Nehru and Tibet: The Gordian Knot
hat is a Gordian knot? This is often used as a Metaphor used to signify an intractable problem that in real fact can be easily solved. The Indian prime minister Jawaharlal is guilty of tying himself in a Gordian knot and then doing nothing about it. It, in fact, was a simple problem and could have been solved but as a leader, without strategic comprehension of power politics, the Gordian knot has remained and now it has become something like cleaning the Augean stables and can never be solved.
In 1947 Nehru held all the aces on Tibet. It was a recognized
buffer state between China and India and its independence had been accepted by the 1913, Simla agreement. China was a party to that agreement. The British also had the right maintain contingents of the British Indian army at a number of places in Tibet including Lhasa. all Nehru had to do was to build on this platform. China at that time was involved in a massive civil war between the Communist party and Kuomintang party. The protagonists were Mao Tse Tung and Chiang Kai Shek. With a weak China, Nehru had only to continue the British policy and make India’s presence more secure in Tibet. With the ruling dispensation led by the Dalai Lama favoring India the job of consolidating power in Tibet was so easy.
Nehru however, did something inexplicable and that defies explanation. He gave up all rights in Tibet and withdrew the Indian troops. In fact, he left Tibet without a defense. In 1949 Mao saw the chink and invaded Tibet. The PLA made a rapid advance against a weak
Tibet force equipped with obsolete weapons. The Chinese army on the other had been battle hardened by fighting a civil war and earlier battling the Japanese.
This was the time to make amends as the Indian army had just won the Second World war for the Allies. It was battle hardened and the Indian regiments had covered them in glory in North Africa against Rommel and the Burma campaign against the Imperial army. Nehru denied Tibet’s call for help and just sat twiddling his thumbs as the PLA overran Tibet. This was a historical blunder of gigantic proportion and Nehru will be damned by history for this. The Indian home minister Sardar Patel was in favor of an Indian intervention but Nehru overruled him.
That blunder was to cost India and Nehru and resulted in the going away of the buffer state and brought the PLA on India’s doorstep. The Chinese also occupied vast areas of Indian land in Ladakh and defeated India in a short war in 1962. Nehru had nothing to show as he saw his image fractured and becoming the laughing stock of the world. He died shortly after the 1962 war but his historical blunder has tied an anchor to the Indian state and it now faces a menacing dragon that is a world power. Nehru must be held accountable, but that is small solace for a grave dereliction of historical duty.