Nehru To Modi Vs Mao To Xi

The Legacy of a Tortuous Diplomatic Battle

Aloke Mukherjee

While India is shivering under the twin danger of Covid-19 and total jeopardisation of the economy manifested in a large negative rate of growth of the GDP, day in and day out the Government of India at the centre and the media are raising their voices in unison on the danger at the border with China. Way back in 2013, the autumn issue of Frontier published an article "Shifting Gravity in Asia" on the development of conflict between India and China and the geo-politics behind it. Here is a fresh look at the history of relationship between the two countries and the external powers influencing it for their own geo-strategic considerations.

Somewhat prior to the Second World War, Japan launched an war of aggression against China. The Communist Party of China (CPC) led by Mao Tsetung and the Kuomintang led by Chiang Kaishek forged an alliance to resist Japan. The Chinese needed help and asked the Indian National Congress and the Communist Party of India for assistance. At that time, Britain did not favour Japanese aggression. So, it was not difficult to send a medical team of three doctors, namely Dr Atal, Dr Kotnis and Dr Bijay Basu, to China with some medical equipments. The effort to help China was led by Jawharlal Nehru and when the doctors started for China, Subhas Chandra Bose, the then Congress President, delivered a warm farewell address to them. This episode may be construed as the establishment of a link between China's war of liberation and India's struggle for freedom.

On 15 August, 1947, power was transferred in India. Whether it was a caricature of independence or not is a separate issue to be discussed separately. But it is clear that from then on, the US imperialists were hell bent on stepping into the vacuum and control India—economically, politically and geo-strategically. But by then a countervailing weight had developed with the Soviet Union and East European countries forming a socialist camp. This camp became stronger with the victory of the Chinese Revolution in October, 1949. India was one of the first countries to recognise the People's Republic of China and establish diplomatic relations with it.

Such developments had its effects on the US policy. In Western Europe it built up the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) with the declared policy of containment of the Soviet Union. Besides, in Asia it built up the Baghdad Pact (later known as CENTO) and SEATO. The response was quick and the Soviet Union had its Warsaw Pact. Thus two clear alignments emerged.

Both sides were eager to have India as an ally, since India was a vast country with a huge population and was strategically located in the Indo-Pacific region. So, the US and its allies started with large-scale capital investments and helped in developing infrastructures like the Damodar Valley Corporation(DVC), a replica of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and the Canada Dam on the Mayurakshi river, both used for a network of canals for irrigation. The Soviet Union started to help India in developing public sector enterprises in heavy industry, exactly the same thing demanded by the Indian big bourgeoisie in their Bombay Plan.

There was a thorn, however. The relationship between India and Pakistan was strained, the bone of contention being Kashmir. The USA started meddling in the Kashmir affair through the UN commission. During Stalin's time, the Soviet Union was maintaining a position of equidistance between India and Pakistan. They absented themselves when the Kashmir issue was discussed in the UN Security Council. But 1952 witnessed a perceptive change in Soviet position. Yakov Jacob Malik was the first Soviet representative in the Security Council to speak against US and British meddling in the Kashmir affair.

On the other hand, the USA started its CIA operations in India. This was the international scene where the two blocs were trying o have India on their respective sides.

But the big bourgeoisie in India and their Harrow-educated representative were sophisticated enough to utilise the situation. Moreover, Nehru till then had a soft attitude towards China. He did not want to join any particular alignment decidedly and thus to put all the eggs in one basket.

While maintaining a warm relationship with both the USA and the USSR, Nehru, along with other four of the Fabulous Five, viz Tito, Nasser, Chou Enlai and Sukarno, leaders of Yugoslavia, Egypt, China and Indonesia respectively, started the non-aligned movement and formulated the five principles of peaceful coexistence (Pancha Shil). It became very popular as the vision of a peaceful world and new members like North Vietnam, Burma, Ceylon etc started joining in. Attempts were made to get Pakistan into it. Relationship between India and China got closer. For example, in a conversation with Chou En Lai in April, 1954, Nehru said:

"Regarding Pakistan also we want to follow the policy of peaceful coexistence......Unfortunately, Pakistan's policy was allied with that of the USA. At present, there is more American influence there. Therefore, for Pakistan to be a neutral country is difficult."

