Chairman Mao Tse Tung has been recognized by most historians as well as Time Magazine as one of the great men who made a lasting impact in the 20th century. However it must be understood that Mao for all his greatness was more in the genre of a Hitler or Stalin than a Roosevelt of Gandhi. It is officially on record that during his reign in China, nearly 38million people were executed or lost their lives as ‘enemies of the state’.
Mao and Indian Border
Such a man presided over the Chinese state from 1950 onwards after the defeat of the United States puppet Chiang –Kai-Shek. The moment he took over he claimed the imperial boundary in the eastern sector along the foothills of the Himalayas, encompassing what China referred to as ‘Southern Tibet’ and India referred to as the state of Arunachal Pradesh as null and void.
The second interpretation concerned the region referred to as Aksai Chin in the Western sector. This is an uninhabited piece of land which had seen no civil administration for long and was nominally controlled from Lhasa. The British had incorporated this area in there sphere of influence and their maps showed it to be a part of British India. Mao laid claim to this area as he opined that both the British and India had no locus standai in this region which was a part of Tibet.
Nehru and British Legacy
When India became free in 1947 Nehru took over the British legacy and interpretation of the border. The Chinese objected to this interpretation. Fundamentally the border dispute with China arose over the interpretation of colonial history. The British had tried to enforce their will by a tripartite conference in 1914 at the hill resort at Simla. This was attended by the representatives of China and Tibet. However the Chinese delegate only initialed the agreement and did not sign it, but as the paramount power the British enforced their will as China was then weak. Aksai Chin was shown as part of British India and the Eastern border was demarcated along a line called the McMahon line.
Mao wished to redress this historical wrong and put into effect a claim to all these territories as part of Tibet. Since China considered Tibet a province of China, Mao announced that the Chinese borders would be as per history and not as per imperialist (meaning British) interpretation. Nehru at that stage should have charted an independent course of action as the Indian claim over these areas was historically weak, but he accepted the British interpretation of the border and sowed the seeds of a conflict that exists even now.
Mao and Tibet
The Chinese invaded and occupied Tibet in 1950 and Mao announced that imperialist border was not valid. In the 50s however a certain balance existed between India and China and Mao set about to redress this. When the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, he had an excuse to rake up the border issue. It must be mentioned here that Nehru claimed a cultural and sentimental interest in Tibet based on historical links between India’s classical Buddhist thought and Tibetan Buddhism. But Mao did not like this and assumed that Nehru was propagating the British line of imperialism. But he did authorize his Premier to offer Nehru a basis for settlement. Thus Chou- en- Lai proposed acceptance of the McMahan line by China in return for India’s acceptance of Aksai Chin as part of China. However Nehru and the Indian parliament spurned this offer, which to say the least was magnanimous. India’s refusal to accept this quid pro queue alarmed Mao. In addition Nehru ordered the establishment of ‘forward posts’ to counter the Chinese. This was a blunder as the military had not been beefed up and Nehru in a smug world of his own disregarded reality.
Mao and the Border War
An alarmed Mao called a meeting of the Central Military Commission and the top leaders of the Communist party. The Central Military commission ordered that the Chinese forces be strengthened and Indian posts be encircled. The Chinese perhaps were reined in at that time with the sobering thought that the USA may egg on Chiang from Formosa to invade China. Mao at that time took a fateful decision to attack India. The idea was to wage a quick war and decimate the Indian army and then as the victor to declare a cease fire before the USA could react. In fact on 0ctober6, 1962 the fateful decision was taken by Mao. Nehru greatly underestimated Mao who all along had believed in the politics of the gun and his famous quote ‘Power comes out of the barrel of a gun’ still does the rounds in world history.
Mao stated ‘We fought a war with Chiang Kai Shek. We fought a war with Japan and with America. With none of these did we fear and in each case we won. Now the Indians want us to fight a war, naturally we don’t fear….”
The 1962 War
The dice was thus cast and the PLA was given the signal to mount the offensive. The Chinese army smashed the Indian army and achieved all their objectives and reduced Nehru to a zero on the world stage. The Chinese attack was in 2 phases. An initial phase that commenced on 20 October, 1962 and a massive assault in the middle of November. The crucial point to be remembered is that in case Nehru had strengthened his army and also not gone only by British interpretations of the border, this calamity may not have befallen him and India. But Mao was a ruthless leader who understood the politics of power on the world stage. In contrast Nehru comes out poorly against Mao. All I can say is that the last word is not yet written on the Sino-Indian border conflict. The guns in the snow clad Himalayas may still boom. But perhaps it will be a different story now as India has built up a tremendous strike force