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Mountain of Nehruvian baggage on India-China border question

world Updated: May 12, 2015 02:07 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
Prime Minister Narendra Modi

A leap forward on the border question is unlikely during the upcoming summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping but the visit could signal a gradual and positive change in Sino-India relations, Neville Maxwell, author of the controversial book ‘India’s China War’, has said.

Maxwell said short of settlement, decades of talks between the governments could perhaps find a way to “...anaesthetise the old wounds so that India can reciprocate the evident Chinese wish for friendlier relations”.

In his 1970 book, Maxwell had blamed former PM Jawaharlal Nehru’s policies for the 1962 war, and not China as is commonly believed in India.

And last year, he had made public the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report, written by two Indian officers as a post-mortem of the war, soon after it was over. The Indian government has refused to release the report for decades.

Maxwell, who covered the war for The Times, London, by his own admission is “roundly cursed by many in India for having said for years that the aggression in 1962 was not by China but by India”.

“A border settlement is too much to hope for (in the upcoming meet). Decades of ‘talks’ have passed without any attempt by India to correct or even modify the Indian public's false perception of 1962 as ‘China's unprovoked aggression’, so the territorial compromise that otherwise would be so eminently beneficial to both parties (China waives South Tibet (Arunachal Pradesh) claim, India drops Aksai Chin claim) continues to be out of reach,” Maxwell – who at 89 still keenly follow Sino-India developments -- told HT from his New South Wales home in Australia.

It is, according to Maxwell, up to Modi and Xi to handle what he called the “mountain of awkward historical baggage left over from what (former PM) Jawaharlal Nehru brazenly charged was an act of unprovoked aggression by China”.

Maxwell agrees that Modi would have been “annoyed” by China’s complaint about his recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh.

But cordial relations with China could be of “enormous benefits” to India and particularly to Modi as “...his predecessors have so far failed to achieve that”.

Even if there was no development on the border issue, according to Maxwell, the presence of Modi in Beijing – days after President Pranab Mukherjee’s trip to Moscow – will send a signal “India’s independence from Washington’s influence”.

The presence of Mukherjee and the participation of an Indian army unit in the military parade to commemorate Russian’s victory in WWII in Moscow have given an indication to Beijing that New Delhi will continue to have an independent foreign policy.

“India’s strategic autonomy could not have had a clearer diplomatic demonstration,” Maxwell said.

Beijing, he thinks, would have closely followed the events and would have been “more than merely gratified by that bold demonstration of India’s independence from Washington’s influence”.

Maxwell said where the upcoming Modi-Xi meeting will stand historically on the “up-and-down graph of Sino-India relations” cannot be answered before the meeting is over.

“One's hope, of course, is that it will come to be seen as the point at which Indian policy towards China changes gear, so to speak, not a drastic swerve in course but still an appreciable change back towards something like the close China/India comradeship that long ago was the dream and aspiration of an Indian Prime Minister!”

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