The Telegraph
Friday , April 25 , 2014
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Uneasy neighbours: India and China after 50 years of The war By Ram Madhav, Har-Anand, Rs 595

The key to decoding the India-China conundrum is a strategic insight into the geo-political and geo-strategic impulses and manoeuvres that inexorably graduated to the war in 1962 between the two countries.The most defining event in India-China relations, that casts its pernicious shadows even after 50 years, remains shrouded in myths, speculations and contested claims. The crucial historical documents that could throw definitive light on the event, mostly classified as top-secret, are locked away in the government’s vaults and thus remain strictly out of reach of even a researcher on the subject. Although several researchers have grappled with this murky event and attempted to unravel its different facets, Ram Madhav, in his book, Uneasy Neighbours: India and China after 50 years of the War has made a commendable endeavour at putting together all the key aspects of the War and its impact in a coherently lucid format. The book draws heavily on the parliamentary debates — perhaps the only alternative credible source, on the evolving India-China relations that began with China unilaterally altering the geo-political equations in the Himalayas by its forcible occupation of Tibet.

With the benefit of hindsight the strategic community, often tends to blame the contemporary Indian establishment for lack of strategic vision vis a vis China. The same vision had encouraged Jawaharlal Nehru in his unrestrained pursuit of his almost romantic perception of the emerging world of newly liberated countries and clouded his understanding of the cold logic of geo-political realities thus leading to the disaster of 1962. However, the long and incisive letter written by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to Nehru on November 7, 1950, which has been reproduced in full in the first chapter of the book, emphatically refutes the charge of strategic blindness. Patel read the Chinese ‘malevolence’ with uncanny prescience, exposed the insidious wilful deception being played out by the then Indian ambassador to Beijing that further reinforced Nehru’s romantic notion of China, cautioned Nehru of the looming threat from the north and demanded an immediate course correction.This towering statesman laid out the ten fundamental elements of his strategic philosophy for defence and security of India. Unfortunately for the country, the premature death of Patel on December 15, 1950, buried his strategic vision.

The chapters on the history of Tibet and India’s Tibetan policy since the British days provide the relevant context necessary for an objective appreciation of the quickly unfolding scenarios. The chapter on the “fateful three years” unveils the grim dynamics of tensions since 1959 that culminated in Mao Zedong’s decision to teach India a lesson in October 1962, by invading it with surgical precision. The inquisition of the War in the subsequent five chapters makes for a fascinating read as it draws on materials from a wide range of sources including the CIA’s archives. This book, unlike many others on this subject, goes beyond the immediate matrix of tensions and eventual war between India and China. It peeps into the Chinese corporate psyche shaped since the days of Sun Tzu, the widely acknowledged war philosopher whose nuggets of strategic wisdom constitute the warp and woof of China’s strategic thinking.

Unlike other books on the subject, Uneasy Neighbours does not end with the War but follows its haunting legacies to the present and further looks into the future with certain policy prescriptions. Written in a lucid style and rich in details, it is a must read for students of Indo-Chinese relations.