McMahon Line: Reality, Simla Convention & British Incursion

Until the mid-eighties we used to swear by that cartographical absurdity called McMahon Line. Repeatedly we would proclaim the proceedings of the 1914 Simla Convention were sacrosanct. Funny indeed both India and China, the principal contenders today, were nowhere in the picture in the Simla Convention.

To say the least the Simla Convention was out and out a British affair, the avowed objectives being to tear the Tibet region off, vivisect the region into inner and outer divisions and impose arbitrary frontiers and absurd alignments. The Chinese officials representing a considerably weakened Central Government responded to the British invitation. However they soon had die cause to see through the import of the British game plan. There being no other Option the Chinese plenipotentiary left the Convention in a huff. He at the same time refused to sign any papers presented to him. Nor did his Central Government ratify the so-called agreement. As for the Indian participant except for a couple of the waiters who served drinks to the British Sahibs none else was around. And yet, paradoxically, our leaders since the early fifties swear by the abortive Simla Agreement as though it carried the super-sanctity of the Rigveda. Since neither the British Raj nor Republic of India nor the People’s Republic of China ratified at any stage the inconclusive proceedings of Simla Convention the so called McMahon Line was invalid and agreement was dead.

The limited objective which propelled the British to call the Simla Convention did specially include delimitations of boundaries. The real objective was to create a buffer state in Tibet standing athwart its European (mainly Russian Czarists) rivals and its Asian colonies. The hour, it was reckoned, was propitious, for the Central Government in China was found at that time to be rather very weak.

The most of India’s border with China runs with, its Tibet [Xizang Zizhiqu (Autonomous Region)] region except a little with Sinkiang [Xinjiang Uygur Zizhiqu (Autonomous Region) and an old name was Chinese Turkestan] region. It does not meet directly with China. To understand well, the issues involves in Sino-Indian Relations, India-China Border Dispute, India-China Border War of 1962, interested readers should know well about the Tibet Issue being in the core of the dispute with China, by knowing its background and the historical status of Tibet. Some of the important events of its history are being cited for their ready reference.(read separate chapter on historical status of Tibet-Some of the important events of its history are being cited for their ready reference).

Simla Convention Failure: Invalid McMahon Line

The Simla Convention (1914) was total failure so far as the principal aim was concerned. China did not agree to a draft convention drawn up by the British, which looked to the zonal partition of Tibet and refused to allow their representative in Simla to sign the draft. The proposed division would have entailed withdrawal of Chinese administration from certain areas and the Chinese based their objection upon this. Against both the spirit and letter of these instructions, the British representative, Sir Henry McMahon (the Foreign Secretary of the Govt. of India), proceeded to sign with the Tibetans a secret declaration that the draft convention would be binding upon their two Governments. An explicit instruction from London forbidding McMahon to take this step i.e. to sign a bipartite agreement with the Tibetans—was delayed, and McMahon was able to sign the secret declaration before he received it. Accepting, however, the fait accompli London gave retrospective approval to McMahon’s action of this secret Trade Agreement with Tibet, which was never ratified even by the local Tibetan Government.

On appraisal of Sir Charles Bell’s disclosure about the achievements of Simla Convention regarding Tibet and India and allied facts, one may conclude, although the whole content of Simla Convention was the need, recognized in London, to keep Russian Czarists and Chinese powers away from the borders of India, the delimitation of those borders was not among the purposes of the Convention—at least not so far as the Government in London was concerned. It seems likely, however, that the Government of India had from the beginning intended to get an agreement on India-Tibet boundary at the Simla Convention. On all events the British in India did use the Simla Convention to obtain Tibetan agreement to new boundary alignment, advancing the limits of the British territory from a line along the foot of the hills to the crestline of the Assam Himalayas, 60 miles to the north. Such a Boundary would not only put a wide swathe of tribal no-man’s land within India; but would also annex a salient potion of Tibetan territory, adjacent to Bhutan, which ran right down to the plains—the Tawang Tract.

It was indeed shocking that our new rulers did not dissociate themselves from the imperialist offensive the British often mounted on our Asian neighbours from safe haven of their Indian colony. Being then the only superpower Great Britain operating from its several colonies all over the world sought to dismantle all such countries as were likely to offer them challenge of any merit. In the process they attacked several countries* broke them into pieces, inflicted on them unequal treaties (mostly drafted in London) and physically forced diem to sub serve the British world view on global power equations.

It was not without significance that British India was enthusiastically hailed as the brightest gem of the British Crown. For it was India that served as its eastern kingpin to subdue a galaxy of the Asian countries-—to the east, to the west and to the north of India. As part of this gameplan the British raising Indian troops on the Indian soil led successive military invasions on the Tibet region to gain corridor through Central Asia to take on its potential European rivals. It was only to perpetuate such ill-gotten gains that the British unilaterally decided to impose on the crumbling, emaciated old China the so-called Simla Treaty of 1914. However China, though no match to the British predators mustered enough guts to decline to sign and ratify the British imperialist moves. In fact what the British chose to achieve at Simla then was to advance its own global interest across the Asian continent.

The real drama unfolded itself at Simla when Henry McMahon, by no imprecise map a thick red line to indicate the boundary between the Tibet region and China; a thick blue line between Tibet region and British India. No survey work had been done by the two countries— China and British India. Normally a map reflects in precise terms the ground reality accepted as such by the countries involved in exercise. And in this extra-ordinary case, conversely, the ground reality was to tailor and re-tailor itself to the cartographical commandment as unilaterally pronounced by the British.

