The sacrifice of Tibet: Extraordinary delusions and temporary insanity
March 25, 2008
On November 18 every year, I silently salute the brave souls of C
Company, 13th Kumaon Regiment, who in 1962 died practically to the
last man and the last bullet defending Ladakh against the invading
Chinese Army. These brave 114 inflicted heavy casualties and prevented
the Chinese from overrunning Leh, much like Spartans at Thermopylae
held the line against the invading Persians many moons ago.
But have you ever wondered why these brave men had to sacrifice
themselves? One answer seems to be that is because of the
extraordinary delusions that affected a number of the dramatis
personae on the Indian side: notably Jawaharlal Nehru, KM Panikkar and
VK Krishna Menon.
A deadly combination of blind faith, gross megalomania, and groupthink
led to the debacle in the war in1962; but its genesis lay in the
unbelievable naivete that led these worthies to simply sacrifice a
defenseless sister civilisation to brutal barbarians.
Furthermore, they were far more concerned about China's interests than
about India's! Generations to come will scarcely believe that such
criminal negligence was tolerated in the foreign policy of a major
In a well-researched book, timed for the one hundredth anniversary of
the opening of Tibet by the British, Claude Arpi, born in France but a
long-term resident of India, and one of India's leading Tibet and
China experts, argues that India's acquiescence to the enslavement of
Tibet has had disastrous consequences. The book is Born in Sin: The
Panchsheel Agreement subtitled The Sacrifice of Tibet, published by
Mittal Publications, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 241, Rs. 495, ISBN
81-7099-974-X. Unless otherwise noted, all of the quotations here are
from this book.
Arpi also touches upon the difficulty scholars face with piecing
together what actually happened in those momentous years leading to
the extinction of Tibet and the India-China war of 1962, because the
majority of the source materials are held as classified documents in
the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund or the Ministry of External
The historian is forced to depend on the sanitised Selected Works of
Jawaharlal Nehru and the restricted Official Report of the 1962 War.
If the relevant documents were made public at the very least we might
learn something from them. Where is Aruna Roy, crusading champion of
the people's right to know who has now accepted a sinecure under the
UPA? Why are the Nehru Papers controlled by Sonia Gandhi?
The story really begins exactly one hundred years ago, in September
1904, when the British Colonel Francis Younghusband entered Tibet and
forced the hitherto insular kingdom open at the point of a gun. The
Lhasa Convention of 1904, signed by the British and the Tibetans, put
the seal of British overlordship over Tibet. The parallels with
Commodore Perry of the US and his black ships opening up Japan are
obvious. However, unlike Japan, which under the Meiji Restoration took
vigorously to westernisation, Tibet continued to distance itself from
the outside world, much to its later disadvantage.
Perhaps we need to look further in history, as Arpi did in his earlier
book, The Fate of Tibet: When Big Insects Eat Small Insects. The
Tibetans were a feared, martial and warlike race that had always, in
its impregnable mountain fastnesses, held the expansionist Han Chinese
at bay. However, in the 7th century CE, Buddhism came to Tibet, and
they became a pacifist nation. Says Arpi: 'Tibet's conversion had
another consequence on its political history: a nonviolent Tibet could
no longer defend itself. It had to look outside for military support
to safeguard its frontiers and for the protection of its Dharma. This
help came first from the Mongol Khans and later the Manchu Emperors
when they became themselves followers of the Buddha's doctrine.'
The sum and substance of China's alleged historical claim to Tibet is
this: that the Mongol Khans had conquered both China and Tibet at the
same time. This is patently absurd, because by the same token India
should claim Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong as its own, because
India and these territories were under British rule at the same time.
In fact, since the Mongol Khans and the Manchu Emperors accepted the
Dalai Lama as their spiritual preceptor, it is clear that it was China
that was giving tribute to Tibet, not vice versa: so Tibet could claim
Han China as its vassal.
