The Inner Line Controversy

Sankar Ray

Most of those who think Neville Maxwell is an authority on India-China border controversies are like Orwell's parrot which, cannot be taught a new word. Others may note, "China's assertive claim to Arunachal Pradesh is relatively recent, and probably influenced by works of Western scholars like Alastair Lamb, who were of the opinion that the Bengal Inner Line Regulation of 1873 - which created what came to be known as the Inner Line - along the foot of the mountains that surrounded the plains of its new territory of Assam acquired in 1826, was actually the extent of British territory. Lamb claims there was also an Outer Line, and it was at most places identical to the Inner Line. This despite the fact that the British were always careful to qualify that the Inner Line was not the international boundary and that it was only a line to demarcate the revenue territories from the non-revenue ones. At the time, the tea industry was beginning to boom and tea planters, always covetous of land, were constantly encroaching into the hills, getting into confrontations with the "wild" hill tribes. The British saw the prospect of perennial punitive expeditions into the hills as wasteful; the purpose of this line was to ensure British subjects went beyond it only with official permits. Others like Neville Maxwell, author of India's China War, went further, arguing that the Inner Line was the Outer Line, and that this Outer Line was pushed to where the McMahon Line is by the British only in 1913-14 during the Simla Conference. If this argument is allowed to hold, then the contiguous territories of Nagaland which is also beyond the same Inner Line, and further south, Mizoram, should also be outside India.

Beyond this confusion over the Inner Line, created deliberately or otherwise, the claim that Arunachal Pradesh is 'South Tibet' has little basis, except perhaps in the narrow Tawang tract, contiguous in the west with Bhutan, Sikkim and Kalimpong-Darjeeling tracts. Tibetan Buddhism's cultural influence in the rest of Arunachal Pradesh is virtually nil.

At the start of the Simla Conference in 1913, as Parshotam Mehra notes, the Chinese plenipotentiary, I-fan Chen, was unsure where the Indian boundary was when McMahon asked him, and could only come up with an answer the following day and that too using French maps as evidence. The Chinese at the time also had no presence in Tibet, as they had been thrown out by the Tibetans in 1911, immediately after the fall of the Qing Dynasty in the wake of the Republican Revolution in China. The Chinese were at their weakest and it has been argued that they were invited to the Simla Conference only in view of a technical necessity of a treaty the British signed with the Russians in St. Petersburg in 1907. This treaty, literally forced by the British on the Russians, weakened at the time by a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Japanese in 1905, prohibited the British or the Russians from entering into any agreement with Tibet.

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Vol. 53, No. 41, Apr 11 - 17, 2021