An eminent historian Miss Dorothy Woodman writes: “The main thrust of the open British effort at the ‘Simla Conference’ was to compel China to accept a division of Tibet into two zones, Inner Tibet and Outer Tibet, such as had recently been agreed upon by China and Russia in the case of Mongolia, as Outer Mongolia and Inner Mongolia. The China’s suzerainty over the whole of Tibet was to be recognized, but she was to enjoy no administrative rights in Outer Tibet—and would thus be kept back from the borders of India. The Chinese were not prepared to accept the British proposal, but neither did they reject it out of hand: weakness had brought an unwilling China to the conference, weakness and the coercive diplomatic methods of Britain—and of McMahon himself—kept her there. The Chinese representative and intelligence agent in Calcutta, Lu Hsing- chi, put it succinctly: ‘Our country is at present in an enfeebled condition; our external relations are involved and difficult and our finances embar¬rassed. Nevertheless, Tibet is of a paramount importance to both (Szechuan and Yunnan) and we must exert ourselves to the utmost during this confer¬ence’. The Chinese delegate at Simla was Chen I-fan (or Ivan Chen), a polished and experienced diplomat who had served for years in London; but Lu Hsing-chi, who described himself as Chinese Consul in Calcutta and Chinese Amban (viceroy) in Lhasa as well (British were recognizing him in neither capacity) was the keyman from China’s point of view. Lu’s intelli¬gence network was excellent, he had an astute political mind, and his advice to Beijing was consistent throughout: ‘yield nothing.’ His drawback as an intelligence operative was that all his messages to China, and those to him from Simla, were being monitored by the British, who therefore knew for most of the Simla Conference not only what was in their opponent’s hand, but what he knew of what was in theirs. (Woodman: Himalayan Frontiers, pp. 166-67)

Professor Alastair Lamb writes: “There had in fact been such an agreement, as a secret by-product of the Simla Conference. In February and March 1914 there were discussions in Delhi between the British and the Tibetans about the direct trade and India’s border with Tibet, and as a result, later in July an undeclared agreement and alignment was agreed upon—the McMahon Line. The Chinese were not invited to participate, nor were they informed of the discussions. In fact every effort was made, then and for twenty years after, to keep these exchanges secret—they were, after all, in breach not only of the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1906 in which Britain had ‘engage (d) not to annex Tibetan territory’, but also of the Anglo- Russian Convention of 1907, in which she had ‘engaged not to enter into negotiations with Tibet except through the intermediary of the Chinese Government’. That, in spite ofBritish precautions, the Chinese delegation or the well-informed Lu Hsing-chi in Calcutta got wind of the secret Delhi discussions with the Tibetans is more likely than not; but, if they did, they gave no other intimation of their knowledge than can be inferred from China’s repeated declarations that she would not recognize any treaty or agreement that might then or thereafter be signed between Britain and Tibet (Alaistair Lamb: The McMahon Line, (1966), pp. 247-57)

Professor Alastair Lamb has pointed out that the red line on the Simla Convention map at its north-western extremity curves precisely round where Aksai Chin would be if it were marked, and infers from this that the British were still at this time hoping to make Aksai Chin part of Tibet, in hope of excluding the Chinese from it as well as the Russians. He makes the point that, if it is argued that the Simla map gives legal strength to the Indian claim for a McMahon Line boundary, it would give just as much weight against their claim to a boundary in the north¬west which left Aksai Chin in India. (Lamb: op, cit, p. 553)

In 1966 Professor Alastair Lamb’s classic two-volume work: The McMahon Line was published. In this book based on exhaustive study of British Foreign Office and India Office documents, Lamb concludes: “Had McMahon been able to secure Chinese signature to the Simla Convention which would have meant concessions on the Inner-Outer Tibet border alignment which the Dalai Lama might well have refused to accept, it might perhaps have been possible to follow up the Convention with a supplementary Anglo-Chinese agreement on the Assam border. The history ofthe Simla Conference, ofcourse, made such a settlement impossible for both the Chinese and the British; and so long as Mr. Nehru and his advisors clung to the validity of the proceedings at Simla and Delhi between October 1913 and July 1914 a settlement of this kind continued to be out of question between independent India and Communist China”. (Lamb: op, cit, p. 586).

He concluded: “There is a certain irony in the way which the independent Indian Government has clung to the illusory gains of the period 1912-1914, apparently unaware that in them lie the roots of the present dilemma. Why Mr. Nehru, while declaring himself committed to a policy of friendship, of peaceful co-existence, with Communist China, should have adhered with such tenacity to those symbols, at least in Chinese eyes, of British Imperialism, the Simla Convention and the McMahon Line notes, is one of the mysteries of the twentieth century” (Lamb: op, cit, p. 590, Karunakar Gupta quoted by Frontier, 27 March 1982).

Lamb also produced a scholarly book of 192 pages entitled The China-India Border in 1963 under auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London with a foreword by the Rt. Hon. Kenneth Younger, Director of the Institute (who was the Minister of State, Foreign Affairs, under the Attlee Cabinet). Guy Wint prophetically commented on this book in The Observer (London) of 23 February 1964:

“Mr. Lamb must be ready for storm of resentment from India which greets all would-be peace makers. India which bans books with extraordinary fluency, has now the opportunity to show that she can be magnanimous and let this one circulate.”

