HIMALAYAN CHALLENGE: INDIA, CHINA AND THE QUEST FOR PEACE
Rs.595 Pages 240
WITH THE just concluded 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) making global headlines, this is a good time to review Subramanian Swamy’s slim but informative book which suggests ways and means to mend Sino-India ties, slowly but surely, heading for the rocks.
A Harvard educated economist and brilliant public intellectual, during a decades-long career Subramanian Swamy ruined his chances of attaining high public office by being too clever by half. A former Harvard professor, Swamy attained national fame when he publicly opposed the Emergency (1975-77) declared by prime minister Indira Gandhi.
After the Emergency was lifted in 1977 and the Indira Gandhi-led Congress party was routed in the historic General Election of early 1977, Swamy served as a member of Parliament and later as a Union cabinet minister (1990-1991) and president of the opposition Janata Party before he signed up with the incumbent BJP, which nominated him to the Rajya Sabha in 2016, but didn’t renew his term in 2021.
Although a sound economist and strident critic of neta-babu socialism of the Congress which ruined the high-potential Indian economy, Swamy blighted his promising career in Indian politics by espousing extreme causes such as abolition of income tax and intemperate criticism of politicians, including his own party leaders. Since then, he has been put out to pasture by the BJP leadership. Nevertheless, it’s undeniable that Swamy, fluent in Mandarin, is a reputed scholar-analyst on China with deep knowledge of our giant neighbour country’s tumultuous history and galloping economy.
In the very first chapter of this insightful volume, Swamy highlights the friendly, mutually beneficial China-India trade and cultural ties stretching over millennia. According to him, for over 2,000 years China was substantially ‘Sanskritised’, interpreted as ‘cultural borrowing’ by way of Mahayana Buddhism written in Sanskrit, which went to China as early as 1800 BCE and not 483 BCE as “Western writers claim, and the date that Indian historians are prone to recycle”. In support of this contention, Swamy cites Chinese scholars Fa Hsien and Yuan Chiang.
However after the CPC, led by atheist Chairman Mao Zedong, seized power in China in 1949, it was hardly surprising that the communist leadership wanted to forget about 2,000 years of “cultural domination” by India. It’s important to remember that India attained its independence from foreign rule before the communists overran China. Therefore, independent India’s leaders and prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in particular, were globally acknowledged as harbingers of a new rising Asia, a status that was not palatable to Mao who had little more than contempt for India’s unprecedented satyagraha and ahimsa-driven freedom movement led by Mahatma Gandhi.
An unrefined peasant and brutal dictator, Mao had little regard for human lives and suffering, and openly declared that “political power comes from the barrel of a gun”.
Therefore one of the first initiatives of the CPC after it established the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on October 1, 1949, was to formally declare Chinese suzerainty over Tibet which had been accorded independent status by British India as a buffer state between the two giant landmass countries. Despite (British) India being a signatory to a 1914 agreement recognising the autonomy of Tibet, prime minister Nehru acquiesced to Chinese annexation of Tibet without any reference to India.
Moreover despite then Union home minister Sardar Patel’s protest over Chinese military occupation of Tibet, and warning against Chinese “perfidy”, Nehru went out of his way to welcome communist China — regardless of the US and Western nations continuing to recognise the Kuomintang regime under General Chiang Kai Shek which had fled to Taiwan as the legitimate government of China — into the United Nations and glorified PRC at the Bandung Conference in 1955. Patel’s prescient letter to Nehru is reproduced in full — an invaluable appendix of this book.
Worse, although in the early 1950s, the CPC leadership made it abundantly clear that the PRC also wanted to solidify the undemarcated border between China and India in Ladakh and didn’t acknowledge the McMahon Line in India’s North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) aka Arunachal Pradesh, which separated ‘South Tibet’ from India, Nehru neglected to seriously discuss this “petty issue” with Chinese leaders, secure in the belief of eternal Hindi- Chini bhai bhai.
This naivete was rudely exposed after the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader fleeing Chinese atrocities, sought, and was granted asylum in India in 1959. This became a casus belli for the CPC regime in Beijing and culminated in the 1962 border clash in the north-east, in which the well-equipped PLA (People’s Liberation Army) inflicted a humiliating defeat upon the under-prepared Indian Army.
Since then, successive governments of all shades and hues have become too timorous to genuinely negotiate the Sino-India border issue for fear that even small territorial concessions — imperative for resolution of the conflict — could prove electorally disastrous. The consequence is the heavy burden of defence expenditure which has devastated post-independence India’s high-potential economy.
Over the past six decades, the ruthless, self-serving 100-million-strong Communist party with an Orwellian grip over 1.4 billion Chinese people, has expropriated an estimated 50,000 sq. km of India-claimed territory in Ladakh and the north-east, some of it acquired after the savage clashes in the Galwan region bordering Pangong lake in May 2020. Quite clearly, New Delhi and the Indian Army are confronted with an immoveable object, if not irresistible force.
Dr. Swamy has a solution: formation of “consultative committee of genuine Chinese studies scholars, current and retired military personnel, retired civil servants and journalists, all cleared by security agencies” whose “findings” should be debated in elite think tanks worldwide to “decode” China. This task should not be entrusted to “currently serving civil servants-dominated committees in government,” warns Swamy.
This is a fine and precisely written historical account of Sino-India relations of the past 2,500 years. It credibly explains why despite ancient trade and cultural ties, the bilateral China-India relationship has deteriorated to the point of imminent armed conflict. Curiously, it has attracted minimal media attention, suggesting the possibility that it has been successfully repressed by the establishment. Nevertheless, it is mandatory reading for all genuine nationalists cognisant of the opportunity cost of sustained mismanagement of foreign policy in the Nehruvian era and subsequently.