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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 45 New Delhi October 31, 2015

India-China: Reflections on 1962 / In the Name of Ram / Bijbehara: A Challenge to Nation’s Conscience

Wednesday 4 November 2015, by Nikhil Chakravartty

The following article appeared in Mainstream to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Chinese aggression (that began on October 20, 1962).

India-China: Reflections on 1962

This week, thirty years ago, the Chinese Army had mounted a full-scale military attack along the entire length of our northern border. For three years previous to that there were occasional clashes, accompanied by angry polemics and tension over border claims.

What happened on October 20 was entirely different in character. It was a massive aggression into territories beyond the lines claimed as the border by the Chinese themselves. In other words, what the Chinese achieved on the ground by the sudden military offensive was to grab fresh territories beyond what they were putting up as their claim-line during the protracted negotiations.

Looking back after a lapse of thirty long years—the span of a generation—many points of reappraisal come up while the old tensions subside. It is customary in any active foreign-policy establishment to undertake a thorough review of the past so that one could be better equipped to deal with the present and to chalk out the future. It is high time that our Foreign Office and other specialised bodies undertook such a review. In the absence of any compre-hensive reappraisal, one has to fall back upon certain impressions and insights picked up as a reporter of those troubled times.

The Chinese attack not only pushed back our line of defence, but dealt a body blow on Jawaharlal Nehru’s authority at home and standing abroad. As one watched the mounting tension in the space between Dalai Lama’s arrival in India in April 1959 and the fullscale Chinese attack in October 1962, one could discern how Nehru found himself unable to get a grasp over the situation. His message over the radio at that time reflected his shock at the unprovoked military offensive by a neighbouring power whom he had trusted more than anybody else.

The political collapse of Nehru was evident when he wrote the letters to the US President asking pathetically for arms supply (November 19, 1962). Although subsequently he tried to rally by appealing for the five-nation non-aligned initiative, it was clear that he would be hardly able to recover, physically, mentally and politically. In a sense, the Chinese aggression came as a god-send for all those who had been denouncing the non-aligned stand of India. It was no accident that within a few weeks the Anglo-American initiative came for the virtual partitioning of Kashmir. It was Sardar Swaran Singh’s tireless stonewalling that warded off the Duncan Sandys mission.

Where did we go wrong, diplomatically and militarily? For one thing, while Nehru had a remarkable vision of independence from the clutches of the big power military alliances, one could not help feeling that in the euphoria over the success of the Bandung Conference where he had actually chaperoned Zhou Enlai around, he missed assessing in time the Chinese approach to world affairs which is throughout guided by the imperatives of power politics; in other words, by the principle of balance of power.

China’s concern has always been Tibet, and in the prevailing uncertainty, it wanted to show off its military prowess as a decisive element in foreign policy. That was how during the official level talks on the border claims in 1960, while the Indian side argued with legal acumen, the Chinese were working out the military strategy of piercing the frontier.

Consequently, the disarray of the Indian Army in the NEFA sector was due to the fact that our troops were totally ill-clad for the high altitude operation, while there was mismanagment in the conduct of the war.

This is now disclosed in great detail in Major General Palit’s latest volume—a work of seminal dimension—in which one gets a glimpse of the shocking mismanagement at the top, in which the serious business of conducting a war was totally missing; instead there comes total disre-gard of all norms of administrative functioning, in which personal ego played no insignificant part. The bravado of General Kaul, based on the gasbag’s megalomania, stands out as a fearsome reminder of upreparedness and the absence of any well-thought-out strategy of dealing with a full-scale military offensive. It was a dismal picture.

While Krishna Menon’s role as an outstanding diplomat will long be remembered, his stint as the Defence Minister was marred by his petty subjective interference in professional military matters. It was really a tragic case, because one has to take into account his signal contribution towards the setting up of an indigenous defence system which reinforced our independence in world affairs.

An aspect of the Chinese aggression of 1962 is generally missed, and that is its linkage with the domestic politics of China at that time. The Chinese themselves have brought out the extensive damage wrought by their own aggressive sectarianism of the sixties. Obviously, such an over-heated political line at home had had its inescapable repercussions on the foreign policy outlook. The Cultural Revolution had been preceded by successive waves of aggressive sectarianism, beginning with the back-to-the-village campaign, followed by the rectification campaign—all leading towards the disastrous Cultural Revolution. If one tries to integrate this domestic scene with China’s angry foreign policy posture, then the picture would be clearer why China took a hostile stand towards not only India but other friendly countries as well. If our understanding of the Chinese foreign policy of those years had been placed in the context of that country’s domestic policy, then perhaps the damage could have been minimised and the debacle averted in 1962.

