Skip to main content

The Indian Political Leadership Did Not Take Any Lessons From History While Dealing With China

MG, an air warrior, a health freak, and Sportsman with wide experience.



History repeats itself and it is for intelligent people to draw lessons from it. The India- China border dispute would never have been there, in case the Indian leadership after 1947 had built on the edifice left behind by the British Raj. An ancillary point is the role of the generals of the Indian Army. Just as the politicians had no idea of how to govern the country and the political leadership did not know the game of power politics, the army also was out of its depth. During the days of the Raj, the army was the pivot on which British policy was based. The C-in- C, India was second in order of protocol after the Viceroy. His advice was given great weightage.

The Indian Army had very few native officers beyond the rank of lieutenant colonel and as such most of them functioned as junior functionaries. They were never part of the policy think tank of the army. After independence, these officers have sucked up the tunnel of promotion and began to have great responsibility which they had never experienced. It would not be wrong to say that the officer's when suddenly promoted to fill the vacuum, did not have the mental balance, and thinking of a strategic nature. That is the reason that there is no record of any officer of general rank advising the government about the great danger from Communist China.

The only general who wrote one letter to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru cautioning against China was Lt General Kulwant Singh and he was superseded by Nehru in favor of Cariappa. Another general superseded was Lieutenant General Sant Singh. Both these generals were Sikhs and there is a line of thought that Nehru was allergic to Sikhs and hence superseded both of them. Once Cariappa was made the chief, he was beholden to the political leadership and he never put up any paper or suggestion to the government which went against the government policy which at that time was "Hindi- Chini, Bhai -Bhai "i.e India -China are brothers.

The civil services including members of the prestigious Indian Civil Service (ICS)were also found lacking and there is no record that they advised Nehru at any stage to set up an administration in those areas which were part of India but were desolate and far away like the Aksai Chin.

The Indian leadership which was a Hindu leadership had been handed over power on a platter by the British who left India in a hurry just two years after the end of World War II. The party that filled the vacuum is the Congress party led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. He believed that the greater danger was from imperialism and not China. The British had caged China and made Tibet into a buffer state. They had also expanded India's borders and after the 1913 Simla conference incorporated the Johnson line and the MacMohan line as the northern border between India and Tibet. They made the Chinese and the Tibetans agree to this because they were militarily very strong.

Pandit Nehru should have built on the edifice left and studied that famous "great game" between the British and Russia in central Asia which led to the Younghusband invasion of Tibet in 1903.

In 1947, India was ahead of China. It had a steel plant, aircraft manufacturing factory, locomotive factory, as well as a car manufacturing plant. China was enmeshed in a civil war and not even a bicycle was made there. In 1949 the Chinese Communist power party came to power and India was the first country to recognize it.

Nehru failed to understand the expansionist ethos of communism and also failed to draw lessons from what Stalin did in East Europe. He began to court China and visited the country in 1954. In the 1955 Bandung conference of non-aligned nations, he introduced the Chinese Prime Minister Chou En-Lai to the world.

Even at that time, he had not realized that he had committed a blunder by allowing China to occupy Tibet. Today when China has become such a big power we cannot appreciate the thinking of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and why he allowed the Chinese army a free run in Tibet. Once India recognized Tibet as part of China, the Chinese were free to claim areas of Tibet that were once part of the Tibetan Empire.


Pandit Nehru was so foolish that he also permitted the import of hundreds of tonnes of rice to the Indian port of Calcutta which was then transported through Sikkim to China for the use of the People's Liberation Army.

Nehru never realized that China was not going to be friends with India because the Chinese maps from the 50s began to show Aksai Chin and the Northeast Frontier Agency as part of China. There was no reaction from Nehru and even at that stage never made any attempt to set up in an administration in those areas which were part of India and had no administration.

Unknown to the Indian leadership the trusting attitude of Nehru boomeranged badly and an area of 37,000 mi.² the entire Aksai Chin in Ladakh was occupied by China.

The Indian government came to know about this when an Indian border patrol was ambushed and 12 soldiers were killed. This was in 1959 and Nehru was faced with a stark reality of a resurgent China. Even then he did not attempt to strengthen the army on the China border. He was a dreamer who did not know what military power meant. Maxwell in his famous book "India's China War" has brought out the reasons for the war with China.

In the 1962 war, the Indian Army, thanks to Nehru was using First World Lee Enfield .303 rifles and suffered a grievous defeat. The blame goes equally to the general staff of the army who as I pointed out earlier were just towing the political line and despite their privileges being taken away made no representation to the government.

