A Prophetic letter from Sardar Patel to Jawaharlal Nehru on arrogant China

published on November 17, 2006



NEW DELHI 7 November 1950


My Dear Jawaharlal,


Ever since my return from Ahmedabad and after the Cabinet meeting the same day which I had to attend at practically 15 minutes notice and for which I regret I was not able to read all the papers, I thought I should share with you what is passing through my mind.


I have carefully gone through the correspondence between the External Affairs Ministry and our Ambassador in Peking and through him the Chinese Government. I have tried to peruse this correspondence favourably(sic) to our Ambassador and the Chinese Government as possible, but I regret to say that neither of them comes out well as a result of this study, The Chinese Government has tried to delude us by professins of peaceful intentions.My own feeling is that at a crucial period they managed to instil into our Ambassador a false sense of confidence in their so called desire to settle the Tibetan problem by peaceful means.


There can be no doubt that during the period covered by this correspondence, the Chinese must have been concentrating for an onslaught on Tibet. The final action of the Chinese, in my judgement, is little short of perfidy. The tragedy of it is that the Tibetans put faith in us; they chose to be guided by us; and we have been unable to get them out of the meshes of Chinese diplomacy or Chinese malevolence. From the latest position, it appears that we shall not be able to rescue the Dalai Lama.


Our Ambassador has been at great pains to find an explanation or justification for Chinese policy and actions. As the External Affairs Ministry remarked in one of their telegrams, there was a lack of firmness and unnecessary apology in one or two representations that he made to the Chinese Government on our behalf.


It is impossible to imagine any sensible person believing in the so-called threat to China from Anglo-American diplomacy or strategy. This feeling, if genuinely entertained by the Chinese in spite of your direct approaches to them, indicates that even though we regard ourselves as friends of China,’THE CHINESE DO NOT REGARD US AS THEIR FRIENDS. With the Communist mentality of ‘whoever is not with them being against them’, this is a significant pointer, of which we have to take due note.


During the last several months, outside the Russian camp, we have been practically alone in championing the cause of Chinese entry into the UNO and in securing from the Americans assurances on the question of Formosa. We have done everything we could to assuage Chinese feelings, to allay its apprehensions and to defend its legitimate claims in our discussions and correspondence with America and Britain and in the UNO.In spite of this, China is not convinced about our disinterestedness; it continues to regard us with suspicion and the whole psychology is one, at least outwardly, of scepticism, perhaps mixed with a little hostility.


I doubt if we can go any further than we have done already to convince China of our good intentions, friendliness and goodwill. In Peking we have an Ambassador who is eminently suitable for putting across the friendly point of view. Even he seems to have failed to convert the Chinese. Their last telegram to us is an act of gross discourtesy not only in the summary way it disposes of our protest against the entry of Chinese forces into Tibet but also in the wild insinuation that our attitude is determined by foreign influences. It looks as though it is not a friend speaking in that language but a “POTENTIAL ENEMY”. 


With this background, we have to consider what new situation we are now faced with as a result of the disappearance of Tibet, as we knew it, and the Chinese expansion almost up to our gates. Throughout history, we have been seldom worried about our North-East frontier. The Himalayas have been regarded as an impregnable barrier against any threat from the North. We had a friendly Tibet, which gave us no trouble. The Chinese were divided. They had their own domestic problems and never bothered us about our frontiers.


In 1914,we entered into a convention with Tibet, which was not endorsed by the Chinese. We seem to have regarded Tibetan autonomy as extending to (an) independent treaty relationship.Presumably; all that we required was the Chinese counter-signature. The Chinese interpretation of suzerainty seems to be different. We can, therefore, safely assume that very soon they will disown all the stipulations which Tibet has entered into in the past. That throws all frontier and commercial settlements with Tibet, in accordance with which we had been functioning and acting during the last half a century, into the melting pot.


China is no longer divided. It is united and strong. All along the Himalayas in the North and North-East, we have on our side of the frontier a population not ethnologically or culturally different from Tibetans or Mongloids.The undefined state of the frontier and existence on our side of a population with affinities to Tibetans or Chinese has all the elements of potential trouble between China and us. Recent and bitter history also tells us that communism is no shield against imperialism, and that COMMUNISTS ARE AS GOOD OR AS BAD IMPERIALISTS AS ANY OTHER. 


Chinese ambitions in this respect not only cover the Himalayan slopes on our side but also include important parts of Assam. They have their ambitions in Burma also. Burma has the added difficulty that it has no McMahan Line around which to build up even the semblance of an agreement. Chinese irrentism and communist imperialism are different from the expansionism or imperialism of the Western Powers. The former has an ideological cloak, WHICH MAKES IT TEN TIMES WORSE.


  Racial, national or historical claims lie concealed in the guise of ideological expansion. The danger from the North and North-East,therefore,becomes both communist and imperialist. While our Western and North-Western threat to security is still as prominent as before, A NEW THREAT HAS DEVELOPED FROM THE NORTH AND NORTH-EAST.


