. This had damaged our centuries old relations with Tibet, he claimed.

If the General made these statements as a loyal member of the political party he joined after retirement, there is little one can tell him. He was just contributing his bit to the seventyyear failed attempt of the BJP/RSS to tarnish the image of Nehru. But being a former Chief of the Indian Army, he surely should have known better about the Tibet question.

Tibet was not an independent country, as Singh claimed. It did not enjoy diplomatic relations with any country, a privilege that all sovereign and independent countries utilise. Tibet had no international identity. With the decline of Chinese power in 1911 however, it did enjoy a tenuous de-facto autonomous status.

India, then under British Rule, tried to confirm this de-facto independence of Tibet ‘under formal Chinese suzerainty’. In 1943, the Indian Government proposed to the United States that Tibet’s right to exchange diplomatic representatives with other powers should be recognised. But the Americans rejected the proposal.

The Government of the United States has borne in mind the fact that the Chinese Government has long claimed suzerainty over Tibet and the Chinese constitution lists Tibet among areas constituting the territory of the Republic of China. This Government has at no time raised a question regarding either of those claims. (Quoted by Neville Maxwell, India’s China War, page 63).

Nehru was aware of this position, which he repeatedly explained inside as well as outside the Parliament. ‘It was clear’, he said ‘that China would establish its sovereignty over Tibet. This had been China’s policy for hundreds of years, and, now that a strong Chinese State has been formed, this policy would inevitably be given effect to. We could not stop it in any way, nor indeed had we any legal justification for trying to do so. All we could hope for was that a measure of autonomy would be left to Tibet under Chinese sovereignty.’ (Nehru’s letter of 01 July 1954 to the Chief Ministers)

Singh’s statement that India maintained three armed companies in Tibet but because of weak political resolve of Jawaharlal Nehru, we could not stand up to China, is also incorrect and misleading. The Indian armed contingent was certainly not stationed in Tibet to defend her against the Chinese.

The British enjoyed the right to maintain small military escorts for their trade officers in Yatung and Gyantse. They had also set up some telegraph and even phone services to link their trading centres. But these rights and facilities derived formally from arrangements Britain had with China.

Nehru, as was his wont, explained this position too. ‘It must be remembered’, he said, ‘that we had succeeded in Tibet to certain special privileges which the British had acquired there. In effect, therefore, we were successors to certain expansionist policies of the old British Government. It was not possible for us to hold on to all these privileges because no independent country would accept that position. Thus, we had a small number of troops in some towns of Tibet to guard our trade routes. We could not possibly keep these troops there. Our other privileges were in regard to trade matters and communications’.

General Singh’s remark that Nehru’s unwillingness to defend Tibet during the Chinese advance into Tibetan territory led to deterioration of our relations with them is also uncharitable to Nehru and overlooks India’s gesture in granting asylum to the Dalai Lama at the cost of offending the Chinese. It also betrays Singh’s ignorance of historical facts.

As it were, Tibetans were no friend of India where territorial rights were concerned. In October 1947, they formally asked India to return to Tibet a wide swathe of territory from Ladakh to Assam. However, facing a bigger danger from China, they did not pursue the matter further. The Tibetan authority in Lhasa, in February 1951, also protested to the Indian presence in Tawang, accusing the Indian Government of ‘seizing as its own what did not belong to it’. This ‘we deeply regret and absolutely cannot accept’.

The Tibetans went on, and asked New Delhi to withdraw their force from Tawang immediately. Nehru’s Government simply ignored Tibetan protest, India stayed on in Tawang and forced out the Tibetan Administration. With this, the ‘dangerous wedge’ of alleged Tibetan territory, which had so worried the British, was at last physically removed and the Mc Mahon Line, was transposed from the maps to the ground as north-east boundary of India. (Neville Maxwell, India’s China War, pages 69,73)

The General also wrongly claimed that Sardar Patel, in his letter of 07 November 1950 to Nehru had warned him that China would attack India within ten to twelve years, as she finally did in October 1962, proving Patel right. On reading Sardar Patel’s letter mentioned above, once again from beginning to the end, one finds that nowhere in this letter had the Iron Man made such a prediction as General Singh attributes to him. This letter was a general warning sounded by Patel to Nehru about the danger from our Northern and NorthEastern border about which the latter was also aware, and it was well taken. Patel never suggested that India should go to war with China over Tibet, as is implied.

Nehru rightly believed that a war with China over Tibet would be legally unjustifiable as well as economically disastrous for the country. Therefore, he ignored a vague hint from Loy Henderson, the United States Ambassador, that the State Department would be glad to help if asked.

According to one writer, President Truman offered transport aircraft to India to defend Tibet. To entangle China in a second front against India during the Korean War might have suited Washington; but if the offer was made New Delhi must have seen the risk and sterility of such an expedition, and declined. To avoid a war in 1950 with China over Tibet was one of the wisest decisions of Nehru.

The General also remarked that the present Government was boldly standing up to the Chinese and putting up our case strongly. If the present Prime Minister’s inability to utter the word China since 05 May 2020, can be construed to mean standing up strongly to the Chinese, then the former General is perhaps right!

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Published: 5 Sep 2020, 6:00 PM