Scroll to Continue

Nothing Learned

1962 should have been a wake-up call for the Indian political leadership and army. The defeat against China greatly affected the psyche of the political leadership which for the next 50 years remained in awe of the Chinese. The Indians played second fiddle to China and the entire policy was not to antagonize the Chinese. The subsequent leadership failed to understand that once the Chinese power grew they expected India to be a client state. China also aspired to be the 'Middle Kingdom' the center of the world like in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The political leadership and the army thought that by not making any infrastructure on the border and keeping very few troops there would pacify the Chinese. They failed to realize that this policy was tried by Nehru and he failed because the Chinese still went to war and refused to recognize the British demarcated border between Tibet and India.

Chinese now began to talk of the line of actual control(LAC) and not the line of control(LOC). There is a significant difference between the two because the line of control is clearly defined but the line of actual control can be changed any time.

There was a time when China was weak and it had broken relations with the USSR when Premier Chou in a visit to Delhi offered a border settlement to Nehru in 1960. At that time China had offered to recognize the MacMohan line in the east as the de facto border if India gave up its claim to Aksai Chin. Nehru and his advisers committed a blunder by rejecting the proposal. There can be no going back now because China is now the second-biggest economy in the world with the largest army and the Chinese President dreams of recovering all the old territories which were part of China during the Ming Dynasty.

Having accepted Tibet is a part of China the Indian hands are tied as the Chinese now claim the areas which are part of the empire many centuries back. One can counter China only by military power, even as the USA has learned this the hard way, as witnessed by China's dominance in the South China Sea.

The Chinese have been making incursions into India many times and after mild diplomatic protests by India they would go back but things changed in 2014 when Narendra Modi came to power. Modi began to beef up the power on the border as well as build up the infrastructure with roads and tunnels. But again he committed a blunder as he failed to understand the true nature of the Chinese mind.

Modi thought he could placate China by meeting the Chinese President repeatedly and increasing trade. India became a lucrative market for China with a monthly trade bill of $5 billion. Modi met China's President 19 times in the last five years but he was fooled. He assumed that China would not disturb anything on the border at the risk of losing the trade with India.

Nehru had tried to placate China also when he had allowed hundreds of tonnes of rice to be delivered from the port of Calcutta to the Chinese People's Liberation Army in Tibet. The colossal mistake defies imagination.

Modi failed to learn from the mistakes of Nehru and he thought that just my meeting President Xi and increasing trade with China would be a deterrent. He failed to understand that China under no circumstances is ready to accept the LAC as a de facto border. India which had been at the forefront for China to be made a member of the Security Council was soon at the receiving end as China twice raised the issue of Kashmir in the Security Council as China is a permanent member.

India was bailed out by the Western powers and the USA but Modi should have seen the writing on the wall. He also failed to build up the military with the cardinal aim to face China and one cannot understand how two mountain corps which were to be raised expressly to fight China were shelved by him. He also failed to realize the importance of the army and facilities which he had given to the civil services like non-functional up-gradation of pay was denied to the army. Even his promise of giving a 1 Rank one pension as approved by two houses of Parliament was not sanctioned.

Need for a Fresh Approach

The great Indian thinker Chanakya said that the Army is the first line of defence and needs the maximum priority but Modi reduced the budget of the army as a percentage of the GDP to its lowest since 1962. Why did he do it? because he was of the view that China was not likely to create any trouble on the border.

Modi has to eat the humble pie as China has engineered an attack on the Indian Army in the Galwan sector of Ladakh and has made new territorial claims. It is sad, that even after 58 years of the debacle of 1962 Modi failed to read the situation properly and India cannot now push back the Chinese from the area.

One must remember that the Chinese say something and do something else. They will talk of peace but their mind keeps on functioning in a way to make China great. India right from the time of Nehru to Modi failed to realize this and as things stand what is happening in Ladakh now is a rude shock to Mr. Modi and the Indian nation. The Indian leadership needs to have a fresh approach where the military must be given the priority which is due. There is no other way to face China.


MG Singh (author) from UAE on August 31, 2020:

Devika, thanks for sparing time and commenting.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on August 31, 2020:

Thank you, Eric, it's about time the USA exerted to face China, if not the consequences could be terrible

MG Singh (author) from UAE on August 31, 2020:

Major, I appreciate your comments

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on August 31, 2020:

Interesting information and this tells me that the two countries as in China and India do not have the same attitude.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on August 31, 2020:

This was really interesting. I had no idea about this.The notion of LAC is scary indeed.I will have to pay more attention to this as US/China relations are troubling these days with US finally asserting itself.

Thank you

Major A Shetty on August 31, 2020:

This is an interesting and exhaustive write up on India- China rivalry. China and India have different perceptions of the world. As it stands Chinese philosophy is to dominate the world and restore the old glory of China but the Indian leadership seemed to be numbed and has no planning.

Related Articles