True, this book is not available India.

Sir Francis Tuker, who was the C-in-C of the Eastern Command in India during the last days of the British Raj, wrote in the Geographical Journal (May 1964): “The study that Mr. Lamb has made is not only exhaustive but compels one to agree with his conclusion:

‘-yet it may be regrettable that, before the crisis of late 1962 was reached and, it may be, a point of no return was passed, India did not attempt to offer the few concessions which she could in all justice have made rather than have persisted in her declaration of absolute rights. This might not have solved the problem of Sino-Indian relations; but in attempting it India could hardly have been accused of appeasement”

Sir Francis Tuker concluded: “This little book is easy reading and should be widely studied: In its small compass it covers an amaz¬ing amount of ground.”

The first Foreign Secretary of free India referred this book in his convocation address to the Indian School of International Studies of Jawaharlal Nehru University in December 1969. Even late R. K. Nehru in his conversations with several Indian scholars in the late sixties commended this book as valuable study of the frontier problem. G. N. Rao, one of the Indian team of officials of the Ministry of External Affairs, who helped to produce the Report on the Sino-Indian Boundary Question (February 1961) wrote a book in early 1964 entitled The India- China Border Dispute: A Reappraisal. His main purpose was to denigrate Alastair Lamb’s work, The China-India Border, which acquired a somewhat special reputation for several reasons. First, the Chatham House has lent its name to this publication and recommended it as a scholarly and disinterested contribution. Secondly, the conclusions reached in the book have the appearance of being independent and objective. They reject as unjustified the huge claims put forward by the Chinese in the North-East Frontier Area of India, but concede the claims over the bulk of Northern Ladakh as also over certain small parts of the North-East Frontier Area. In effect, the work seeks to find a meeting ground and compromise and for this, if for no other reason, commends itself to some people favourably inclined to such a compromise solution.”

Lamb’s book had, of course, one limitation. In 1963, he had access to British official record upto 1913 only, (constrained by 50-year rule about the release of official records. Later it was 30-year). Though he had then no access to Simla Convention records, Alastair Lamb had access to Sir Robert Reid’s book on History of the Frontier Areas Bordering on Assam (1942), and J. P. Mill’s article on the Problems of the Assam-Tibet Frontier (JRCAS, 1950) and he knew well that the Tibetan Local Govern¬ment did not unconditionally accept the McMahon Line in July 1914, and in fact the Tibetans were in occupation of Tawang and several other areas below the McMahon Line. Dr. Lamb, however, took a charitable view when he said, “The McMahon Line is, on the whole, quite a fair and reasonable boundary between China and India along the Assam Himalayas.” (Lamb, op cit, p. 169)

Due to misinformation emanating from India’s Ministry of External Affairs through The Times correspondent {The Times, 6 March 1963), Dr. Lamb was misled to believe that in 1927 there were border negotiation between Britain and China which led the British Government to adopt what amounted to a variant of the Macartney- Macdonald alignment of 1899.” (Lamb: op, cit, p. 112).

Anyway, he suggested acceptance of the Macartney-Macdonald Line which would only allow the Chinese to be in possession of the road between Sinkiang and Tibet they had built through Aksai Chin in 1956-57, without any protest from India. Recent researches have revealed that in 1946, the Indian Army, in their ‘top secret’ map submitted to the British Cabinet Mission, accepted the Karakorm range as the northern boundary of India in the western sector, and the claim advanced by Indian officials to a boundary line east of the Karakoram range via Qaratagh Pass has no basis in the international law.

Two Versions of Aitchison’s Treaties

Dr. Alaistair Lamb in his book ‘The China-India Border’ made public that Sir J. M. Addis, a British diplomat, produced a paper on India China Border Question in February 1963, which revealed for the first time that: “There were two versions of the Aitchison’s Treaties (1929) one containing the text of the McMahon Line notes and the Simla Convention, and the other without these texts which were inserted into the Aitchison’s Treaties collection at a date later than 1929, and that a new Volume was substituted for the original Volume which omitted these texts. The original 1929 Volume, of which Addis saw a copy at Harvard University, not only leaves out the texts but also states that the Simla Convention produced no valid agreement. In the revised Volume, which is to be found in most English libraries, there is a clear implication that the McMahon Line notes and the July text of the Simla Convention are agreements binding in international law”. Being constrained by the 50-year rule about the release of official records, Dr. Lamb could not unveil the process by which Volume XIV of Aitchison’s Treaties (1929), was made to present contrary versions about the Simla Conference in different copies. Dorothy Woodman, author of Himalayan Frontiers (1969), must have been aware of the- text of Aitchison’s Treaties in the late thirties undertaken on the initiative of former foreign deputy secretary of India Sir Olaf K. Caroe, but for reasons other than academic, she chose not to reveal this in her book, (due to introduction of the 30-year rule about official records, in the mid-sixties Woodman had access to documents up to 1938.)

The original edition of the Aitchison’s Treaties Volume XIV published in 1929, contained the following about the Simla Convention (1914): “In 1913 a conference of Tibetan, Chinese and British Plenipotentiaries met in India to try and bring about a settlement in regard to matters on the Sino-Tibetan frontier; and a tri-partite Convention was drawn up and initialled in 1914. The Chinese Government, however, refused to permit their Plenipotentiary to proceed to full signature.”