The Lhasa Convention was followed by the Simla Convention in 1914 that
laid out the McMahon Line defining both the Indo-Tibetan border, and
the division of Tibet into 'Outer Tibet' (which lies along the border
with India) and 'Inner Tibet' which includes Amdo Province and part of
Kham Province. It is worthwhile to note that the Chinese were not
invited to discuss the McMahon line, nor was their acceptance of this
line sought. Tibetans signed this treaty as an independent nation. The
British government emphasised this in a note to the Chinese as late as
1943: 'Since the Chinese Revolution of 1911,... Tibet has enjoyed de
When India became independent, K M Panikkar wrote: 'A China [organised
as a Communist regime annexing Mongol, Muslim and Tibetan areas] will
be in an extremely powerful position to claim its historic role of
authority over Tibet, Burma, Indo-China and Siam. The historic claims
in regard to these are vague and hazy. Soon thereafter Panikkar became
the principal spokesperson for China's interests, even though his job
was Indian Ambassador to China!
As soon as the Communists came to power, in 1950, they started
asserting their claims: 'The tasks for the People's Liberation Army
for 1950 are to liberate [sic] Taiwan, Hainan and Tibet.' A Scottish
missionary in Tibet said the PLA officers told him that once Tibet was
in their hands, they would go to India.
On October 7, 1950, Mao Tse-Tung's storm troopers invaded Tibet. But
under Panikkar's influence, Nehru felt that the loss of Tibet was
worth the price of liberating Asia from 'western dominance'. Panikkar
said: 'I do not think there is anything wrong in the troops of Red
China moving about in their own country.'
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was one of the few in the Indian government
who recognised the menace from China. He wrote:
'We also have to take note of a thoroughly unscrupulous, unreliable
and determined power practically at our doors. It is clear that we
cannot be friendly with China and must think in terms of defense
against a determined, calculating, unscrupulous, ruthless,
unprincipled and prejudiced combination of powers, of which the
Chinese will be the spearhead. It is obvious to me that any friendly
or appeasing approaches from us would either be mistaken for weakness
or would be exploited in furtherance of their ultimate aim.'
How prophetic Patel was! Unfortunately, he died soon after he wrote
this. Interestingly, the very same words apply in their entirety to
India's dithering over Pakistan today, 54 years later. The Pakistanis
are also exploiting India's appeasement and friendliness.
But Nehru, it appears, had decided to sacrifice Tibet, partly in order
to appease China, partly because of his distaste for what he
considered 'imperialist treaties' (in this case the Lhasa Convention
that gave enormous rights in Tibet to the British, and, as their
successor, to the Indian government) and partly in order to act as
mediator between China and the West over the Korean War.
Observers could see what was going to happen. The American ambassador
Henderson noted: 'The UK High Commission would like to be able to
argue with Indian officials that if GoI bows to Communist China's
blackmail re Tibet, India will eventually be confronted with similar
blackmail not only re Burma but re such areas as Assam, Bhutan,
Sikkim, Kashmir, Nepal.' Absolutely correct, for this is exactly what
is happening today.
Nehru and Panikkar simply did not see the threat from China, so
enamoured were they of the great Communist Revolution there. Nehru
said: 'The biggest event since the last War is the rise of Communist
China'. Part of his admiration arose from his distaste for the
Buddhist culture of Tibet: 'We cannot support feudal elements in
Tibet, indeed we cannot interfere in Tibet'. Now doesn't that sound
exactly like Xinhua propaganda, which Nehru seems to have
A Canadian high commissioner had a different theory: '[Panikkar] had
no illusions about the policies of the Chinese government and he had
not been misled by it. He considered, however, that the future, at
least in his lifetime, lay with the communists, and he therefore did
his best to get on well with them by misleading Nehru'. That might be
considered treason in certain circles.