Chou Enlai agreed and told about his discussion with the Pakistani ambassador in China.

The year 1955 was a turning point. The USA had felt that the NAM was detrimental to its global strategy. So, it engaged the CIA to subvert it. Very few persons of the present generation have any notion of how the CIA engineered a midair crash of the Chartered Lockheed aeroplane L-739 A flying from Bombay to Djakarta via Hong Kong. It was in April 1955. A large number of media persons, North Vietnam's foreign minister, and above all, the Chinese Premier Chou Enlai, along with a number of Chinese officials, were to travel by it. Chou Enlai boarded the plane at Hong Kong airport, but had to cancel this trip at the last moment on medical grounds, which even other Chinese officials did not know before boarding the plane. The plane crashed mid-air on the sea; only three persons survived. Soon it transpired that it was an act of sabotage by the CIA with the purpose of jeopardising the Bandung Conference of the NAM.

The second important event of 1955 was Pakistan's joining the CENTO at the behest of the USA. As a counter-move, Nehru invited Soviet leaders Khrushchev and Bulganin to visit India. They were taken to different places to address public meetings. Finally, they were taken to Kashmir. It was the first time that any foreign dignitary was visiting Kashmir. There, in reply to the welcome address by Bakshi Golam Mahammad, the Prime Minister of Kashmir, at the public meeting, Khrushchev declared Kashmir as a 'part and parcel' of India and went on to say that 'the people of Kashmir have decided once and for all that they are with India'.

One may wonder how all these are connected with India's relations with China. First of all, India's soil became a centre of activity against the NAM and China. Moreover, Nehru's policy of non-alignment was more tactical than oriented towards establishing a permanent relationship with China in order to develop the Non-aligned Movement.

It is relevant to mention that in 1954, when Nehru visited China and met Mao, the Chinese leader was talking over the new friendship between China and India in the then context. But Nehru continually bypassed the discussion by talking about old relationships from the days of Yuan Chwang (Huen Sang) and Fahien, avoiding the real context. Moreover, the USA was trying to get hold of the mindset of the Indian educated youth, by offering them higher education opportunities in the USA, opening up elite education centres like IITs and IIMs, while sending academics in large numbers to impress upon the youths.

But in order to subvert the NAM, what the USA needed most was to drive a wedge in the relationship between the leaders of the NAM, India and China.

In an effort to adopt an easier path of development, India chose to allow US and Western capital and technical knowhow for its projects. By the time India started her Second Five Year Plan, she needed huge amounts of capital investment and the USA came up with 'aid' as a weapon to control India's economy and polity. The USA was successful and by 1959, the issue of disputes on the Sino-Indian border was coming into the open. Chou Enlai came to India to meet Nehru, but the old 'Hindi Chni Bhai Bhai' slogan was no longer there. Instead of allowing Chou Enlai to have interactions with the Indian people, he was taken to the Mahabalipuram Temple. Chou Enlai came to India on 20 April, 1960 and a report of the Chinese Foreign Ministry to brief Chou Enlai said, "Since the implementation of the Second Five Year Plan in April, 1956, India's economy has been deteriorating and economic policy has moved to the right. ...The road of India's bourgeois reforms has become narrower and narrower."... "The US-led imperialists are taking advantage of India's economic difficulties and tightening control over India through 'aid' and private investment.'

Gone are the days of Nehru and Chou Enlai discussing American influence on Pakistan. For one thing US intervention has a bearing on Sino-Indian border issues. It says—"The strength of the Indian big bourgeoisie has increased and intensified collusion with foreign monopolies.... and attempted to increase arms industry to reap higher profits by taking advantage of Sino-Indian border disputes.