The India Office Records reveal how in the late 1930s Sir Olaf K. Caroe, then Deputy Secretary in the External Affairs Department in New Delhi, arranged for the copies of the original Aitchison’s Treaties Vol. XIV to be withdrawn from the libraries and replaced them by a fake version with an imprint of 1929. In this concocted volume, it was asserted that the Simla Conference was to negotiate an agreement as to the international status of Tibet as also the frontiers of Tibet both with China and India, and that though China refused to ratify the Convention, the Simla Convention was ratified by Great Britain and Tibet by means of a bilateral declaration accepting it as binding between themselves.

The Foreign Secretary to the Government of India in his letter of 3 September 1915, written to Charles Bell, Political Officer, Sikkim (later Trade Commissioner at Lhasa), said clearly: “The Simla Convention has not been signed by the Chinese Government or accepted by Russian Government and is, therefore, for the present invalid.”

Sir H.A.F. Rumbold in Asian Affairs (Spring 1977), who had been a senior official in the India Office, strongly criticised the ill- advised policy of the Government of Ihdia particularly in regard to the western sector of the Northern frontier: “The basic trouble is that, whereas the Raj aimed at borders in the remote areas of the Himalayas and Karakoram mountains which were administrative^ convenient and were ready to be flexible about them, independent India elevated lines drawn by cartographers into status symbols with the sanctity of Holy Writ”. The book was generally well received by critics in the Indian press.

Dr. A. P. Rubin said of the Simla Convention that: “The records showed ‘responsible officials of British India to have acted to the injury of China in conscious violation of their instructions; deliberately misinforming their superiors in London of their actions; altering documents whose publication had been ordered by Parliament; tying at an international conference table; and deliberately breaking a treaty between the United Kingdom and Russia’. McMahon and other ‘strong and honourable men.he concluded, “…were corrupted by provincial power into misleading their political superiors and bullying the foreign representatives with whom they came in contact’. {American Journal of International Law, Vol. 61, 1967, p. 827)

And the more: “The Government of the United States has born in mind the fact that the Chinese Government has long claimed sovereignty over Tibet and that the Chinese constitution lists Tibet among areas constituting the territory of the Republic of China This Government has at no time reused a question regarding either of those claims”. [Foreign Relations of the US, 1943; China (Washington, DC. 1957), Quoted in Edgar Snow: The Other Side of the River (Gollancz, London, 1963), p. 589]

In late sixties, Naville Maxwell, now a senior research associate at International Development Centre, Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford University and had been a famous commentator, made a deep and honest analysis of the Simla Convention: “The ‘Simla Conference’ itself is a story. It involves a show of diplomatic ploys, power politics, espionage and other complicated performances”.

He went on to point out: “The essence of the McMahon Line is to push the border northward for about 60 miles, and move the strategically open mountain ranges to the top of the Himalayas in Assam.” (Neville Maxwell: India’s China War, p. 47)

In addition to Maxwell’s book, many justice-seeking foreign scholars have produced books to throw light to and attack the cheating acts of Britain in staging the ‘Simla Conference’ and producing the ‘McMahon Line’. They include ‘The Making of Modern Tibet’ by A. Tom Greenfield and ‘The China-India Border’ by British scholar Alastair Lamb. The late Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai expounded the illegality of the ‘Simla Convention’ and the ‘McMahon Line’ and China’s stern stand on these matters in his 15 November 1962 letter to leaders of Asian and African countries. Qabai Cedain, a noted Tibetan scholar, pointed out sharply: ‘The Simla Convention is illegal and serves as the evidence that the British imperialists plotted to tear Tibet from the motherland’. (Qabai Cedain Puncong and Norcham Wugyain: Concise History of Tibet, middle volume Tibetan edition, p. 677)

Invention Of The Word ‘Suzerainty’

On 17 Aug. 1912, Sir John Jordan, the British Minister in Beijing, declared that his government would not recognize the Republic of China if it sent garrisons or administrators to Tibet or gave in parliamentary representation. Britain, his memorandum specified, conceded Chinese ‘suzerainty’ but not sovereignty over Tibet, and wanted a special conference held on the matter, pending which she would block all transit of goods and personnel between Tibet and the rest of China by way of India. Yuan Shikai’s government publicly protested that the step was virtually an act of war by ‘friendly’ Britain. But in feet, it meakly agreed to talk. Thus was hatched the notorious ‘Simla Conference’ of 1913-14, through which British empire- builders wanted not only to tear Tibet from China, but also to annex a large segment of south-eastern Tibet to their India domain.

Worth noting the origin of ‘suzerainty’, it is said that Lord Curzon, who was Viceroy of India in 1904, first used the word ‘suzerainty’ in the restricted context of British India government document. The first international document which used and explained this word was a convention signed by Britain and Russia in-Petersburg on 13 August 1907, titled The Convention Between Great Britain and Russia Relating to Persia, Afghanistan and Tibet. This convention has three sections. The first dealt with the spheres of influence, special rights and interests of Britain and Russia in Persia. The second dealt with Afghanistan, and the third concerned Tibet. This section declared that the governments of Great Britain and Russia recognized China’s right of suzerainty over Tibet In the first sentence of the second article it stated, “In conformity with the admitted principle of the suzerainty of China over Tibet, Great Britain and Russia engage not to enter into negotiations with Tibet except through the intermediary of the Chinese government” It may be the only time the word ‘suzerainty’ was used in an international treaty concerning China’s relationship with Tibet.