Whatever the reason, we can see why Zhou-en Lai is rumored to have
referred to the Indians in general and Nehru in particular as 'useful
idiots'. (There is no reference to this in the Arpi book). In every
discussion with Panikkar, the Chinese hosts smilingly avoided the
question of settling the border, but they made sure that India
acknowledged Chinese hegemony over Tibet. The Indians were thoroughly
outsmarted, partly because they were willing victims dazzled by the
idea of Communism.
When confronted with the question of the undefined border, Nehru said,
"All these are high mountains. Nobody lives there. It is not very
necessary to define these things." And in the context of whether the
Chinese might invade India, here's Nehru again: "What might happen is
some petty trouble in the borders and unarmed infiltration. To some
extent this can be stopped by checkposts, however, armies do not stop
communist infiltration or communist ideas, large expenditure on the
army will starve the development of the country and social progress."
The naivete leaves the neutral observer speechless. What might be even
more alarming is that there are supposedly serious Old Left analysts
today, in 2004, who mouth these same inanities about not spending
money on the Indian Army. Why they do not take their cue from China,
with its enormous Army, is mysterious, because in all other respects
they expect India to emulate China. Except that is, no nukes, no
military might for India.
By not asserting India's treaty rights in Tibet, which would have
helped Tibet remain as a neutral buffer zone, Nehru has hurt India
very badly. For, look at what is happening today. Nepal is under
relentless attack by Maoists, almost certainly supported by Chinese
money. Large parts of India are infested with violent Maoists. Much of
West Bengal is under the iron grip of Marxists, who clearly take
orders from Beijing.
It is in this context that the so-called Panchsheel Agreement was
written. Given that the Indian side had a priori decided to surrender
all its rights to the Chinese, in return for vague promises of
brotherhood, it is perhaps the most vacuous treaty ever signed.
However, Nehru opined: "in my opinion, we have done no better thing
than this since we became independent. I have no doubt about this. It
is right for our country, for Asia and for the world."
Famous last words.
Nehru believed that the five principles which are referred to as
Panchsheel were his personal, and major, contribution to world peace.
Based on his impression of his stature in the world, he thought that
the Panchsheel model could be used for treaties all over the world,
and that it would lead to a tremendous breaking out of peace
Nehru was sadly mistaken. There was nothing particularly remarkable
about the principles themselves: they were not his invention, but were
merely common-sense provisions used widely. And he had a megalomaniac
idea of his own influence around the world: he did not realise that he
cut a slightly comical figure. In his own mind, and in the minds of
his toadies, he was the Emperor Ashoka returned, to bring about World
Here are the Five Principles:
1. Mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty
2. Mutual non-aggression
3. Mutual non-interference in each other's internal affairs
4. Equality and mutual benefit
5. Peaceful co-existence
The Chinese immediately violated every one of these principles, and
have continued to do so happily. For instance, even while the treaty
was being negotiated, the Chinese were building a road through Aksai
Chin in Jammu and Kashmir, and in perhaps the most unbelievable aspect
of this whole sorry mess, India was actually supplying rice to the
Chinese troops building the road through Indian territory! This is
The problem was that Nehru had no sense of history. He should have
read RC Majumdar: "There is, however, one aspect of Chinese culture
that is little known outside the circle of professional historians.
Its the characteristic of China that if a region once acknowledged her
nominal suzerainty even for a short period, she would regard it as a
part of her empire for ever and would automatically revive her claim
over it even after a thousand years whenever there was a chance of
And this was the 'ally' Nehru found against the 'imperialists' of the
West! He went so far as to decline a seat at the UN Security Council
because the China seat was held by Taiwan. He did not want India to be
in the Security Council until China was there too!
Since many people are curious about this, here is chapter and verse:
it is in the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Series II, Vol. 29,
Minutes of meeting with Soviet Leaders, Moscow, 22 June 1955, pp. 231.
Here is the conversation between Nehru and Soviet Premier Marshal
"Bulganin: While we are discussing the general international situation
and reducing tension, we propose suggesting at a later stage India's
inclusion as the sixth member of the Security Council.