How the USA influenced the war between India and China in 1962 can be understood by what Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was the US ambassador in India in the 1970s, wrote in his book 'A Dangerous Place' (Allied Publishers). "American liberalism in those years lost a sense of limits... (When the Chinese came over the Himalayas in 1962, we almost sent troops to fight them, as the Indians begged we should do). It was too much" (Ibid, p-17) That this did not happen was neither because of the USA nor because of India, but because the Chinese had its "unarmed victory" (a coinage by Bertrand Russel) through unilateral withdrawal of forces. That was a period when Mao Tsetung was at the helm of affairs and China did not have any ambition to become a regional hegemonic power.

There are numerous pieces of evidence, from the time of Nehru, of the USA's covert and overt interventions in Indian politics, especially vis-a-vis China.

In 1965, the USA set a climbing expedition to the Nanda Devi peak of the Himalayas with the covert purpose of planting a nuclear-powered instrument atop to spy on China. But by the time the team reached the top of Nanda Devi, there was a storm, and they had to return. A few months later, the climbers returned to the mountain peak and found that an avalanche had swept the nuclear paper pack into the Ganges. The then US ambassador Chester Bowles met Indira Gandhi and next year, an Indo-US joint expedition put the instrument atop another nearby peak, Nandakot. This closely guarded secret came to light only in 1978.

By the middle of the 1960s, a worldwide economic crisis created havoc in India and the USA. In this situation, a war erupted between Pakistan and India. The USA wanted to gain from it by means of supply of arms. But both countries faced disasters, and the USSR entered the scene as a mediator and helped an honourable truce between them. From then on, the USSR, with its ambition to be a superpower, gained the upper hand in controlling India. At the same time, the USA was facing a losing battle in Indo-China, especially Vietnam. Inside the USA, anti-Vietnam War and Black rights movements rose like a tempest. When India, backed by the Soviet Union, dismembered Pakistan to give birth to the new state of Bangladesh through the war of 1971, the USA, despite sending naval fleet to the Bay of Bengal, had to stop when the Soviet Union made a countermove.

In this situation, a liberal situation arose in the USA and Henry Kissinger became the Secretary of State. He started ping-pong diplomacy with the USA in 1971. By then, the Soviet Union and China were in a situation of conflict and the extent of Soviet control over India became a threat to China. So, Mao Tsetung's China readily accepted a truce with the USA. Kissinger did not stop there. He came to India and praised the policy of non-alignment "to bring India back from Soviet control Kissinger wanted to develop friendship between India and China at the expense of the Soviet Union. But when that did not work, the same old fear of China was injected and it was a 'palpable' fear. Moynihan writes that even then spying from the top of the Himalayas continued. The USA was also laundering money through the Congress Party. He writes " 1974, Mrs Gandhi was still making speeches about the ever present danger of subversion by the CIA, whilst (the US ambassador in India) was meeting with relevant Indian officials about our common interest in China." (Ibid, p.41)

On the other hand, China was also in motion. Deng Jiao Ping took over the mantle of leadership and changed the colour of the cat from red to black. In the name of 'market socialism' capitalism developed in China. With her indigenous development of industries, particularly of Department A, i.e. industries producing machinery for industries, China could afford to market her goods at prices lower than those of others. Moreover, the working masses were fleeced by the new dispensation in the name of socialism. Sooner than later, China started dreaming of becoming a regional hegemonic power, Asian power at that.

Conflicts of interest grew between the USA and China. But after the defeat in Vietnam, the US conspiracy against China took a back seat for a time being and economic relations grew.

On the other hand, the Soviet Union started acting as an aggressive superpower and attacked Afghanistan in its bid for warm water port with the objective of reaching the Indian Ocean. India was an ally without military involvement. But soon Afghanistan became the Soviet Union's quagmire. The Afghan war created such an economic crisis because of its long drawn character that by 1983, the Soviet Union had to withdraw. At the same time, while the ideological screen separating them was being dropped, the Soviet Union and China started getting closer, forgetting their rivalry.

