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Weeks after India pushed back Chinese troops from the Line of Actual Control along the northern borders, there has been an ongoing debate about the Nehruvian blunders, that has imposed a severe cost on the country and its citizen.
One such Nehruvian idealism, while dealing with the hostile communist China in the 1950s, not only cost India a peaceful ally in the form of Tibet but also enabled the aggressive PLA troops to annex one of the greatest ‘rooftops of the world’ – Tibet, wrote French-born author and historian Claude Arpi.
In his book, Will Tibet Ever Find Her Soul Again?, Claude Arpi has made significant disclosures on how the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had supplied rice for the invading PLA troops in Tibet at a time when Chinese army was busy rampaging and decimating the Tibetan way of life and culture in the early 1950s.
“The most grotesque incident of this period was the feeding of the PLA’s troops with rice coming through India,” writes the France-born expert on Tibet and China. According to Arpi, without the active support of the Indian government, the Chinese troops would not have been able to survive in Tibet.
Tibet, before the massive Chinese influx of the 1950s, was a self-sufficient society. For centuries, The locals had prospered and there was no food shortage or starvation. However, with Chinese troops annexing the Tibet, there began a breakdown in the Tibetan economy.
In his book, Arpi writes, before the arrival of the Chinese Army in the forbidden kingdom few Tibetans had ever eaten rice. Largely, Tibetians ate roast barley, known as tsampa, for centuries. “The influx of fresh troops brought the first serious problem in the new co-existence between the Chinese occupants and the Lhasa government: the availability of foodstuff,” he writes.
To overcome the food crisis for the PLA troops in Tibet, Chairman Mao and his comrades looked towards India. SK Krishnatry, the Indian Trade Agent (ITA) in Gyantse, wrote that the Chinese government had requested the Government of India “for an agreement allowing facilities for the transport of food and other supplies through India”.
The Chinese government wanted India to transit facilities for 10,000 tonnes of food grains through India. The Jawaharlal Nehru-led Indian government initially agreed only to allow the transit of about 3,000 tonnes of rice to Tibet.
“While pointing out the transport problems involved in the proposal, the Government of India expressed their (sic) willingness to consider it together with all outstanding issues regarding their position in Tibet,” wrote Krishnatry.
Nehru was blinded by ideological lenses, duped by Chinese
Prime Minister Nehru, blinded by dark ideological lenses and duped by China’s “bhai-bhai” delusion, the leadership turned a blind eye to the real intentions of communist China and its devastating presence in Tibet. Nehru did not even grasp that China was hitting out at India when it gave a call in the 17-Point Agreement, signed in May 1951, to “drive out imperialist aggressive forces from Tibet”.
“Who were these imperialist forces? Very few realised then that it could be against India,” Arpi wrote.
This rice diplomacy between India and China continued for the next four years. India, on 20 October 1954, re-emphasised that it would continue to supply rice to the PLA stationed in Tibet. “Rice which China would buy was intended exclusively for Tibet, and only difficulties of transport have necessitated this purchase by China,” reported The Hindu then.
Ten months later, the first truck would reach Lhasa from the Chinese side. With China supplying rice directly to Tibet, imports from India wasn’t required anymore.
At a time when Indian leadership should have confronted Chinese aggressiveness in China, Nehru pushed his ill-advised rice diplomacy, which not only created hostilities against India within Tibet but also allowed Chinese to consolidate its position in the Tibet. The blunders of Nehru directly allowed China to forcefully annex Tibet, by providing food for the invading troops.
China did not inform Nehru govt regarding PoWs
In his book, Arpi further reveals about the saga of four Indian “prisoners of war”, who were caught during the 1950 invasion. Out of the four PoWs, two of them were in the PLA’ confinement for almost two years without the “friendly” Chinese government informing India about them.
What more shocking is that these PoWs were not soldiers or even spies, but were “employed by the Tibetan government and worked under Robert Ford, the British radio operator in Chamdo”. Ford recalled how the four young Indians had been trained to man a wireless station. The fact that China kept them in jails without informing India, should have shown the Indian government that China was not a friend, writes Arpi.
Interestingly, as per Apri, KM Panikkar, India’s ambassador to China from 1950-52, was more aligned to China and acted like Mao’s envoy rather than Nehru’s. Panikkar invariably defended the Chinese acts of omission and commission. Even when the Chinese were caught napping with their wrong, aggressive foot forward, he would defend them.
“The Chinese attitude about these issues has all along been that these arise from unequal treaties and are ‘scars left behind’ by the British,” Apri notes Panikkar’s words. Even as China was trampling on the Tibetan way of life, Panikkar would send a note back home, saying, “Not much news has been appearing about Tibet of late and it is expected that the work of re-organisation there will naturally take time and will be handled with tact and care by the Chinese authorities.”
Not jus Panikkar, the most prominent among others being the then Defence Minister, VK Krishna Menon, who, according to his biographer T.J.S. George, was such a votary of self-reliance that he rejected the idea of importing crucial defence equipment and turned the military factories into production lines for hairclips and pressure-cookers.