Britain took advantage of Russia’s weakness following its defeat at the hands of the Japanese to secure a declaration conceding Britain’s special interests and rights in Tibet Because China’s sovereignty over the region was an obstruction to both sides, they arbitrarily inserted the word ‘suzerainty’ in its place. Therefore could I ask which Chinese government had ever recognized this Convention and which Convention signed by the Chinese government has ever mentioned ‘suzerainty’?

In February 1910, the 13th Dalai Lama fled to India after a dis- agreement with the Qing High Commissioner in Tibet For this, the Qing Imperial court punished him by removing his title. He was subsequently reinstated by the government of the Republic of China. But it is worth noting that this happened just two years after the signing of the Simla Convention. When the British government was asked about it, it replied that it merely showed China exercised effective ‘suzerainty’ over Tibet and Britain had no right to interfere.

What Did McMahon Say About His ‘Line’?

At Simla, the British representative, Sir (Colonel) Arthur Henry McMahon, demanded the creation and delimitation of an ‘Outer Tibet’ as virtually a separate entity, and an ‘Inner Tibet’ (comprising parts of Chinese provinces inhabited by Tibetans as well as other nationalities) where China was to be allowed to retain administrative rights. Strong pressure to bring this about was applied in the Simla talks themselves, and also in Beijing. There, the British Minister declared: “The patience of His Majesty’s Government is exhausted and… unless the Simla Convention is signed… H.M.G. will hold themselves free to sign separately with Tibet.”

(This same McMahon, as High Commissioner of Egypt when it was a British protectorate, later pledged independence to Arab countries in return for support given to the Allies against Germany and Turkey in World War I. But, after the war, as the British representative on the Middle East Commission of Paris Peace Conference, he helped carve up Arab lands into ‘protectorates’ and ‘mandates’ for the victorious Allies. Iraq, Jordan and Palestine went to Britain and Syria and Lebanon to France. Such was this colonialist ‘friend of independence’. Before this, Sir Henry McMahon was also a member of the Durand Mission to Kabul, led by then Foreign Secretary Sir Henry Mortimer Durand which drew up the Durand Line between British and Afghan areas of influence in 1893. It is interesting to note that for accompanying the mission that drew up the Durand Line, Sir Henry McMahon was given honours but for drawing the McMahon Line he was not given any honour. Did it not imply that Sir Henry McMahon’s achievement embodied in Simla Agreement—the McMahon Line, failed to receive official recognition? The two lines—Durand in the north-west and McMahon in north-east—still continue to be bones of contention. Afghanistan and China, respectively, have refused to accept these British impositions. This is the open stand of the successive governments of Afghanistan: “We would not accept the so-called Durand Line—a line imposed on Afghanistan ‘forcefully and artificially’ in the late 19th century by an outside power. China has been opposing the McMahon Line since 1914.]

Even Yuan Shikai regime could not stomach such terms, mainly for fear of the people. On 3-7 July 1914 it declared both at Simla and through its minister in London that China rejected the ‘Convention’ and any separate arrangements Britain might sign with anyone in Tibet would be regarded as null and void. In fact, already in March 1914 McMahon had induced Xazha (Lon-Chen Shatra), a representative of the Tibetan local administration, to sign at Delhi, secretly and apart from the open Simla talks, a map which placed several of Tibet’s south eastern counties within the Britain’s India empire. So was born the ‘McMahon Line’. Its birth was well rehearsed. For three months before the ‘Conference’, Xazha had lived with and been coached by one of the British delegates, Sir Charles Bell, the political officer in-charge of Sikkim and a major theoretician and practitioner of frontier expansionism. So at Simla the British were, in reality, negotiating with themselves.

Not only was this whole business hatched privily from the Chinese central government. Xazha’s action was condemned and repudiated by the Lhasa authorities, who continued to collect taxes and perform other administrative functions in the counties concerned. For this reason, the British published the McMahon-Xazha correspondences 15 years afterwards, in 1929. And they did not venture to inscribe the ‘McMahon Line’ as a ‘border’ on an official map until 1938, when China was pressed by imminent Japanese invasion. The Chiang Kaishek government of that time also refused to accept the Line, after which it disappeared again for some years, even from many British Indian maps.

The Simla Conference thus ended in diplomatic hugger-mugger, with two participants in what was meant to be a tripartite conference openly signing a secret declaration; with one text of a draft convention initialled by all three. All this provided much fertile ground for international lawyers, and was to be sieved over again and again in the Sino-Indian argument half a century later. But the central conclusion remains wholly clear, and was accepted as such by the British Government at the time: the Simla Conference produced no agreement to which the Government of China was a party.

Henry McMahon admitted this himself: “It is with great regret that I leave India without having secured the formal adherence of the Chinese Government to a Tri-partite Agreement,” he wrote in his final report to London.

