A former deputy PM and a former Foreign Minister who say that “the first time that China laid claim to Arunachal Pradesh” was on November 13, 2006, when its Ambassador San Yuxi so asserted, betray so colossal an ignorance as to call in question their fitness for public office. As far back as on August 17, 1936, New Delhi informed London that the “latest Chinese atlases showed most of the whole of tribal area south of the McMahon Line up to the administered boundary of British India in Assam... as included in China”.
Neither the Raj nor India’s leaders were bothered, India occupied the area. In 1937, the AICC published an erudite pamphlet on ‘Excluded Areas’, as they were known, written by ZA Ahmed. On March 4, 1948, as Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights, Minorities, and Tribal and Excluded Areas, Sardar Patel presented to the President of the Constituent Assembly its sub-committee’s report on the North-East Frontier (Assam) Tribal & Excluded Areas. It was headed by Gopinath Bardolo. Ably researched, the report established that “the McMahon Line is the frontier between Tibet and India”. Everyone knew of a latent dispute. China occupied Tibet only in October 1950. On November 20, 1950, Nehru declared “Our maps show that the McMahon Line is our boundary and that is our boundary — map or no map”.
As late as on January 23, 1959, Zhou Enlai agreed “to take a more or less realistic attitude towards the McMahon Line”, while rejecting its legality. On September 9, 1959, however, he wrote to Nehru owning up China’s old maps as being correct. Nehru replied on November 26: “No government could possibly discuss the future of such large areas which are an integral part of their territory”. White Paper II published the letters and also a map illustrating China’s claim to the entire area south of the Line, the North-East Frontier Agency (Nefa) as it was then known.
It was impolitic, but nothing new for Ambassador San Yuxi to say on November 13 that “in our position the whole of what you call the State of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory”. Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee refuted it with dignity. India’s position is equally well known for decades.
But read what LK Advani said on November 23 “The territory of Arunachal Pradesh has never been an issue of dispute between India and China which has only contested on (sic) the location of the McMahon Line that signifies the border”. Standing by his side, Jaswant Singh asserted that it was for the first time that China had laid claim to Arunachal Pradesh.
Advani cited Nehru’s speech in the Lok Sabha on November 8, 1962 and misquoted it. Anyone who follows his pronouncements carefully will be struck by his habit to misquote, whether on the Somnath temple or from DE Smith’s work on India as a secular State. This one is gross. Advani claimed that Nehru’s speech supported his assertion that China contested only the alignment of the Line, not India’s sovereignty over the areas to the south.
The record belies Advani completely. Nehru pointed out that China came on the scene “12 years ago” after occupying Tibet. “So, it becomes a question of what they can claim through Tibet or through their domination over Tibet”. There were “some frontier questions between Tibet and India, even in British times. But all these questions were about little pockets on little frontier areas”.
The Mcmahon Line was delineated on a map annexed to an exchange of notes dated March 24-25, 1914, between India and Tibet at Shimla. The Line was also shown in the Convention signed at Shimla on July 3, 1914 by India and Tibet. China's representative had initialled both the map and the convention earlier on 27 april 1914 along with representatives of India and Tibet. China repudiated his action. But its objections centred on the Line demarcating inner and outer Tibet. Chinese maps, however, began to claim areas south of the Mcmahon Line — as New Delhi noticed as far back as in 1936.
Now for the technique in misquotation, Nehru said rhetorically: “Let us for the moment assume their case that there is some doubt about where the Line is. But the point is that they have invaded an area which has not been in their possession even”.
This was a purely rhetorical assumption of China’s case in the argument. In 1962, Nehru could not possibly have said that China’s claim was, in fact, confined to small areas in the teeth of his own letter of September 28, 1959, quoted above. Is it honest to pick on a stray remark of this kind and try to fortify an assertion which is brazenly false?
Even by November 8, 1962, China had embellished its claim to the entire Nefa in various notes and in the report of Chinese officials in 1961 stating their case. A mass of brochures published by India recorded and refuted China’s claim to Nefa; “32,000 square miles in Nefa, noted one. Almost all carried maps showing China’s claims to Nefa. The misquotation apart, the BJP’s charge fundamentally is that on November 13, 2006, China made a claim, through San Yuxi, which it had never made before.
On this, AB Vajpayee’s silence is culpable. When he met Deng Xiaoping at Beijing on February 14, 1979, as Foreign Minister, he was flatly told that the eastern sector is of economic value, unlike the barren Aksai China, and the area of the biggest dispute. Chinese statements began parroting this line; e.g. the Xinhua statement of May 8, 1986 (‘the most disputed area’).
When officials of both countries sat down to discuss the boundary sector-wise in November 1985, China laid claim to Arunachal Pradesh. When the territory was made a State of the Union, China protested vigorously, for instance on December 11, 1986 and February 21, 1987 (“established on Chinese territory”). How ignorant must be men who even twenty years later are unaware of China’s claims? The Chinese Embassy in New Delhi published a map, in its bulletin ‘News from China’ on its National Day 2001 when the BJP was in power, showing Arunachal Pradesh as Chinese territory. It was rightly ignored.
But this is what Advani now demanded: “A resolution from Parliament in response to Ambassador Sun Yuxi’s comments on Arunachal Pradesh ahead of Hu Jintao’s visit to India will convey to China the sentiments of the people of India and of the State”.
Legally, the state of Arunachal Pradesh was created by an Act of Parliament — the State of Arunachal Pradesh Act, 1986, buttressed by the 55th Amendment Act, 1986. If these and the facts of history cannot “settle the issue of Arunachal Pradesh once and for all”, a resolution of Parliament cannot, either.
A cynical disregard for the truth was compounded by irresponsible conduct; all for partisan ends. Hu’s visit would have been ruined. Parliament would have demeaned itself by pronouncing on an Ambassador’s indiscretion. India would have been exposed to ridicule.
Ever since his unceremonious sack from the BJP’s presidency by the RSS last year, Advani has behaved with conspicuous lack of self-esteem. It is a shame that in the state to which he is now reduced, he should trifle with the nation’s pride as well.