Thus for the first time after centuries, India’s defence has to concentrate on two fronts simultaneously. Our defence measures have so far been based on calculations of superiority over Pakistan. We shall now have to reckon with communist China in the North and North-East, A COMMUNIST CHINA WHICH HAS DEFINITE AMBITIONS AND AIMS AND WHICH DOES NOT IN ANY WAY SEEM FRIENDLY TOWARDS US. 


Let us also consider the political conditions on this potentially troublesome frontier. Our Northern or North-eastern approaches consist of Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Darjeeling and tribal areas in Assam. They are weak from the point of view of communications. Continuous defensive lines do not exist. There is an almost unlimited scope for infiltration. Police protection is limited to a very small number of passes.There, too,our outposts do not seem to be fully manned. Our contact with these areas is by no means close and intimate.


The people inhabiting these portions have no established loyalty or devotion to India. Even the Darjeeling and Kali pong areas are not free from pro-Mongoloid prejudices. During the last three years, we have not been able to make any appreciable approaches to the Nagas and other hill tribes in Assam. European missionaries and other visitors have been in touch with them, but their influence was in no way friendly where Indians were considered. There was political ferment in Sikkim some time ago. It is quite possible that discontent is smouldering there.


Bhutan is comparatively quiet, but its affinity with Tibetans would be a handicap. Nepal has a weak oligarchic regime based almost entirely on force; it is in conflict with a turbulent element of the population, as well as with enlightened ideas of modern age. In these circumstances, to make people aware of the new danger, or to increase the defensive strength is a very difficult task indeed; and that difficulty can be got over only by enlightened firmness, strength and a clear line of policy.


I am sure the Chinese and their source of inspiration, Soviet Russia, would not miss any opportunity of exploiting these weak spots, partly in support of their ideology and partly their ambition. In my judgement, therefore, the situation is one in which we cannot afford to be either complacent or vacillating. We must have a clear idea of what we wish to achieve and the methods by which we should achieve it.Any lack of decisiveness in formulating our objectives or pursuing our policy to attain them is bound to weaken us and increase the threats.


Along with these external dangers, we shall now have to face serious internal problems as well.Hitherto,the Communist Party of India has found some difficulty in contacting communists abroad, or in getting supplies of arms, literature etc.from them. They had to contend with the difficult Burmese and Pakistan frontiers in the East or with the long seaboard. They shall now have a comparatively easy means of access to Chinese communists, and through them to other foreign communists. Infiltration of spies, fifth columnists and communists would now be easier.


The whole situation thus raises a number of problems on which we must come to an early decision so that we can, as I said earlier, formulate the objectives and methods of our policy.


It is also clear that the action will have to be fairly comprehensive, involving not only our defence strategy and state of preparations, but also problems of internal security. We shall also have to deal with administrative and political problems in the weak spots along the frontier to which I have already referred.


It is, of course, impossible for me to exhaustively set out all the problems. I have, however, given below some of the problems which, in my opinion, require early solutions, around which we have to build our administrative or military policy measures.


(a) A military and intelligence appreciation of the Chinese threat to India, both on the frontier and internal security.


(b) An examination of our military position and such re-disposition of forces as might be necessary, particularly with the idea of guarding important routes or areas which are likely to be the subject of dipute.


(c)An appraisement of the strength of our forces and, if necessary, reconsideration of our retrenchment plans for the Army in the light of these new threats.


(d)A long term consideration of our defence needs. My own feeling is that unless we assure our supplies of arms, ammunition and armour, we should be MAKING OUR DEFENCE POSITION PERPETUALLY WEAK and would not be able to stand up to the double threat of difficulties both from the West and Northwest, North and Northeast.


(e) The question of the Chinese entry into UNO.In view of the Chinese rebuff, and the method it has followed in dealing with Tibet, I doubt whether we can advocate its claims any longer. The UNO would probably threaten to virtually outlaw China in view of its active participation in the Korean War. We must determine our attitude on this question also.


(f) The political and administrative steps which we should take to strengthen our Northern and North-eastern frontiers. This would include the entire borderline. Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Darjeeling and the tribal territory in Assam.


(g) Measures of internal security in the border areas, such as U.P, Bihar,Bengal and Assam.


(h)Improvements of our communications, road, rail, air and wireless in these areas and with the frontier outposts.


(i)Policing and intelligence of frontier outposts.


(j) The future of our mission at Lhasa and the trade posts at Gyangtse and Yatung and the forces we have in operation in Tibet to guard the trade routes.


(k) The policy in regard to the McMohan Line.


It is possible that a consideration of these matters may lead us into wider questions of our relationship with China, Russia, America, Britain and Burma.This, however would be of a general nature, though some may be important. For instance, we might have to consider whether we should not enter into closed association with Burma in order to strengthen the latter in its dealings with China.


I do not rule out the possibility that, before applying pressure on us, China may do the same to Burma. With Burma, the frontier is entirely undefined and the Chinese territorial claims are more substantial. In its present position, Burma might offer an easier problem for China and, therefore, might claim its first attention.   I suggest that we meet early to have a general discussion on these problems and decide on such steps as we might think to be immediately necessary and direct quick examination of other problems with a view to taking early measures to deal with them.



Vallabhai Patel.





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