Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Nehru’s Letters to the US President and the Indo-China Conflict

China has been India’s bete-noire since the time a horde of Yuch-chi nomadic tribes from North-West China had overrun Indian territory in around 150 BC. Subsequently, the 1962 war, which resulted in an embarrassing loss of face to the Nehru Government, proved a watershed in Sino-Indian relations. In the context of the war, the two letters of Nehru, as addressed to John F. Kennedy, the then President of the US, that were recently made public, make for interesting reading. Apparently, they were reeled off in quick succession on 19th of November, 1962 after China had made deep inroads in the North-Eastern territory, following their crossing the MacMohan Line in the month of September.

In the first letter, Nehru thanked Kennedy for the ‘speed at which the urgently needed arms & ammunition were rushed to India’ and voiced his grievance at the ‘grim situation in the struggle for survival against an unscrupulous and powerful aggressor’. At the time of drafting of the two letters, China had all but captured Bomdi La in the Kameng Division, the headquarters of the NEFA command. A distraught Nehru also happened to address the nation acknowledging the serious reverses with the imminent takeover by the Chinese of Chushul in the Ladakh valley which would lead them to Leh, the headquarters of Ladakh. Within hours of dispatch of the first, Nehru reeled off a second letter, after the fall of the Sela Pass, requesting Kennedy for comprehensive air support in the form of ‘a minimum of 12 squadrons of supersonic all-weather fighters’ and for the US Air force personnel to ‘protect the radar installations from Chinese air attacks’. Nehru, despite a desperate need to deploy the nation’s own air force, expressed his inability to do so in his letter, as ‘the present state of India’s air and radar equipment did not provide a defence mechanism against retaliatory action by the Chinese’. All of this, became meaningless as the very next day, China declared a unilateral ceasefire and a withdrawal from most of the Indian territories that they had taken over, perhaps with a foreboding of the possible intervention of Western powers. They of course, refused to give up the highway stretch in Aksai Chin that gave them direct access to Tibet from Xingiang region.

But the harm had been done and India was downsized in a military showdown with China like never before. The events were a direct offshoot of a flawed defence policy, troops that were ill-equipped to fight the enemy in alien terrain and a lack of tactical resources. It was ironical that less than a decade of his rejecting Eisenhower’s offer of military aid with no strings attached, Nehru had to turn to the US for immediate air support with an unceremonious volte-face to India’s committed non-alignment policy.

Almost 50 years have since gone by, yet the vestiges of the war still remain. Despite friendly overtures by the Prime Ministers of both the countries recently, relations continue to be strained over boundary disputes, which seem unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

Is India Home to the Oldest Civilisation?

The discoveries of the Indus Valley Civilisation are now well-documented. It is also believed that the ruins of Harappa were first located when a British Engineer, John Brunton accidentally stumbled upon some bricks close to a railway line being laid to connect Lahore and Karachi towns in 1856. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Sir John Marshall carried out excavations at the site to fix a time-zone of 3250-2750 BC when civilization at the Indus Valley flourished. It is generally agreed upon that civilization took shape sometime between 8000 and 4000 BC.

There have been several theories on when and where did the oldest civilization take root. The most popular one is that it all began in what has come to be known as the 'cradle of civilisation', Mesopotamia, primarily because some human settlement has been sourced to the region during the Neolithic age which dates back to 7000 BC. However, concrete evidence points to the fact that civilization flourished in the region during the times of the ancient Sumerians, roughly coinciding with the Bronze age, which in turn, ran concurrent with the mature Harappan period during 3100-1900 BC. The rise of dynastic Egypt in the Nile Valley occurred in approximately 3200 BC, which is concurrent with the same age as the Sumerians and some of the oldest, but pre-civilized settlement relics found in China again date back to about 7000 BC.

In the North-West part of the sub-continent, the revolution is believed to have occurred somewhere around 8000-7000 BC when the use of metallic objects and agriculture for livelihood began. Based on the excavations carried out by a French Archaeologist, Jean-Francois Jarrige in 1974 around the Indus Valley region and from remnants of the pottery, the tools, as well as the human and animal bones, it has been concluded that even during the pre-Harappan period, some form of civilization existed in the Kachi plains of Baluchisthan, specifically the region of Mehrgarh dating back to 7000-6500 BC, arguably the earliest urban site identified that pre-dates all others in substantial measure. Another evidence of a ‘lost river civilisation’ was found in 2001, when marine archaeologists detected signs of an ancient submerged settlement in the Gulf of Khambhat off the West coast of India in Gujarat and carbon dating of one of the wooden samples has fixed the period to 7500 BC.

So could it be that the most ancient forms of civilization existed in this part of the world? If one takes into account that life on earth has existed over 2 lakh years of which the pre-historic age dates back to the best accuracy of about 10000 to 8000 BC, it is hard to establish facts as incontrovertible truths, based on research that at best stretches over a few decades. But the fact remains that no form of civilization pre-dating 7000 BC that is representative of organized community living, has been identified with a level of certainty as yet and some of the ones that did seem to have existed during the period have been sourced to the sub-continent.