India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru proudly supported Chinese prime minister Chou En-Lai. He had emerged after defeating the first front army commander, Chiang Kai Shek. The Chinese premier had supported India’s movement for independence when British prime minister Winston Churchill said that the freedom of India was not dependent on the victory of Allies in the Second World War, which was a foregone conclusion when America declared support to Britain and such other democratic forces.
Still Nehru was able to get the backing of the Congress. It made the declaration even though Mahatma Gandhi believed that Adolf Hitler, leading the fascist forces, would emerge victorious. That Chou En-Lai had betrayed Nehru by launching the attack in 1962 was a severe blow that Nehru could not survive.
After that the non-aligned countries together had amended the Colombo proposals and retrieved partially the prestige of Nehru. The proposals recognised the new border where China had delineated through its forces. New Delhi showed annoyance by calling back its ambassador in Beijing. Relations between the two countries had remained sour since.
It appears prime minister Narendra Modi has accepted China-dictated border. The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) can argue that it has accepted what was de jure. What is hailed as a historic moment is abject surrender to Beijing. It is practically a defeat. Had the Congress Party done so, it would have been paraded as a force which had sold India.
Modi, with his flowery speeches in Hindi, may go down well with the people who cannot understand the intricacies of the border problem. But surprisingly, the party has the support from the Nagpur headquarters from where the RSS high command operates.
China and India have seldom agreed on where the actual border line is. Nehru said that he had asked the Indian army to oust the infiltrators and clear its territory. Since then the relations between the two had more or less hostile. Some time ago, India showed its muscles with the stand-off at Doklam. China had to withdraw its forces behind the present border. Prime minister Modi’s trip last September for BRICS did reduce tension.
The positive side of Modi’s trip then was the reiteration by the two countries to fight against terrorists. But here too Beijing elucidated its own theory. Yet, the friendship of China and Pakistan is only getting stronger to the concern of New Delhi. Not long ago, Beijing had begun stapling visas of Indians visiting China from Arunachal. China wanted to indicate that it was a “separate territory” and not part of India.
New Delhi has borne the humiliation quietly. China had accepted without demur the maps showing Arunachal Pradesh as India’s territory. To recall the dispute over a small territory lying between Arunachal and China’s border, the status of Arunachal Pradesh has been seldom questioned. Tibet for China is like India’s Kashmir which too has raised the standard of independence. There is, however, one difference: the Dalai Lama is willing to accept an autonomous status within China. Kashmir today wants independence. Maybe, the Kashmiris will come round to accept a similar status one day. The problem is so complicated that a minor change can lead to a major catastrophe. It is not worth risking.
The Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh last year had brought back the memories of the days before the Chinese annexed Tibet. Nehru did not raise any objection at that time because he was on personal terms with Chinese premier Chu-En Lai.
The Dalai Lama’s visit did not raise doubts about Tibet but it renewed the debate of its annexation by Beijing once again. China called his visit a “provocation.” It had warned India that the Dalai Lama’s visit would affect the normal relations between the two countries. Indeed, it intensified with Doklam. Yet, India managed to hold its own.
In fact, China’s problems with India have roots in the British demarcation of the India-China border. China refuses to acknowledge the McMahon Line that demarcates Arunachal Pradesh to be a part of India. Any activity that takes place in this area is viewed by China sceptically.
Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s visit to the “disputed’’ territory despite Chinese protest showed that New Delhi was prepared for hostilities if it came to that pass. Then the Indian soldiers did not have shoes for a mountain combat. India is now a power to reckon with.
It looks as if China would go on provoking India to exhaust patience. When war is ruled out this is the only option China has. How to retaliate, without resorting to hostilities is the situation India faces.
Beijing is trying to revive the India-China Bhai Bhai scenario. Soon after days after prime minister Narendra Modi’s first visit to China after the Doklam standoff between the two countries, a statement issued by the Chinese foreign ministry said that both sides possessed the “maturity and wisdom” to handle their differences through peaceful discussion and by respecting each other’s “concerns and aspirations.”
They also agreed to use the Special Representatives’ Meeting on the boundary question to seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement. The two militaries will strengthen confidence-building measures and enhance communication and cooperation to uphold border peace and tranquillity, said the statement.
Meanwhile, China and India have agreed to build a high-level cultural and people-to-people exchange mechanism between the two nations. The informal summit meeting between prime minister Modi and Chinese president Xi Jinping also stressed on the need to strengthen the China-India Closer Developmental Partnership so that the two will always keep to the right direction.
The latest move is aimed at further strengthening the bilateral ties between the two nations. On the last leg of his two-day visit, the Indian prime minister and Chinese president walked along a sidewalk on the shores of the Wuhan’s East Lake and later sailed in the same boat for “peace, prosperity and development” in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. This augurs well.
*Kuldip Nayar is an Indian journalist