Understanding 1962: India’s China War

Saturday 17th July 2021 11:26 EDT

Last week, Avtar Singh Bhasin, Former Director, Historical Division, Ministry of External Affairs was in conversation with Vijay Rana in the event titled Understanding 1962: India’s China War. Avtar Singh Bhasin’s latest book ‘Nehru, Tibet and China’ was widely discussed at the event. It is published by Penguin Publications House. 

In the introduction to his book, Bhasin writes, “On 1 October 1949, the People’s Republic of China came into being and changed forever the course of Asian history. Power moved from the hands of the nationalist Kuomintang government to the Communist Party of China headed by Mao Tse Tung. All of a sudden, it was not only an assertive China that India had to deal with but also an increasingly complex situation in Tibet which was reeling under pressure from China. 

“Clearly, newly independent India, with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru at its helm, was navigating very choppy waters. Its relations with China progressively deteriorated, eventually leading to the Indo-China war in 1962. Today, more than six decades after the war, we are still plagued by border disputes with China that seem to routinely grab the headlines. It leads one to question what exactly went on during those initial years of the emergence of a new China. 

“And, more importantly, why have we repeatedly failed to arrive at a solution? Based on years of meticulous archival research, this book in fascinating detail analyses the events from 1949 to the Indo-China war in 1962 and its aftermath to explore the answers to these burning questions.”

The webinar covered various aspects of the Indo-China relationship, its history and its consequences. Over a two-hour-long virtual event that was broadcast on Zoom and Facebook,  Avtar Singh Bhasin explained with dozens of examples and instances how India completely mistook China for its ally, and how Nehru’s approach towards the Sino-Indian relationship cost India to lose its land and suffer border disputes. 

Bhasin explained how Indian Ambassador KM Panikkar didn’t address the issue of Tibet when he went to China because Nehru had asked him not to mention it because it’d further create confusion between India and China showing that India didn’t wasn’t entirely sure about its borders with Tibet. Later, Nehru regretted this with his “dreamy idealistic temperament.” On several occasions, Indian ambassadors or bureaucrats who met Mao Zedong poorly assess his intentions towards India with rose-tinted glasses. 

Mao was described as someone with a “pleasant and benevolent” face and the “look in his eyes was kindly, there is no cruelty or hardness either in his eyes or in the expression of his mouth.”

Bhasin reiterated that India had not quite weighed in the threat that China was during those days which led to the India-China war in 1962, where Nehru’s illusion towards China should have been wiped out by Sardar Patel’s warnings about Tibet to Pandit Nehru. 

Virendra Sharma MP, who was one of the attendees at the webinar said that he was a little older than Vijay Rana in 1962 and as a politician, he does have his own views on China. He said, “I don't recall fully or understood the situation. But listening to Mr Bhasin, the way Pandit Nehru, and at that time that diplomacy, which I will use the term, they were losing interest and it certainly raises a huge question mark on the whole political position at that time. I was very impressed listening to Mr Bhasin about the research he has done and the information he has brought out.” 

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