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Nehru and Tibet and How He Lost out to Mao Tse Tung

Updated on January 2, 2020
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MG Singh- early retired Air warrior who is PG in management and law.


Tibet has a long and tortuous history. It is a region that is Buddhist, which has its own stamp of isolation and that is one of the reasons for long that very little was known about Tibet for centuries. But Tibet was never an integral part of China at least from the mid-19th century. A little known fact is that in 1876 Tibet invaded British India and as per historian Waddell reached within 60 miles of Darjeeling. This surprised the British who drove the Tibet army back with a force of 2000 troops and guns. The British kept this in mind and laid the groundwork of an invasion of Tibet.

The imvasion of Tibet was a need at that time as the British were unsure of the Russian motives and they were keen to have an influence in Central Asia.

The Brigadier Young Husband expedition

In 1903 a decision was taken to force Tibet to toe the British line and a military expedition under Brigadier Young Husband was launched. It was a difficult operation as the battlefield was at an average height of 11000 feet.

YoungHusband had artillery and his troops were basically composed of warlike Sikhs. In contrast the Tibetans had no artillery and their troops though brave had no concept of warfare in the modern age.

March to Lhasa.

The army of Younghusband marched through the mountains. there were some skirmishes, but no pitched battles. There was a small battle at Lhasa and the Tibetans catapulted. The British as the victorious power enforced their will and this led to the Simla pact.

The Simla pact is often quoted by Independent India, but the fact remains it was not ratified by the Chinese whose representative only initialled the document. Nehru should have charted a fresh course and not relied on the Simla pact. He should have enforced its provisions by military might like the British. Here is where his first fumble took place as he neglected military power.

Do you feel Nehru had no knowledge of geo politics in dealing with China ?

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The Simla Pact of 1913

The Simla led to a pact which was signed by the Tibetan representative, but the Chinese rep only initialed it.

The pact allowed England to maintain troops in Tibet at a number of places and also was allowed to set up a consulate at Lhasa. The independence of Tibet was recognized.In addition an artificial border called the McMahon line was drawn demarcating the eastern border of India with Tibet and a pure Tibetan area, Aksai Chin was incorporated as part of India. . The Tibetan government accepted this , but obviously the Chinese were not happy, but they accepted as a fait accompli.

It's amatter for historians to comment as to why Nehru gave up all the extra teritorial rights in Tibet and exposed the Indian state

Mao and the conquest of Tibet

Momentous events took place in China and Mao and his communists seized total power.In 1947, the British also left India and Nehru became prime minister. This was a catastrophe for India but a boon for Mao and China. In 1950 China attacked Tibet

China –Tibet War 1950

Before China struck Tibet, Nehru did something extremely silly. He withdrew the Indian troops from Tibet that had been stationed there after the Simla pact. His rationale for doing this is still not understood, but perhaps he never realized the potency of military power. China had a free hand and they overran Tibet. When the Chinese army was advancing, the India Home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel wanted an Indian response to help Tibet, but Nehru did not agree as he saw China as a "historical friend".

As the Chinese occupied Lhasa, they assured Nehru that the autonomy of Tibet would be maintained. The Chinese took a firm grip over Tibet and began to make things difficult for the Indian consulate. Nehru was in fix as he had lost all bargaining power.The Chinese now suggested that the Consulate General in Lhasa be downgraded to a mere consulate arguing that the Indian mission in Beijing would have full access to Lhasa. Nehru again in his misplaced zeal that Tibet problem was a creation of British imperialism agreed. This was a most foolish mistake as India reduced its strength in Lhasa.

Defeat of Nehru

In 1959 the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa with about a 1000 followers to India. After a 2 day trek, the Dalai Lama reached India and asked for political asylum. For once Nehru gathered same courage and granted political asylum to the Dali Lama.

The Chinese were incensed at the escape of the Dali Lama and imposed severe restrictions on the Indian consulate.

In 1962 the Chinese army attacked India, ostensibly to rectify the historical wrongs of imperialism still followed by India and Nehru. The Indian consulate was closed and sealed and the entire Indian staff sent to India. India thus lost its last foot hold in China. Nehru somehow never reacted to Chinese adventurism. The time to react was in 1950, when the PLA had invaded Tibet, but he was found having a nap.

50 years have elapsed and India is not permitted to have a consulate in Lhasa. In 2014 a request was made to reopen the Indian consulate, but China rejected it. India is thus persona non grata in Tibet and all the gains of the British and Young Husband were frittered away by Nehru. The Chinese still claim large tracts of Indian Territory. Not only this the Chinese have occupied 30000 square miles of Indian land in Aksai Chin.Thus at one stroke Nehru reduced India to a second rate power vis a vis China. I wonder whether history will forgive him.


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