Rahul Gandhi’s absence from meetings of Parliament’s defence committee only shows how uninterested or far removed he continues to be in trying to comprehend and appreciate India’s national interest. The defence is a subject which requires a sustained application for anyone to absorb its many-sidedness and Rahul obviously lacks that tenacity. Be that as it may, it is interesting to see how his great grandfather, kept self-tripping with China, and despite having very perceptive Members of Parliament both in his party and in the Opposition, he rarely heeded their advice and often could not comprehend the intricacies of India’s defence requirements and preparedness.
Lt Colonel Manabendra Shah, the last ruler of the Tehri-Gharwal, who had merged his state into the Indian Union in August 1949 at the call of Sardar Patel, custodian of the sacred Badrinath shrine, who had just made his entry in Parliament in the second general elections, participated in the extensive debate on India-China relations on September 12, 1959. Shah who would later join the Jana Sangh- a natural affiliation for all those leaders in those days who were staunch nationalists – and would continue with the BJP till his death, was then a Congressman.
His intervention is interesting because, being one who knew the borders and mountainous terrain minutely, Shah’s advice was extremely crucial coming as it did a few years before the Chinese invasion. “In the first place, all our border check posts should be immediately transferred to the Defence forces”, Shah told Nehru, “The border police should be merged into the Defence forces either as regulars or as territorial or auxiliary units. There is no time to be further lost in this.” Next, he suggested for the need to ensure that check-posts along the border did not shift back in winter and remained stayed put throughout the year. However, Shah’s most important point was on the need to develop the border areas. His plea was that, “the entire Himalayan districts should be declared as border areas and special attention should be given for their economic development”, and an “active defence of these regions should necessarily be accompanied by a second line of uniform defence, that is, upliftment of these people in conjunction with the special and strategic priorities that the protection of these areas demand.” It was a clear articulation on why and how India’s borders could be fortified. But Nehru, in those days, most often exuded a public air of infallibility, which always intensified, if the adviser was a first time member of parliament.
It was during this debate that Nehru would display his astoundingly self-defeating ambivalence when it came to protecting India’s territory or protesting against encroachments made on it. When it came to discussing Aksai Chin and the manner in which the Chinese had constructed a highway over it, Nehru told the House, that it should appreciate the difficulties of demarcating these places, and launched into one more of his those unbearable and convoluted philosophical soliloquies on the opacity of territorial demarcations, the sample in his words explains it best. “What these places are. This place, Aksai Chin area, is in our maps undoubtedly. But, I distinguish it completely from other areas. It is a matter for argument as to what part of it belongs to us and what part of it belongs to somebody else. It is not at all a dead clear matter. However, I have to be frank to the House. It is not clear.” And then, came his tour de force, Nehru the civilizational seer, on whom vested the responsibility to say that dispute along India’s borders were aeons old, “I cannot go about doing things in a matter which has been challenged, not today, but for a hundred years. It has been challenged as to the ownership of this strip of territory.”
In fact, Nehru’s approach to Chinese intrusion and land-grab, was almost always based, till the time the precipice was reached, on the premise that India’s approach must be driven by her “2000 or 3000 years of friendship with China” and therefore one need not protest at such trivialities, or even if the protest was to be lodged it had to be mid, halting and spaced out. This led the Chinese to keep nibbling and grabbing away at Indian Territory, since around 1957. This also emboldened the Chinese to lay the highway in Aksai Chin. It titillated their expansionism.
It was only in 1958 that Nehru would send the first missive to the Chinese on the Aksai Chin road. The note was a perfect replica of Nehru’s prevaricating spirit when it came to tackling China. All that he could was to mildly admonish the Chinese because they had “constructed a road through indisputable Indian territory without first obtaining the permission of the Government of India and without even informing the Government.” However, the most preposterous part of Nehru’s note was the one in which he told the Chinese that “no application for visas from the Chinese personnel working on the road or from Chinese travellers traversing this road has ever been received by the Government of India…”
His attitude of bartering away Aksai Chin to buy peace from the Chinese would come back to haunt Nehru in June 1962. When he told the Chinese sometime in May that year, that for the sake of a peaceful settlement they could have “civilian use” of the Aksai Chin road, the Chinese reply was typical, curt and displayed an entrenched expansionist mindset, “Why should China need to ask India’s permission for using its own road on its own territory? What an absurdity!” Nehru’s bond of a 3000 years friendship had gone up in smoke, actually, it was a one-sided claim of friendship, only he spoke of it. On Nehru’s attitude to allowing pieces of India to be bitten off by the Chinese, Swatantra Party Member of Parliament from Kalahandi, Pratap Kesari (P.K.) Deo, had caustically remarked in course of an extensive debate in Lok Sabha on the India-China border situation, that, “this country is not a zamindari of any individual or of the Congress Party.”
Naturally, as Nehru’s direct descendent, Rahul Gandhi treats this country and its security interests as his grandfather had done, as a personal fief and therefore displays a callous disinterest and makes calculated misrepresentations of it, especially in times of challenge. Obviously, he is piqued that Prime Minister Modi, dared to go to Leh, further up at Nimoo, and at 11,000 feet declare that “From Leh Ladakh to Kargil and Siachen, from the snowy peaks of Rezang La to the cold water stream of Galwan valley, every peak, every mountain, every corner, every pebble is a testimony to the might of the Indian soldiers…The world has seen your indomitable courage. Your heroic stories are echoing from house to house and the enemies of Mother India have seen your fire and your fury as well.”
Since Nehru never spoke in that tone, Rahul scarcely understands its import.
(The writer is Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation)
Image Source: Chinese Embassy