Nehru’s India supplied rice for the invading PLA troops in Tibet in the early 1950s.
The Chinese invasion of Tibet, which culminated in the 1962 war between India and China, has often been portrayed as the “Great Chinese Betrayal”—“a stab in the back”, as Jawaharlal Nehru would say with much pain and anguish. Claude Arpi, in his 2017 book, Tibet: The Last Months of a Free Nation, proved with fresh shreds of evidence that the notion of “betrayal” was a farce. It was “a stab from the front”, as M.J. Akbar observed in his eloquent biography on Nehru. For, the then Prime Minister and his comrades refused to see the writing on the wall for more than a decade.In his latest book, Will Tibet Ever Find Her Soul Again?, Arpi comes up with another explosive revelation: that Nehru’s India supplied rice for the invading PLA troops in Tibet when they were busy rampaging and decimating the Tibetan… Click To Tweet
writes the France-born expert on Tibet and China who is now settled in India. “Without Delhi’s active support, the Chinese troops would not have been able to survive in Tibet.”
Tibet, before the massive Chinese influx of the 1950s, was a self-sufficient society. The locals had, for centuries, practised sustainable development, and starvation was unheard of. But the PLA avalanche triggered a breakdown in the Tibetan economy. Before the arrival of the Chinese Army in the forbidden kingdom, Arpi writes, few Tibetans had ever eaten rice. Roast barley, known as tsampa, had been their staple food for centuries. “The influx of fresh troops brought the first serious problem in the new co-existence between the Chinese occupants and the Lhasa government: the availability of foodstuff,” he writes.
Blinded by dark ideological lenses or even duped by China’s “bhai-bhai” chimera, India refused to see the true nature of communist China and its devastating presence in Tibet. It didn’t even grasp that China was hitting out at India… Click To Tweet
This rice diplomacy continued for well over four years. On 20 October 1954, it was re-emphasised that India would continue to supply rice to the PLA stationed in Tibet. “Rice which China would buy was intended exclusively for Tibet,… Click To Tweet
To overcome the food crisis in Tibet, Chairman Mao and his comrades looked towards India. S.M. Krishnatry, the Indian Trade Agent (ITA) in Gyantse, mentioned that the Chinese government had requested the Government of India “for an agreement allowing facilities for the transport of food and other supplies through India”. The Chinese government wanted transit facilities for 10,000 tonnes of food grains through India, as a special case. Delhi first agreed after careful consideration to allow the transit of about 3,000 tonnes of rice to Tibet. “While pointing out the transport problems involved in the proposal, the Government of India expressed their (sic) willingness to consider it together with all outstanding issues regarding their position in Tibet,” wrote Krishnatry. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the Tibetan part of the story was soon forgotten.
Ten months later, the first truck would reach Lhasa from the Chinese side. Rice via India wasn’t required anymore.
One wonders what would have happened had India not sent rice. Would the PLA have consolidated so easily its hold over the Roof of the World? Instead of confronting China over its forceful annexation of Tibet, which replaced a peaceful neighbour for India with an aggressive, imperialist one, the Nehru government felicitated the same by providing food for the invading troops.
There’s another interesting thing that comes out from the book: That Nehru may have been blinded by his deep ideological moorings, but his love for the nation was paramount. It’s evident from the way he handled the case of four Indian “PoWs”. The same, however, can’t be said about his trusted lieutenants.
Even when the PLA was busy disrupting and distorting the Tibetan way of life, Panikkar would send a note back home, saying: “Not much news has been appearing about Tibet of late and it is expected that the work of re-organisation there will naturally take time and will be handled with tact and care by the Chinese authorities.”