Courtesy: Asia Times
Courtesy: Asia Times

The recent wave of deadly clashes on the India-China border, the most violent escalation in decades, brings to mind the memory of the full-fledged war in 1962, which has left a humiliating mark on the Indian psyche. Historians have debated the factors at play leading to the origins of war and the weak Indian response. Even prior to the outbreak of the war in 1962, Chinese aggression along the border had a long history, which was perceptively seen as being alarming by some Indian politicians and public figures. In 1962, as the war progressed and the Indian response bungled, the voices of criticism only grew louder against the conduct of foreign policy and defence affairs, as handled by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon. In a democratic polity, it is obvious that matters of national security in times of crisis would warrant public scrutiny of the government’s response. Among the prominent critiques highlighting the failings of the Indian government including the liberal politician and opposition leader of the Swatantra Party, Minoo Masani.

In a speech delivered to the Commerce Graduates’ Association, Bombay on 22nd November 1962, which was later published in the Freedom First magazine, Masani outlined failings of the Nehru government and the role of constructive criticism from the opposition even in times of national security crisis. He recounted the earlier warning signs of Chinese aggression pointed out by opposition leaders, only to be ignored by the Congress government in pursuit of NAM and Panchsheel, including the Indian state’s recognition of Mao’s government in 1949, acceptance of Chinese aggression in Tibet at the UN in 1950, and Mao’s brushing apart of Indian neutral posturing as tacit alliance with the ‘imperialist camps’. Sarcastically criticising the failed Panchsheel policy, which ‘now remains only the name of a road in Delhi’, Masani also blamed Nehru for keeping the Indian public in the dark on Chinese escalation in the northwest border region. As the AICC passed a sycophantic resolution that dubbed the critique of the PM as traitors, Masani stressed the need for critical opposition to hold the government accountable to the public and national security interests. 

The Swatantra response to Chinese aggression included offensive posturing to ‘snatch the initiative from the enemy’; procurement of weapons from around the globe; involvement of air forces of friendly allies to deter Chinese bombings; diplomatic manoeuvring at the UN leading to a peacekeeping intervention against the Chinese aggression; amending ties with Pakistan to avoid a two-front war in favour of focusing on the Chinese front and a shift away from the neutral posturing under the NAM.

Produced below is the relevant excerpt from the article.

Root Cause

Now, what is our situation in India today? We are today faced with this great disaster that is overtaking our armies at the front as a result of ten years of misguided policies of neutralism and of appeasement of Chinese Communist expansionism. The root cause has been the failure to understand the nature of international communism.

In 1949, because of this, our Government rushed forward to embrace the bandit regime of Mao Tse-tung which is today attacking our country and to recognise it as the Government of China, turning its back on a loyal friend and ally, Marshal Chiang Kai-shek of the Chinese National Government, who was the only war leader to have advocated the independence of India repeatedly and publicly during the war when we were engaged in the Quit India struggle.

The second act of the drama came with the betrayal of Tibet in 1950, when the Chinese, in breach of faith with our Government, advanced their armies into Tibet. To our shame, our representative in the U.N. was instructed to tell the Security Council which was considering the appeal of the Dalai Lama for help, the kind of appeal we have been making in the last few days, that the government saw no cause for United Nations’ intervention in Tibet! The British Government readily agreed and, led by these two appeasers, the Security Council suspended discussion of the item which still remains on the order paper. The guilt of having handed over the Tibetan people to be dominated and brutally oppressed by the Chinese belongs to us and our Government.

We Were Warned

It was not as if there were no warnings. In Parliament on 5th and 6th December 1950, there was a big debate in Parliament and some ten speakers warned our Prime Minister and Government that, if they persisted in allowing Tibet to be overrun by the Chinese, our turn would come next; that the Chinese were in fact attacking Tibet as a first step to the attack on India. We were brushed aside as alarmists. In all seriousness, we were told that the Chinese occupation of Tibet had no relevance to the security of India!

But it was not our warnings alone that were ignored. It was also Mao Tse-tung, who had given warnings much more significant than ours. In my own speech in Parliament on that occasion, I had quoted the New China News Agency who, a few weeks earlier, had said that the day would come when “the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will hoist the Red Flag over the Himalayas.” They are very frank, these gentlemen- Hitler, Stalin, Khrushchev and Mao Tse-tung. They tell us what they are going to do, but we are so naïve that we will not believe them!  

The full text of the article can be accessed here.

IndianLiberals.in is an online library of all Indian liberal writings, lectures and other materials in English and other Indian regional languages. The material that has been collected so far contains liberal commentary dating from the early 19th century till the present. The portal helps preserve an often unknown but very rich Indian liberal tradition and explain the relevance of the writings in today’s context.

Read more: SV Chitti Babu, academician, educationist and reformer par excellence (1920-2020)