In the three decades since those heady days, China has chastened and Indira Gandhi’s initiative in restoring ambassadorial level diplomatic relations has paid good dividends. There was a period of stalemate and the talks were reduced to rituals particularly on the thorny issue of the border dispute. There was a glimmer of a breakthrough when Rajiv Gandhi visited China and Deng Xiaoping received him in 1988. While the ghastly events at Tiananmen Square put the clock back, there has been an appreciable recovery in the last two years.

In this context, it is important to note the present Chinese approach to the border dispute. At present, the entire Chinese emphasis is on confidence-building measures (CBMs) along the present line of control. Border trade is to be reopened, the intelligence network between the opposite border security establishments would be upgraded and all this may help to reduce the forces posted now on both sides of the frontier. While the Chinese have not turned down the proposal for the resumption of talks for the examination of the boundary claims, their entire emphasis is now on the confidence-building measures along the present line of control. Obviously, the Chinese perspective is that after a few years, with the establishment of stability and tranquillity along the border, the clamour for redrawing the border line as per respective claims would be fairly weakened, if not given up altogether.

On a wider scale, at the global level the Chinese maintain a caste-system approach. As a member of the club of great powers—the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—they count themselves as one of the Big Powers of today with its own nuclear arsenal. At the same time, China is serious about maintaining close and friendly relations with India on the basis of recognising India as the leading regional power in South Asia. In other words, India in the Chinese eye does not belong to the top drawer but as the predominant regional power.

No doubt there is need for improving our relations with China. But this need can hardly be realised without taking into account the Chinese perception of themselves as being in the top category, while India will have to contend with being acknowledged as a regional power.

(Mainstream, October 24, 1992)

o o o

In the Name of Ram

To build a temple to mark the brithplace of Ram, a mosque was destroyed by deceit.

Those who swiftly and competently did the demolition job on Sunday (December 6, 1992), did so before the very eyes of those leaders who had been assuring Parliament and the public that the disputed structure would not be harmed until the dispute itself was settled by negotiations or through the due process of law. The UP Government, which was manned by the party which supported the campaign for the proposed Ram temple, had given solemn assurances to the Supreme Court of India that the disputed mosque as also the adjoining land would be protected; and yet its administration became a virtual onlooker to the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

This touched off countrywide disturbances in which more than a thousand persons have lost their lives and lakhs have become homeless and the material loss runs into crores of rupees. And more than anything else, the morale of the nation has been shattered and its honour besmirched.

What does this sudden outburst of vandalism denote? From more than one angle, this disaster at Ayodhya has serious implications for the functioning of our democracy and civil society while the threat to the nation’s integrity has become alarmingly serious. It has brought down the country’s standing in the international arena and it has undermined the very self-confidence of this great nation.

Civil society means adherence to the rule of law and, specifically in our case, this implies acceptance of the tenets of our Constitution. When senior functionaries of a leading political party, whose representatives constitute the principal party in the Opposition in Parliament, associate themselves with a campaign led by people who for long have been proclaiming that they were bound by no judicial verdict as they claimed to be guided by the behest of their faith alone, then this strikes at the very root of our democratic order. And the State Government run by the very same party, after having made solemn commitments before the Supreme Court of the land that the disputed structure would be protected, permits its administration to be just a passive onlooker of the act of demolition of the very same disputed structure, and then it only put up its hands and sought to run away from its responsibilities.

With all the pathetic expressions of regret at the happening, can the leaders of the BJP and its directing authority, the RSS, dispute that what took place at Ayodhya on December 6 under their aegis was not a direct assault on our democratic system as enjoined by the Constitution? The plea that the actual perpetrators of the demolition of the structure were not under their control, that the thousands of sadhus who had gathered there were not members of their organisation and were therefore not under their control or discipline, is a very poor and unconvincing defence. Is it not a fact that the BJP leaders themselves have actively participated in the campaign for the mobilisation of lakhs of kar sevaks? Did not the then BJP President, Advani, undertake his cross-country rath yatra in 1990 raising the same clamour for the building of the temple that would include the area where the mosque under dispute is located? In fact, the UP Chief Minister, Kalyan Singh, openly claimed that the mandate given to him by his poll victory was for building the temple—virtually making a short shrift of the election laws which debar anybody from seeking votes in the name of any religion.