Nehru: Perhaps Bulganin knows that some people in USA have suggested
that India should replace China in the Security Council. This is to
create trouble between us and China. We are, of course, wholly opposed
to it. Further, we are opposed to pushing ourselves forward to occupy
certain positions because that may itself create difficulties and
India might itself become a subject of controversy. If India is to be
admitted to the Security Council it raises the question of the
revision of the Charter of the UN. We feel that this should not be
done till the question of China's admission and possibly of others is
first solved. I feel that we should first concentrate on getting China
The casual observer might wonder whether Nehru was India's prime
minister, or China's. Besides, the Chinese have now repaid all this
support. India insisted that India should not be in the Security
Council until China was in it, too. Now China insists that India
should not be in the Security Council until Pakistan is in it, too.
Seems fair, doesn't it?
What is the net result of all this for India? It is a strategic
disaster. Forget the fact that the Tibetan civilisation has been
decimated, and it is an Indic civilisation with practically no
relationship to Han Chinese civilisation. Strictly from India's
security perspective, it is an unmitigated catastrophe.
Analyst Ginsburg wrote in the fifties: 'He who holds Tibet dominates
the Himalayan piedmont; he who dominates the Himalayan piedmont,
threatens the Indian subcontinent; and he who threatens the Indian
subcontinent may well have all of Southeast Asia within his reach, and
all of Asia.'
Look at the situation in Tibet today.
The Chinese are planning the northward diversion of the Brahmaputra,
also known as the Tsangpo. This would make North India a desert
The Chinese have on several occasions used 'lake bombs' to flood
Indian territory: as the upper riparian state based on their
occupation of Tibet, they are able to do this, for example on the
Hu Jintao, who was the Butcher of Tibet, is now a top strongman in
Beijing. Under his sponsorship, a railway line will be finished in
2007 linking Lhasa to eastern China. This would be an excellent
mechanism for bringing in both large
numbers of Han immigrants to swamp the remaining Tibetan people, and
also to deploy mobile nuclear missiles
The Chinese are deploying advanced nuclear missiles in Tibet, aimed at
India, Russia and the US. With the railway line, they will be able to
move these around and even conceal them quickly in tunnels and other
The Chinese dump large amounts of nuclear waste in Tibet, which will
eventually make its way down to India via the rivers
The India-Tibet border is still not demarcated.
It is difficult to imagine a more disastrous foreign policy outcome
than what happened between India and China. Claude Arpi is owed a debt
of gratitude by all of us in India who care about the nation's
progress and even its survival.
If the rather well-thought-of founding prime minister of the country
was so uncaring about India's interests, one shudders to think what
might be going on today with some of the ministers who are accused in
But even more than that, Arpi's detailed analysis and painstaking
research on the process through which Tibet was enslaved is an
instructive case study in how barbarians are always at the gates, and
how, as Will Durant said, 'Civilisation is a precious good, whose
delicate complex order and freedom can at any moment be overthrown by
barbarians invading from without and multiplying from within'.
One of the profound lessons to be taken away is that it is the lack of
respect for the spiritual that has led to this cataclysm. As Ministry
of External Affairs observer, Apa Pant, pointed out about Tibet and
the Han Chinese colonisation: 'With all its shortcomings and
discomforts, its inefficiencies and unconquered physical dangers, here
was a civilisation with at least the intention of maintaining a
pattern of life in which the individual could achieve liberation. One
so apparently inefficient, so human and even timid, yet kind and
compassionate and aspiring to something more gloriously satisfying in
human life; the other determined and effective, ruthless, power-hungry
and finally intolerant... In the corridors of power [in official
India], Tibet, Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, were all regarded as
ridiculous, too funny for words; useless illusions that would
logically cease to exist soon, thanks to the Chinese, and good
In the final analysis, Tibet was lost because those in power in India
were dismissive of matters spiritual. It is the Empire of the Spirit
that has made India what she has been all these millennia, and once
the rulers start dismissing that, it is clear that we are in the Kali
Yuga, the Dark Ages. It is the end of living, and the beginning of
The Silence Of The Lamb
Reviewed by Dhundup Gyalpo
" Born In Sin: The Panchsheel Agreement "
By Claude Arpi
Mittal Publications, New Delhi,
241 pages, Rs. 495
In each passing century there are a few defining moments of which it
can truly be said: here history was made or here mankind's passage
through the ages took a new direction or turned towards a new horizon.
