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Zhou & Nehru
By Dhananjaya Bhat
Many contemporary journalists, historians and statesmen have published their memoirs in the last three decades and perusing the books one can have a grand stand view of the relations between prime ministers Zhou & Nehru. Nehru had planned for a friendly India-China, with an open border between the two nations like USA & Canada , so that the saved defence expenses could be diverted to nation-building activities. But Zhou had no such inhibitions and practiced real politik -that of cutting down India to size.

Archives state that in August 1939, when Nehru visited China as a delegate of the Congress party and met many political leaders, Zhou then in the opposition as a Communist leader was anxious to confer with him. But due to the breakout of the Second World War Nehru had to return to India cutting short his visit and it was fifteen years later in 1954 that both the statesmen could meet. One historian feels that if these two emerging leaders of Asia had met in 1939, when their mind was not pre-occupied with political-border problems, they might have developed a camaraderie which would have enabled them to solve the matters, when they became Prime Ministers. In 1947 Nehru took over as the Prime Minister of India and Zhou became his counterpart in China in 1949. Nehru was exuberant that Red Star had risen over China and Zhou’s mentor Mao told visiting journalists patronisingly that “ Chinese believe that when good men die, their souls go to India”..

In 1954, Chou En Lai arrived in New Delhi and an official banquet was arranged for him. As Nehru bustled around his imposing residence in Teen Murthi Marg supervising the details, suddenly the electrical power failed and the Indian Prime Minister had to convert the banquet into a candle-lit dinner, held in utter darkness-an augury of difficult times to follow. It was during this visit that the famous Panch -Sheel doctrine – five principles of peaceful Co Existence (?) was formulated.

There seems to have been a desultory mention of the border problems – “ incorrect maps as the Chinese called them”. Two years earlier in 1952, the Indian Army had warned that the Chinese were building a road in Indian territory of Aksaichin. Unfortunately the implications were lost on Nehru. Once they built road , the Chinese became truculent and began to talk of borders imposed by “British Imperialists”.

Then came the Bandung Conference of Non-aligned Nations in 1955..It was to be China’s first foray into international politics and in its eagerness to ensure that “imperialist” powers are blackened, China did not inform India , that it had received information that the special Air India aircraft sent to Hongkong to pick up Chinese officials (and possibly Zhou) was to sabotaged by pro-USA saboteurs. Ebullient Nehru, thought that History was in the making, as India and China were entering world Forum as friends, and introduced Zhou to other Asian world leaders. As one commentator remarks “Both Zhou and Nehru were well educated statesmen from the upper class, both had swung around to a radical view of politics. They were the aristocrats, sophisticates and internationalists in political parties which had been led by those far more earthy and anchored characters- Mahatma Gandhi and Mao. Nehru was nine years older than Zhou and “naturally he felt like an elder brother to him””.

Historians aver that these sentiments of Nehru were wasted, as Zhou felt offended at Bandung, as if a new boy was being introduced to his class mates. India and China were called the twin pillars of Bandung Conference, but Nehru had not realised how much India was being undermined by Zhou. In the private conferences with Zhou, Pakistan and Sri Lanka told him that they were concerned about the imperialistic attitude of India towards them and Zhou did nothing to discourage them. In 1955 Nehru paid a State visit to China and came back hurt at the patronising attitude taken by Mao, Zhou and other Chinese leaders towards India.

Meanwhile the Chinese incursions into India continued and when in 1956 Chou visited India, the climate had become definitely chilly and Zhou seems to have had an idea that he could tell Nehru that China will accept the Macmahon line as the border in North East India in return for the Aksaichin plateau. But the Indian public opinion indicated to Nehru, that there could not be any real parley till India was in possession of the territory taken by China. The first armed clash between India and China took place in Longju in the Ladakh in 1959 and soon the asylum given by India to Dalai-Lama put an end to any hopes of reconciliation. Even a friendly admonition to Zhou by Khrushchev in 1959 regarding India- China border “You can’t make history all over again” elicited no reply.

Zhou, who had pointedly agreed to demarcate Sino-Burmese and Sino-Nepal borders on the maps drawn by the British diplomat Macmahon, sarcastically asked journalists- when it came to India- as to who was Macmahon? Another effort to fence- mending resulted in Zhou’s visit to India in 1960. Arriving at the Indian Prime Minister’s residence, Zhou claims that he was shocked to see Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi welcoming him, herself clad in a Tibetan dress. Zhou felt that it was a deliberate attempt to offend him. His attempts to convince other prominent Indians of the rightness of China’s demands ended in failure. In fact Zhou walked out of the meeting with Morarji Desai.

Talking to a Chinese journalist in 1960 Zhou told her, that in 1954 Nehru understood that the British had manipulated Tibet and in the 1956 edition of his autobiography had shown the borders exactly as the Chinese maps had published it!.He piquantly asked her ,”Did not Nehru check his own book in 1960?”. Then came the Chinese victory over India in 1962, and the unilateral withdrawal of Chinese forces to the pre-war borders ( except in Aksaichin). In Chinese political circles the opinion was that, China as a mighty nation could afford to be forgiving to a smaller country like India and Chinese newspapers compared Nehru to the mythical Burmese warlord Mon On, who attacked China seven times and was everytime, captured, pardoned and released to go back to his own country, till overcame by remorse at attacking such a magnanimous neighbour Mon On turned to be a grateful vassal.. But Zhou does seems to have been dismayed at the pro-India attitude shown by some of the important Non aligned nations, especially Nasser the Egyptian Prime Minister and Habib Bourguiba the Tunisian President, who berated him openly in a diplomatic function in Tunis for attacking India! In January 1963, Zhou’s verbal message to Nehru, through the Indian Ambassador to China P.K.Bannerjee that “War has never solved any problem.The need is to search for Peace and for understanding.I do understand Mr.Nehru’s difficulties, but he must also try to understand my difficulties” elicited no reply from Nehru.

In April 1963 the eminent Chinese journalist Han Suyin interviewed Nehru and told him “Zhou holds you in high esteem”. Nehru told her “I have had enough of Zhou’s friendship”. Going back to China, Han Suyin met the Chinese Prime Minister and told him “I think Nehru is ill. He is imprecise in speech”. Zhou scathingly replied “he has been saying imprecise things for a long time”. .

The Mandarin had no further use for the Pandit.

—Maharaja Features
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News Updated at : Sunday, October 14, 2012
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