DEFEXPO 2022 INDIA Ministry of Defence

 

A must-read book for scholars and others to understand India-China dynamics

One particular observation that gets highlighted, although not explicitly stated as such by the author, is the huge clout and influence wielded by some key diplomats and political advisers who seem to have literally hijacked the formulation of policy and response to this, complex relationship during the Nehru years

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India-China border (Photo: Youtube)

1962 was a watershed moment. The 'border war' with China suddenly made all Indians realize how unprepared and vulnerable the nation was to protect its frontiers. The nation wanted to know why we had to get into a scrap with the Chinese in the first place when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had been parroting the slogan "Hindi-Cheeni Bhai Bhai" ever since we became independent.  

Most citizens were unaware of the complexities of the border dispute with China and saw themselves as the defeated victims of a marauding neighbour out to grab Indian territory by force. Within months, post the "1962 debacle", a host of books, articles and research papers were published by very eminent analysts, but somehow in the cacophony and blame game, nobody could quite understand with clarity as to which party had a better case to present.

Complex history 

Most of the analysts flogged a particular line, and the narrative from both sides seemed to be devoid of facts that could clearly indicate the position on the ground from a historical perspective. On our side, the politicians, academics, historians and diplomats had different narratives that they were highlighting to support their claims and arguments. As a nation we were mostly putting forward a mix of history and British legacy of documents and papers to bolster our case, whilst the Chinese from day one never wavered from their stated stand that their version of the international border was the actual demarcation of the boundary since millennia; and that parts of Ladakh and whole of Arunachal belonged to them.

There was therefore a need to clearly and lucidly narrate the facts as they evolved.

Nirupama Rao, a former Indian foreign secretary, in her book “The Fractured Himalaya” has attempted to inform politicians, the diplomatic and military establishment, historians, academics and the common citizen of the correct position of the border problem and has succeeded in putting across the complex saga in all its entirety.  

As a diplomat with long experience of dealing with China, both from headquarters in New Delhi as well as ambassador to that country, she has done this without resorting to the juxtapositional narrative but has elaborately and with great rigour and research examined and chronologically analyzed the whole spectrum of the India-China relationship, event by event, meeting by meeting, examining official documents and parliamentary debates as also analyzing informal and formal disclosures by the main protagonists. She further connected the dots by cross-checking the narrative with stated facts as recorded by the actual players who played a great role in formulating our foreign policy.

Great book 

One particular observation that gets highlighted, although not explicitly stated as such by the author, is the huge clout and influence wielded by some key diplomats and political advisers who seem to have literally hijacked the formulation of policy and response to this, complex relationship during the Nehru years. In her narration and research, it is evidently clear, that many observations and advisories which influenced key decisions were the product of the "back and forth" among these worthies, operating in a silo without wider consultation.

Stationed in Beijing and in Tibet, they unduly influenced Nehru and his cabinet colleagues. The author (in her own wisdom) has listed the "Major Dramatis Personae” (in alphabetical order) in a five-page pre-introduction chapter and leaves it to the reader to pick the good, the bad and the ugly, on both sides.

Rao's version of the India-China relations in the Nehru years is both fair and comprehensive. Her arguments and analysis are credible and backed by documentation which are authentic from a historical perspective. It has taken her years of research and dedication to produce a book that is a must-read for all academics, journalists and military commanders, and especially politicians and diplomats who argue our case on global platforms.

The 609-page book backed by maps, notes, bibliography and index has been published by Penguin Random House-India and is recommended for all scholars who wish to understand the complex India-China relationship which is our most important security issue. Rao's book fills the gap in the literature on probably the most important set of events related to India's security and foreign policy. It is the readers good fortune that it is also thoroughly readable.

A brilliant and well-researched book. Rao must be congratulated for her research and scholarship.

(The reviewer has served as Colonel General Staff (Operations) of Headquarters Eastern Command and was the custodian of all classified and other military documents related to the 1962 operations, Views are personal.) 

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