Such a moment occurred on the 29th day of April 1954 when an Agreement
on Trade and Intercourse between China and India was signed in
Beijing. The agreement today is popularly dubbed as the Panchsheel
Agreement because of the famous five principles the elixir for foreign
relations incorporated in the preamble of the agreement.
The Panchsheel Agreement epitomises the fiasco of
Hindi-Chini-Bhai-Bhai clamour. In this agreement India recognized
Tibet as part of China in fact, as a mark of goodwill India also gave
up all her extra-territorial rights in Tibet but failed to settle the
Indo-Tibetan border. And by forfeiting Tibet, India thus forfeited
2,000 years of a buffer state that kept Chinese imperial aspirations
During a speech on the occasion of signing, the Indian Ambassador N.
Raghavan declared: " We have gone fully through the questions that
existed between our two countries in the Tibet region. Zhou Enlai
responded reiterating that the questions which were ripe for
settlement, have been resolved." But alas, neither Raghavan nor the
Government of India were able to decipher the portents lurking beneath
the ripe for settlement.
The high and lofty ideals of Panchsheel began to crumble just 10 days
short of two months after the agreement was signed as the first of a
series of Chinese incursions, numbering in hundreds, occurred in
Bharhoti area of Uttar Pardesh. These incursions culminated in the
Chinese invasion of India with an overwhelming force on two separate
flanks in October 1962.
The Chinese aggression, and the defeat and humiliation it wreaked on
India, caught offguard, remains deeply embedded in the Indian psyche
to this day.
India has been living in the fools paradise of its own making, a
beaten, crestfallen, humiliated Nehru admitted in 1962. So betrayed
was Nehru by the Chinese aggression that he had this to say on the day
the Chinese invaded: " Perhaps there are not many instances in history
where one country has gone out of her way to be friendly and
cooperative with the government and people of another country and to
plead their cause in the council of the world, and then that country
returns evil for good."
Claude Arpi's new book, Born in Sin: The Panchsheel Agreement, The
sacrifice of Tibet, is an incisive post-mortem of the Agreement and
the legacy it bequeathed the future generations of India. It unravels
with great clarity the gushy expectations, self-deluding hype, and
oozing zealousness that has become the hallmark of Nehru's China
Born in Sin captures in minute detail a continuum of concessions Nehru
conceded in his overzealous rush to befriend China. A measure of the
height of euphoria over the Hindi-Chini-Bhai-Bhai festivity,
obliterating strategic and other implications for India's security,
was illustrated in a strange episode after the agreement was signed.
Claude Arpi writes: " India was supplying rice to Chinese troops,
engaged in building a road on Indian territory! And not just an
ordinary road, it was the Aksai-Chin road cutting through the Indian
territory in Ladakh. It is indeed a first in military annals that the
government of a country supplies food to enemy troops! But at that
time, who saw China as an enemy?"
Claude Arpi's previous book, The Fate of Tibet: When Big Insects Eat
Small Insects, was groundbreaking in terms of its revelation of the
Pannikar factor in effecting a dramatic transformation in the India's
China policy, and by corollary its Tibet policy.
As in The Fate of Tibet, the facts presented in Born in Sin, derive
authority from its extensive use of a myriad of official Indian
documents and personal memoirs of the then leading political figures.
The book concludes by exploring some ambitious but not unrealistic
ways to break this impasse of Indo-Tibetan border dispute.