No doubt there are elements in the BJP—much larger than is visible in the prevailing tension—who are actually distressed by the ugly turn of events in which their party has become practically bracketed with those who destroyed the mosque in defiance of law. These elements are faced with the quandary that many other parties in our country have faced in the past—from the Communists to the Akalis and others—whether to assert their legitimate role within the constitutional framework and refusing to be overpowered by the fervid militancy of desperado politics. In a sense, this is the very moment of truth for this section in the BJP-RSS camp. If personalised symbols are called for, it is the choice between Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani on one side, and Ashok Singhal and Vinay Katyar on the other. Such a difficult choice confronted other parties as well: some faced it and asserted, while others dodged and ultimately were swamped by militants resorting to terrorism.

This is not just a hypothetical question flung at them. It encompasses an entire approach to the democratic polity itself. The brutal swoop by the militant activists on the mediapersons covering the kar seva brings out in true colours what sort of totalitarianism they want to set up. The challenge before us has to be seen in its totality.

The shock of the Black Sunday has another dimension, perhaps more fearsome than anything else. The curse of the partition destroyed the integrity of the country fortyfive years ago. However much our leaders denied and disowned it, their acceptance of the partition plan meant their surrender to the two-nation theory, that the Hindus and Muslims are two nations, not two communities belonging to the same nation. In effect, the partition made the minority community in each country the target of distrust by the intolerant sections of the majority community. And by the logic of the two-nation theory, Pakistan has to be an Islamic state, and ipso facto India must come up as a Hindu infected Hindu orthodoxy on the political plane. This is the pernicious source from which communal loyalties have grown up more and more as an essential ingredient of politics.

All these years, hardly any comprehensive and objective assessment of the malignancy of the partition has been undertaken by either the political or intellectual leadership of the country. The result is that not only has religious loyalty been exploited for political support, but within each community, the campaigners for widening the communal divide have gained ground masquerading as orthodox and pure fundamental adherents of the creed. Hence even in recent days, the phenomenon of bigots on one side forcing the Muslim Women’s Act and trying to persecute rational scholarship whether in Jamia Millia or at the Khuda Box Library in Patna. And much in the same way, their counterpart in bigotry in the Hindu community builds up Ram not as a unifier but as a divider of society. That is how place names sanctified by History are sought to be changed and History rewritten to project the ideology of the bigoted. Political leadership in the days of the freedom struggle fought such forces of blind intolearances, but in the years since independence, it has not only tolerated them but have tried to strike deals with them for the purpose of collecting votes. This way our social fabric has been torn asunder and our political life debased.

And yet, if we look around this wide world called India, we find in its thousands of villages and towns, the Hindus and the Muslims living together in peace and harmony, day in and day out for years and decades. They follow their own faith, each to his own, follow diverse customs and ways of life. We do not highlight this remarkable kindred spirit—neither in politics, nor in the media. Our political system, the manner in which we run it, the appeal with which we seek votes at election times, reinforces the division and not the unity of our nation. And as corrosion of morality has spread in our public life, the bane of communal approach, communal thinking, has got a fresh lease. We write dissertations and declaim communalism in our own secluded parlours, in seminars and symposia, but we do not go out through the length and breadth of this country instilling support and strength to the urge for Hindu-Muslim amity, to spread the message that this unity is needed to hold our great country together: that its history, its civilisational grandeur, its present-day imperatives —all demand it.

Only one frail man took up that mission tirelessly, but he was shot dead by a young man who thought he was killing that little man to uphold the glory of Hindutva. Gandhi fell with the two words “Hey Ram” on his lips. And today in the name of Lord Ram, brother is being torn apart from brother.

When shall we regain the lost paradise?

(Mainstream, December 19, 1992)

o o o

Bijbehara: A Challenge to Nation’s Conscience

Autumn has set in—the chinar in its gorgeous robe. But it is an autumn of bitter sorrow for the hapless people of Kashmir. The Valley which was known as the paradise on earth has been turned into a trough of hatred, of blood and tears.

On Friday last week the portals of Hazratbal were barred as the Indian Army had laid siege of the mosque complex in pursuit of the militants. To protest against this siege of the holy of holies for every Kashmiri Muslim, the common tolk in the small town of Bijehara took out a demonstration which was angry in its mood but indulged in no acts of violence. But the defiance of the curfew by the marchers enraged the BSF which went berserk and mowed down to death more than 50 and wounded another hundred or more.

These were no armed secessionists, but unarmed citizens. The authorities promptly barred mediapersons from getting into the town—some were beaten up and their cameras seized—but one intrepid among them who could manage to sneak in, has reported that the dead were young boys, including a Hindu boy. The searing piognancy of this act of barbarism was brought out by his reporting that “not even a single family has remained unaffected by Friday’s violence” and when the bodies arrived after post-mortem, “the wails of womenfolk reached a crescendo” as these were lowered into graves.