The British Government always treated ‘Simla Conference’ a failure. ‘The fact (is) that the negotiations convened in Simla last year broke down’, the British admitted in 1915 and went on to explain why, because the Government of India had been ‘unduly anxious to secure the best terms they could for Tibet’. Secondly, China, which denied that Tibet enjoyed sovereign identity or the treaty-making powers that go with it, stated formally, emphatically and repeatedly at the time that she would not recognize any bilateral agreement between Tibet and Britain. Ivan Chen, the Chinese representative, made this statement at the conference on 3 July 1914, and the Chinese Minister in London made same declaration to the British Government there. (Neville Maxwell: India’s China War, p. 45)

Some of ‘Confront China’ lobby in India argue that: “The Anglo- Chinese Convention of 1906 lapsed with the fell of Manchu (Qing) rule in 1910-11 and was not revived.” Does with the ‘fall’ or change or end of Government, do international treaty obligations of particular country lapse ipso facto? If that is so, then what validity does the so-called Simla Agreement of 27 April 1914, enjoy after the end of British rule in India in 1947, fall of the Chiang Kaishek Government in China in 1949 and signing on 23 May 1951 of the Agreement between the Central Government of People’s Republic of China and Local Government of Tibet on measures for the peaceful liberation of Tibet? This suggests that such people are working for outside interests and urguing as an adage goes ‘Head is mine, tail you lose’.

McMahon Line : Still-Born

The former two British Governors of Assam also questioned the validity of the McMahon Line. In a letter published in The Times, London on 3 September 1959, Sir Henry Joseph Twynam, former Assam Governor, referred to McMahon Line and said: “As is now well known, since the Chinese began publishing maps indicating that the frontier of India stopped at the foothills on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra, the Government of India, both British and Indian, have laid stress on what is called the McMahon Line, have pursued an active policy of exploration and penetration into the vast hinterland lying between Brahmaputra Valley and the Himalayas. But the McMahon Line, which sought to serve the main crest of the Himalayas as the frontier, does not exist and never existed”.

Sir Henry further pointed out: “No doubt in 1913, when much less was known about the hinterland than is now known, this seemed a simple solution of the problem. But not only did China, whose ratification was sought, refused to ratify the proposed treaty but solution proposed, al¬though perhaps suitable when no one was much concerned, is clearly too vague, when the frontier has become controversial”. Elaborating the point he has continued to state: “The important point is that Tibetan settlement and with it Tibetan religion and culture, extends south of the crest of the Himalayas. In 1939, when acting as Governor of Assam, I was shown by political Officer of the Baliputra Frontier Tract lantern slides which es¬tablished beyond all doubt the Tibetan character of Tawang, which he had recently visited with an escort from Assam Frontier Rifles. Since then, exploration has shown that there comes a point in many areas along this frontier where Assamese contacts give way to Tibetans.”

However, Nehru as Minister of External Affairs extended his ad¬ministration to Tawang from December 1950. NEFA has been kept under Ministry of External Affairs as revealed by the former foreign secretary T. N. Kaul to draw the Nehru-McMahon Line on ground.

Sir Robert Reid, another former Assam Governor, in his memoirs under the title of, ‘Years of Change in Bengal And Assam’ (on page 103) referred to the McMahon Line and observed: “As late as September 1936 an Assam Government letter recorded that the 1914 Convention was never published mainly because the Chinese government failed to ratify it, and nothing was done to give effect to Sir Henry McMahon’s recommendation for extension of administration in the Tawang area”.

In his another book, History of The Frontier Areas Bordering on Assam (1942), Sir Robert Reid, then Governor of Assam, refers to the visit of Captain Lightfoot to the Tawang region, east of Bhutan, in 1938, where he found Tibetan administration fully operative. Sir Reid also revealed the attitude of the Tibetan Government towards Tawang as quoted by Sir Basil Gould, the Political Officer in Skkim, who visited Lhasa in 1936: That (1) upto 1914, Tawang had undoubtedly been Tibetan; (2) They regarded the adjustment of the Tibet-Indian boundary as a part and parcel of general adjustment and determination of boundaries contemplated in the 1914 Simla Convention. If they could with our help secure a definite Sino-Tibetan boundary, they would of course, be glad to observe the Sino-Tibetan border as defined in 1914; (3) They had been encouraged in thinking that His Majesty’s Government sympthised with this way of regarding the matter owing to the fact that at no time along since the Convention and the Declaration of 1914 had the Indian Government taken steps to question Tibetan, or assert British authority in the Tawang area.” (p. 296) This book, published by the Government of Assam in 1942 particularly for the benefit of the border officials, was withdrawn from circulation in India in 1943 after the declaration of war against Japan.

Sir Robert Reid also wrote an article in the Geographical Journal of 1944, in which while affirming the McMahon Line, he predicted that the question of Tawang would be reopened after the War.

The late Dr. Karunakaran Gupta (an eminent scholar,Vice Principal in Calcutta College, published his collection of his essays in 1974 under the title ‘The Hidden History of the Sino-Indian Frontier’), however, had the opportunity to consult India Office Records in London and was able to dig out some material. In a article, ‘The McMahon Line 1914-45: The British Legacy’ (published in July-Sept. 1971 issue of the London based research magzine ‘The China Quarterly’) Dr. Gupta pointed out that the Viceroy Lord Hardinge, also did not accept the McMahon Line. To substantiate his point, Dr. Gupta quoted an India Office Records (Pol. 464: Pts 5 & 6: L/P & S/10/344, Political and Secret Memo B. 206 No. 90 of 1914 G. C.I. Foreign and Political department, Hardinge to Crew 23 July 1914)

According to this document, referring to the 1914 Simla Confer¬ence, Lord Hardinge said: “… We recognize that consideration of the eastern part or India-Chinese portion of the North Eastern Frontier did not form part of the functions of the Conference and we therefore request that the views and proposals put forward (in enclosure 5 to McMahon’s final memorandum) may be regarded as personal to Sir Hatty McMahon and at present do not carry the endorsement of the Government ofIndia. As soon as we have time to examine this enclosure, we shall address your Lordship separately with reference to various points raised thereinLord Hardinge never followed up his closing sentence of the memo he sent on 23 July 1914. Thus Sir Henry McMahon’s views and proposals failed to secure Indian Government’s endorsement. Moreover, soon after this, Sir Henry McMahon was transferred out of India. The Chinese also reject it straightaway. That meant that the ‘McMahon Line’ was still-born.

