All this while, Nehru had enough opportunities to rediscover his backbone and shake out of his self-induced stupor. But he did nothing. Instead, US ambassador Henderson took the lead in March 1951 by informing his superiors in Washington that he had begun an active involvement in the affairs of the Dalai Lama and Tibet. Henderson was a very savvy diplomat and knew what strings to pull in Washington to change US policy. At this point, while the US had just regained the military initiative in Korea, there was a cloud of apprehension about the possibility of a Third World War as Soviet MiGs were buzzing US aircraft in Korea. While General MacArthur was fired for insubordination and for contemplating highly aggressive steps against the Chinese in the Korean War, there was conversely a strong view that Chinese territorial ambitions needed to be curbed. additionally, there was also the ‘Truman doctrine ’ that called for US aid to free ‘oppressed peoples’. A nod was given to Henderson to pursue with his efforts. However, nothing tangible emerged from these efforts. A major problem was that the Nationalist Chinese government in Taiwan did not want to surrender its claim to Tibetan sovereignty and this complicated the issue because the Nationalist Government had an exceptionally strong lobby in Washington.
Meanwhile, in one of his last notes sent to Nehru on 7 November 1950 before he died, Sardar Patel cautioned him against the possibility of Chinese infiltration through the north-east. Patel was of the view that because of the limitations of the British Raj in integrating these frontier people into mainstream India, they could have a lack of loyalty to the nation. Further, since these frontier people had ethnic, religious, cultural and administrative ties with Tibet, the areas inhabited by them were vulnerable to Chinese machinations. It was to examine these issues that Nehru decided to form a committee under deputy defence Minister Maj. Gen. M.S. Himmatsinhji in November 1950. In many ways, this was a way of cherry-picking those recommendations from Patel’s long list of measures of caution that he bequeathed to the nation. Nehru could then cleverly proclaim that he ‘was following Patel’s advice’.
In reality, Nehru majorly discounted Patel’s advice about the Chinese, the Soviets and the need for a strong, robust and proactive defence posture.
The Himmatsinhji Committee submitted its report in two parts in April and September 1951. Following the committee’s recommendation, the government sought to extend administrative cover into remote tribal areas of NeFa and to introduce economic and welfare measures. A road-building programme was initiated and checkposts established close to the frontier. The committee also seems to have suggested that in the sectors where the boundary was undefined, India should decide its claims, if only as a basis for negotiations. After having decided on its claim line, effective steps should be taken to prevent the unilateral occupation of these areas by Chinese or Tibetans. In disputed areas, armed police might have to be stationed to prevent infiltration or intrusion, the committee said.
Strangely enough, these recommendations were more or less in synchronicity with the actions that the Assam Governor Daulatram had taken in Tawang. In fact, it appears that the clever bureaucrat Nari K. Rustamji used the fig leaf of the constitution of the Himmatsinhji Committee to legally protect Governor Daulatram’s discretionary action to authorise the operation to take over Tawang. Even stranger was the fact that Nehru was admonishing both Governor Daulatram and Major Bob Khathing at the same time as the first part of the Himmatsinhji Committee’s report was being submitted. In fact, Governor Daulatram, his advisor Rustamji and Major Khathing had the last laugh when Governor Daulatram reportedly told Nehru that he was merely following the path laid out by the Himmatsinhji Committee. For some inexplicable reason Nehru was gripped with bursts of bipolarity in his actions. But the fact that he wiped clean almost all written evidence of the absorption of Tawang into India only goes to show that Nehru did not want the world to think that the Himmatsinhji Committee was set up to justify the takeover of Tawang. Nehru almost wanted to distance himself from the takeover of Tawang so that Mao’s name-calling of Nehru as a ‘running dog of imperialism’ would never stick. Nehru was outsmarted by Governor Daulatram because Nehru wanted to have the Himmatsinhji Committee report filed away, not implemented. His outburst at Governor Daulatram and Major Khathing confirms this interpretation of events.
Intelligence reports from a variety of sources on the Chinese encroachment into Aksai Chin poured into army HQ in New Delhi throughout 1952. The army Chief General Cariappa was quite a wily old fox. In order to put the controversy of Chinese intrusions into Ladakh at rest, he decided to dispatch a reconnaissance mission to ascertain the position on the ground. Since Ladakh was a part of India, he did not need to obtain the permission of any higher authority to do so. For this purpose, General Cariappa selected a young officer to lead this recon mission into Aksai Chin. Captain Rajendra Nath was an officer from the newly raised 11th Gorkha Rifles posted in the Military Intelligence directorate in army HQ. Captain Nath’s team comprised, besides himself, an engineer officer, a doctor and fifteen men mostly from the infantry. Press reports suggest that starting on 5 October, the team proceeded via the Chang La (17,800 feet) and Marsimik La (18,300 feet) passes to reach the Chang Chenmo River valley. From there, they travelled via the Kongka La Pass (16,965 feet) to the Lanak La Pass (18,300 feet). Captain Nath’s team returned to the region of Chang La on 15 November. The report on Captain Rajendra Nath’s expedition remains top secret to this day. He was refused permission to publish it, thereby depriving him of the United Service Institution’s MacGregor Medal awarded for valuable military reconnaissance. Captain Nath retired as a Major General. It is obvious that the report confirmed Chinese intrusion into Aksai Chin, which is why it remains classified till today. If the outcome of the report had indicated no Chinese presence in Aksai Chin, Nehru would have publicised it because it would have scotched all opposition to his policy of denying any Chinese intrusions. Also, if the report was classified, then the press reports suggesting the route taken by the team were a decoy to deflect attention from the real route taken by the recon team.
Intelligence reports had indicated that the Aksai Chin Road entered into Western Tibet from Aksai Chin just east of the entry and exit to the Lanak La Pass from the eastern and Tibetan end of the pass that was a crossing between India and Tibet. Therefore, Captain Nath’s party would have had to travel through the Lanak La Pass to actually get to the road. No one has ever questioned whether General Cariappa asked the then IAF Chief, Air Marshal Gibbs to have a routine reconnaissance sortie flown over the said area. Since the area was in India, the IAF Chief did not need any permission to do so. at that time, the aerial reconnaissance by the IAF was carried out by its single-engine Supermarine Spitfire PR XI and XIX aircraft. These aircraft based in Srinagar were reportedly flown to Leh to conduct these missions from there. It is only when aerial photographs established the presence of the road and its coordinates were confirmed did Captain Nath set out to reconnoitre the area.
General Cariappa was a very thorough soldier, and he would never have blindly sent out a reconnaissance mission without detailed planning. The fact that this report was classified and remains so till the time of writing this book confirms that the contents were damning of Chinese actions.
This excerpt from Red Fear: The China Threat by Iqbal Chand Malhotra has been published with permission from Bloomsbury India.
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