(Part 1 ended with historian S Gopal’s view that at the heart of China's failure to disclose its claims on Indian-claimed territory was the fact that it had no desire for a long-term friendship with India.)

By 1959, with the unfolding of the revolt in Tibet, the flight of the Dalai Lama to India and the proclamation of China’s territorial claims in Premier Zhou’s letter of January 23, 1959 to the prime minister, the Rubicon had been crossed. Gopal defined it thus: “To China, India was no longer a useful friend in the Afro-Asian world but a rival; and, in addition, relations with India were entangled with China’s insecure position in Tibet and her differences with the Soviet Union.”

Part 2
The border clashes at Longju and the ambushing of an Indian police party at Kongka Pass followed. In Jagat Mehta’s words, Nehru was now “caught between the outrage of Indian public opinion and serious damage to his hope that the India-China friendship would validate his confidence in different social systems coexisting peacefully.” The high noon of those years of “Indians and Chinese are brothers” and the “friendship of one billion” had been consigned to history.

Dorothy Woodman once remarked that “Nehru ‘died’ at the Kongka Pass, because after that time, he...realised that they (the Chinese) were not honest about the maps. He knew about the road over the Aksai Chin. He…had discussed the boundary question and the McMahon Line [with Zhou Enlai], and Chou En-lai had really given Nehru to believe that they would accept the McMahon Line..."

“I think after the Kongka Pass incident...Nehru began to mistrust the Chinese more and more and more. Then it seems to me Indian public opinion became hysterical about China. So that Nehru was himself under the pressure of public opinion; and then, he was a very tired man. I do not think…he was ever himself again, not completely. He was a very disillusioned man.”

China’s strategy, in the years after the Panchsheel agreement of 1954, was to claim that it was acting on the basis of the Five Principles. Its refrain was to state that it was the victim of illegal and unequal treaties when it came to the definition of its “lost” territories. These lofty views rested on rather shaky foundations.

Most of the Himalayan region, including Tibet, had been part of one vast buffer zone in the 19th and early 20th centuries. If China was seen as justified in acquiring a buffer in Tibet through an assertion of sovereignty, then India was equally acting within its rights when it moved after Independence to consolidate its interests in the Himalayan buffer states of Nepal and Bhutan, ensuring that Sikkim was secure, and consolidating its presence and sovereignty over areas like Tawang.

It can be justifiably argued that Zhou Enlai minimised the incipient territorial dispute with India, for it is conceivable that if the Chinese leader had spoken with greater transparency about Chinese claims in Ladakh during his talks with Nehru in 1956, at the height of a period of bilateral friendship and goodwill, and before the “discovery” of the Aksai Chin road, and the revolt in Tibet, the trajectory of the dispute may have been different and the scope for a negotiated settlement based on accommodation and adjustment by each side could have been more feasible.

Nehru and Zhou: two products of different revolutions, involved in their respective definitions of nationhood, were key players in the determination of the course of the dispute . The decade-and-a half period after India’s independence, had been 'The Age of Nehru', particularly in Indian foreign policy.

Nehru enjoyed an almost “magical” prestige with the Indian people.  He was acclaimed as Bharat Bhushan, India’s jewel. In words of one of his biographers, the Australian diplomat, Walter Crocker: “It was based in part upon the fact that the people believed that he had been chosen by Gandhi as his political heir; in part upon the charm and aliveness of his mere presence; in part upon his devotion to the national interest as he saw it, so self-evident and so marking him off from the run of Indian politicians..”

As Nehru’s biographer, Gopal charted the evolution of Nehru’s personality over the years. Here again, China is present as that familiar compound ghost, for as he evolved as a person and intellectual, Nehru “discerned the common element in the struggles against imperialism, of whatever shade, in various parts of the world, and awakened to a sympathy with China which was to be, for the rest of his life, the core of his pan-Asian feeling.”

As a young, emotional romantic particularly, the frontiers of India’s national movement for Nehru, lay in Spain and China, “for freedom, like peace, was indivisible, and in the final analysis it did not matter much where fate had pitched one’s tent”. This, then, was his formative ideology, maintaining through his life, “a half-liberal, half-Marxist position”, experimenting with democratic socialism, a superhuman experiment in itself.

In the mid-twentieth century heyday of Indian foreign policy, Nehru succeeded admirably in creating a credible image of what Kingsley Martin once called, “a third force, as if he could act as a peacemaker”. This was particularly evident during the Korean War and in Indo-China.

Non-alignment was Nehru’s diplomatic challenge, as some have called it, to the Cold War system. It was his attempt to remake the world, of questioning assumptions about East and West, North and South. It was his way, as is said, of “shoving back” at international structures that “shaped and shoved”.

He was ambitious about his foreign policy and India’s role in the world, navigating between two opposing blocs, confronting issues of war and peace, and leaving an indelible global imprint in a way India has not been able to do since.

But Nehru’s view of the world was also based on a deep sense of morality. It stemmed from the zeitgeist – the yugadharma – of India’s freedom movement, the record of having toppled the British Raj through non-violent resistance. A recent work by Andrew Bingham Kennedy terms it as Nehru’s imbued conviction of “moral efficacy” as opposed to confidence in the military sphere, an area where the contrast with China’s early Communist leadership is apparent.

Where, in contrast with Nehru and his admiration of China, were the Chinese, especially their new leadership after 1949? When Sardar KM Panikkar, India’s first Ambassador to the People’s Republic, arrived in Beijing in May 1950, the British Foreign Office had this to say: “...It is worth keeping in mind that the Chinese on the whole have a profound contempt for the Indians...and also a sense of very considerable superiority towards them…

“While the Indian on occasion may be sentimental, the Chinese is essentially a realist.. on the personality side, while the Indians are frequently superior, the present Chinese Communist leaders are physically and morally of an altogether tougher breed and fibre. Of the physical toughness of the Chinese Communist, the Long March is the classic, heroic symbol...There is no doubt whatsoever that in the technique of political organisation, hard-headedness and ruthless determination, and above all, in realism, the Chinese Communists win hands down…”

This is Part 2 of the S Gopal Memorial Lecture at King's College, London, titled, The Politics of History: India and China – 1949-1962, delivered in May by Nirupama Rao, former Indian ambassador to the US and a fellow at the Watson Institute of International Studies, Brown University.