On 21 November 1962, The Times (London), however, exposed a specific outcome of forward policy pursued by the Government of British India in 1914 when it produced a map depicting India’s frontier in the north-eastern sector. It showed the McMahon Line as the border as well as the border that existed earlier revealing the area bounded by the McMahon Line and the earlier border line. According to this cartographic exposition, places like Tawang, Bomdila, Rupa, and Walong lie in this area bounded on the north by the pre-McMahon Line and the south by the McMahon Line frontier line.

The ‘McMahon Line’ which has been sieved the most over time and again, for over past forty years, which sought to serve the main crest of northern frontier and led to a border war between India and China, never recognised by either the government of China or the Government of British India, thus naturally becomes a matter of amusement and consternation.

Nehru-McMahon Line And Caroe-McMahon Line

As since revealed Aitchison’s Treaties, Volume XII (1929) the northern boundary of Assam lay along the Se La range (not the Himalayan watershed! as represented by the McMahon Line): “The Monaba living north of the Se La range are under Tibetan administration.” It added a remark about the frontier of Kashmir ” The northern as well as the eastern bound¬ary of the Kashmir State is still undefined?

An eminent historian and commentator, A. G. Noorani opined: “Sardar Patel’s Ministry of States published two white papers on Indian States in 1948 and 1950. Annexed to both were authoritative maps carrying the legend “boundary undefined” for the entire western sector stretching from the tri junction of India-China and Afghanistan borders to Karakoram Pass and further east till it descends southwards to Kangra district in Himachal Pradesh. The same legend was repeated for the line as it continued eastwards till it reached the trijunction of the borders of India, China and Nepal. In the eastern sector, McMahon Line was shown as though a clear boundary line but marked as undemarcated.” (A. G. Noorani “Needed Dialogue. The Sino-Indian Border Dispute”, Frontline, 22-3-1996, p. 98).

Recent researches have also revealed that in 1946, the Indian Army, in their ‘top secret’ maps submitted to the British Cabinet Mission, accepted the Karakoram range as the Northern boundary of India in the western sector, and considered the claim advanced by Indian officials to a boundary line east of the Karakoram Pass extend¬ing up to the Kuenlun range via Qaratagh Pass having no basis in international law. These maps, annexed with above mentioned two white papers published by Ministry of States under Patel, and submitted by British India’s top military brass to British Cabinet Mission, on north¬west and north were marked as “Boundary Undefined” and on north¬east marked as “Boundary Undemarcated”. This state of the northern boundary was the direct product of then deputy secretary in Foreign Department of British India, Sir Olaf K. Caroe who in 1938, made pressure on Central Government of China after the Japanese aggression. Before that Caroe’s forgery, the maps of India’s north boundary were clear and well demarcated. In 1938, to complicate and poison the matters, Sir Olaf Caroe with diplomatic ploy and forgery, fabricated the official maps and raised a claim that China had formally acquiesced to British annexations of the Tibetan territory in India’s north-east, along what he called the McMahon Line. Same that Caroe also helped Dr. S. Gopal, director of Survey of India in 1959.

Professor K. Zacharia, first Director of the Historical Division, Ministry of External Affairs also reached a similar conclusion in his Note submitted to the North-North-East Border Defence Committee (1951) about the Kashmir frontier. It is supposed that Nehru was relying on Professsor Zacharia’s Note when he made several statements in Parliament in August-September 1959 to the effect that “the actual boundary in the Ladakh area of Kashmir was not very carefully de¬fined. It was defined to some extent by British officers who went there but I doubt if they did any careful survey.” (Lok Sabha, 4-9-1959)

It is unfortunate that Prof. Zacharia’s Note was put into cold storage beyond the reach of most of officials, when Dr. S. Gopal had been sent to London by Nehru to look into the records in the British Foreign Office and India Office Records and the Library, to distort the India Office Records. It was, however, revealed in 1961 by Sir Olaf K. Caroe that in 1959 the Indian High Commission in London had sought his help in upholding India’s border claims. Sir Olaf K. Caroe has since 1936 been known to the world of learning as a past master of the art of distorting history for his role in suppressing the original volume of Aitchison’s Treaties volume XIV of 1929. What Sir Olaf K. Caroe did in 1938 in order to establish the British Indian claim to McMahon Line, Dr. Gopal pursued a similar game in reviving the Indian boundary claim in Ladakh region extending up to the Kuenlun on the basis of a version of the Johnson-Ardagh Line, which had been rejected by the British Raj as being undefendable time and again.

Dr. S. Gopal has written the history to make believe and thus become solid backing behind India’s present border claim and this still remains a stumbling block in the path of seeking a compromise solu¬tion of the Sino-Indian border dispute, as proposed by the Chinese leaders from Zhou Enlai in 1960 to Deng Xiaoping in 1981 and 1988.