All these taken together, the days of Indira Gandhi ended and India-China friendship gained ground. But in the era of imperialism, periodic instability and economic crisis are normal. From the mid-1960s, the western imperialist powers tried many methods to overcome them, but did not succeed. Dependent states like India became beasts of burden for imperialism. When Rajiv Gandhi was in power, the crisis became sharper, and at the dictates of the IMF and the World Bank, a new economic policy was advanced. When the WTO was formed, India under Narashima Rao became its member amidst countrywide protests. The Indian economy was entirely opened up to foreign capital and foreign institutional investment. But the traditionalists within the Congress and anti-Western forces in power were not happy. So, India needed governance by a section who would brutally suppress all adversaries and fall in line with the US-led forces. From the days of Indira Gandhi, there was a force, though very much weak then, who were ready to work for the USA. They had been acting covertly, but always posing themselves as great patriots. They were whipping up communalism to douse the flame of people's movement, raking up casteism to further divide the already divided social structure. Who were they? Let us learn about them from the horse's mouth. Just a day before leaving India, Moynihan met "Piloo Modi, a member of the small opposition... and a group of Congress Party members who were commencing to form an opposition." (Ibid, p-37) It was January 6,1975. Piloo Modi went to the Parliament wearing a button—"I am a CIA agent"—and he also sold such buttons to some other MPs at a small profit.

So, there were the inheritors of 90 inches paunch Piloo Modi in his party, but most of them were less enterprising than their predecessor, and the USA had to find out the Chaiwallah of 56 inches chest as the most enterprising fellow who can ride roughshod over the people in climbing up the ladder. On the other hand, China, in her bid to become an Asian power (or global power), started developing bases in the Indian Ocean and declared South China Sea as her strategic area.

The USA needed India's assistance once again. It felt that the Congress with its ideological baggage of Jawharlal Nehru would not be the perfect choice for its purpose. They needed a proper inheritor of Piloo Modi and in Narendra Modi, they found it. At the same time, both China and India are facing economic crises giving rise to popular unrest. As the old adage goes:

When the people want work and food to be eaten
At the border drums of war starts to be beaten

So, it is advantageous for both China and India to create a trouble along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). This will also be in the interests of the USA.

But creation of a warlike situation and chauvinistic frenzy is one thing and actual war is another. So, both sides are blowing hot and cold, and the USA is trying to fish in troubled water by acting as the mediator. It depends finally on China, and the USA"s preparedness to get involved in a war on the ground. The US involvement will necessarily be in support of India.

Nehru championed the NAM and friendship with China in order to serve the interests of the big bourgeoisie who had just come out of the clutches of colonial rule, but was short of capital and dependent on the state for industrialisation. Mao and Chou Enlai wanted the NAM and friendship with India to create a situation that would bring countries out of the clutches of imperialism. But the conspiratorial actions and economic crises forced them into a war with India, which ended with unilateral withdrawal of troops by China.

Now, Narendra Modi is trying all means from communalism, casteism and chauvinism as his tools to suppress the working masses and the opposition. He does not have the courage and ability to challenge China alone. He needs the USA behind him, just as India needed in 1962. China, in her bid for growing into an Asian power or world power, finds India, backed by the USA, a formidable adversary. Moreover, she has also fuelled a chauvinist ideology among her people, but is afraid of the consequences of a war if the USA comes openly in support of India. The USA, for its geo-strategic interests, wants India to put pressure on China in the Indo-Pacific region. But because of its own constraints, it is measuring water about what may happen if an all-out war ensues.

The only thing one should do is to look at the history and the historical lessons that wars have never benefitted the people of India.

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Vol. 53, No. 22-25, Nov 29 - Dec 26, 2020