This way, mourning turns into anger and unwillingly, the security forces instead of quelling the secessionists seem to unwittingly help to swell the ranks of the adherents, supporters and fellow-travellers of the secessionists in the Kashmir Valley. A thousand cordons along the border shall not help to avert the catastrophe as the mounting anger against the armed might of India antagonises the people of the Kashmir Valley.

Six months ago, a very senior office-holder under the government with wide experience of administration was explaining to the present writer that while Nagaland in the sixties had lapsed into insurgency, he would not say the same thing about Kashmir as, according to him, the people in the villages were not offering active support to the militants. After the siege of Hazratbal and its fall-out with such a bloody shooting spree of Bijbehara, are not the security forces helping to breed a state of insurgency?

The government has announced a grant of one lakh rupees for the family of the slain and has instituted a magisterial enquiry into the shooting. Do the government high-ups feel that such rituals would mollify the people at Bijbehara and the Kashmir Valley? What a world of make-believe are our authorities living in! Even in normal conditions, a police firing in any part of the country raises the demand for judicial enquiry. And here after the massacre—a massacre indeed!—at Bijbehara there would only be a magisterial! enquiry. The BSF version was that a mob attack on the police station led to the shooting, but the SHO himself denied any such mob attack. Kashmir’s Divisional Commissioner visiting the town next day observed: “There was no witness to confirm firing on the BSF at Bijbehara.” And with all this, the government is fighting shy of commissioning a judicial enquiry into the gory incident.

No, this is not a matter for quibbling over enquiries, magisterial or judicial. Bijbehara has thrown up a challenge to the conscience of the entire nation. It has brought out that in the name of fighting out secessiionist militants, those responsible for the governance of this great country are themselves hitting at the very foundations of our democratic republic. Such acts of folly, leading to insensate violence on the part of those entrusted to govern, do not evoke respect and consent but provoke revulsion and angry insubordination. A republic does not last by enforced submission of its people at gun-point. It has just the reverse effect.

Against this ghastly brutality perpetrated at Bijbehara, it’s time for our political leaders to hang down their heads in shame and remorse. For they share, in diverse measure, the guilt for letting things drift into this shocking state of affairs that security forces should be so dehumanised as to run amuck committing such a crime. And is Bijbehara a solitary case of security forces transgressing into barbarity by the strength of the gun? All these four years, the government told the public that the militants provoked violence and the security forces had to bear the burnt of it. So much so that our government resorted to an ingenious argument that sought to put the security forces on a par with the aggrieved citizens in the matter of many violations of human rights in Kashmir. It is time that the true state of affairs in Kashmir were brought out in the sun and let the nation judge for itself whether the Republic is reinforced or undermined with the way our government is dealing with the people of Kashmir.

Every democrat in this great democracy of ours has to stand by the people in Bijbehara at this moment of sorrow and despair. And our leaders from Kashmir, where are they, what are they doing? Mufti Mohammaed Sayeed, who became the Home Minister of India, is a native son of Bijbehara. Its lane and by-lanes, its street-corners and maidans have witnessed Mufti Sahib growing up in the politics of Kashmir. He could not possibly be sleeping in peace, tormented as he must be—at least, should be—by the trauma of his fellow-citizens at Bijbehara. Why don’t you go there, Mufti Sahib, at this hour of agony and bring strength to their spirits? And if you stand by them, you will add strength to your own arms and help this Republic of ours. This is the way the sinew of nation’s morale is built, which no amount of politicking from a distance will do.

In our midst, in virtual exile of political isolation, there is Syed Mir Qasim, whose maturity and experience the Prime Minister could have harnessed with profit if he so desired. Isn’t it ime for Qasim Sahib to go on his own to his native soil, facing all the hazards thereby? When people are in a state of emotional shock, they took upto their leaders to come and stand by them. Such a moment has come for all our Kashmir leaders. If they miss to respond in these testing times, they will become castaways of history. Forgetting petty squabbles and irritations, if they all join hands and put their heads together, there must come a way out of the tragic impasse into which this picturesque corner of our great subcontinent has been forced into. More than at any time in the past, the people of Kashmir today cry for the healing touch and that alone can bring back peace and harmony. And if we succeed in the Valley, it will bring back amity with our neighbour, Pakistan.

Guns on either side do not solve crises. What’s needed today is the courage to call for peace—the courage that made Gandhi into the Mahatma.

(Mainstream, October 30, 1993)