Dr. S. Gopal was the discovery of Nehru who had successfully dis¬covered Nehru-McMahon Line. Since, he needed such sordid ploy and the pretext to manufacture the dispute with China. Nehru decided to draw Nehru- McMahon Line on the ground. His parody was a unique, that was: “The McMahon Line should rest not where Arthur Henry McMahon drew it, but several kilometres to the north, and what Nehru used to say, where McMahon should have drawn it”

As was since revealed earlier, the prevalent opinions of all who had been in Ministry of External Affairs, from first Secretary General Sir Giijashanker Bajpai and Foreign Secretary K. P. S. Menon to R. K. Nehru and T. N. Kaul, by the study of Survey of India maps in circulation in thirties showed that in the Western sector, India’s Northern frontier was delineated approximately along the Karakoram range, which forms the watershed in the region. But in 1938, on the initiative of Sir Olaf K. Caroe, the then deputy Foreign Secretary, the Survey of India maps were unilaterally altered to register an equivocal Political claim to the effect that east of the Karakoram Pass this boundary extended in the north-east upto Kuenlon range. This was indicated by a colour-wash with the words ‘Boundary Undefined’ inscribed on it A study of the Survey of India maps published in the thirties further revealed that in the eastern sector, the boundary ran along the foothills of the Himalayas, and this more or less coincided with the boundary shown in the Chinese official maps. Since 1938, however, the Survey of India maps were surreptitiously altered showing the McMahon Line, with the word ‘Boundary Undemarcated’ imprinted on it.

There were large discrepancies also in various Chinese maps, but the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai made it clear in April 1955 at the Bandung Conference that with some of neighbouring countries China’s border line had not yet been fixed. The surreptitious alterations made in the Survey of India maps, however, became a primary cause for creating widespread misapprehensions among the Indian public about the western sector of the boundary, and also that the Chinese were making unjustified claims to large areas south of the McMahon Line. Nehru was a very typical devil’s workshop and successfully blurred the vision of Indian people. He had very scant regard for his own respect.

Miss Dorothy Woodman, of course, a confirmed friend of India, wrote in her book Himalayan Frontiers’. “The innumerable discrepancies on maps might lead the most naive student of cartography to the view that the devil can quote maps to serve his own purpose.”

A senior journalist Kuldip Nayar wrote about the peculiar con¬duct of the Government of India in his book ‘Between The Lines’ (p. 137-138) published in 1969, “Then there were all types of ‘incorrect maps’ available in Delhi The report was that China was collecting them to con¬trovert IntBa’s case. Getting wind of this, the Cabinet decided to bring a BUI to proscribe all those books and maps which would question the integrity of the border. Their publication was regarded as an indirect help to China. The Government itself withdrew several official maps and books which did not indicate meticulously a curve here or a band there or which left the boundary undefined. Many maps of the Survey of India and books of the Publication Division were withdrawn, and there was a circular sent to return all such materials”.

The Government of India also amended the Indian Criminal Law Amendment Act (1961) section (2), it was said: “Whoever by words written or spoken, or by signs, or otherwise, questions the territorial integrity of India in manner which is, or is likely to be prejudicial to the interests or security of India, shall be punishable with imprisonment for term which may extend to three years, or with fine or both.”

This enactment prevented the Indian scholars from studying the roots of the Sino-Indian border dispute from an objective view point. This was further compounded by another official decision to keep the old official files in regard to the northern frontier from the days of Simla Convention (1913-14) beyond the reach of independent research scholars of India!

However, there has been copiously blurring the vision of the people of India for over four decades in the matter of maps that, today, most of men from world of learning are under impression that China had illegally occupied large tracts of Indian territory. The leaders are never to be called for account to observe any rule enacted by themsleves. Any propaganda of falsehood against third countries is in violation of the Vienna Convention about Diplomatic Relations (1961). Also this is against the Constitution (First Amendment Act, 1951) which envisages reasonable restrictions on freedom of expression in the interest of ‘friendly relations with foreign powers’. When the expression ‘friendly relations with foreign powers’ was inserted in Article 19 (2) of the Constitution its author, Jawaharlal Nehru, assured the Parliament on 16 May 1951 that its main object is to punish for personal attacks on heads of state or government; and not to deter criticism of the governments, our own or the other countries.

A Classical Case Of British Incursion

In 1935, a well-known British explorer and botanist, Captain Kingdon Ward, who had made several treks to Tibet, with official permission, now re-entered Tibet through the Tawang Tract—without the approval of the Lhasa authorities. When Tibetan officials learnt of his unauthorised presence they ordered his arrest, and complained to Williamson who was then visiting Lhasa. Kingdon Ward claimed that he had been authorised to enter Tibet by the Tibetan Official (Dzongpon) in charge of Tawang.

The British were already excited by evidence of renewed Chinese interest—and activities—in Tibet, and so were in frame of mind to take a more vigorous and ‘forward’ approach to the question of the north-eastern boundary. The Kingdon Ward was the catalyst The matter came to the desk of O. K. Caroe, then a deputy Secretary in the Foreign and Political Department in the Government of India. Caroe’s subsequent zeal in the cause of an advanced north-eastern boundary would perhaps justify a renaming of the sector as the Caroe-McMahon Line. On hearing that the Tibetans had arrested Kingdon Ward on the charge of illegal entry, Caroe called for the papers on the boundary alignment and, ‘with considerable difficulty and almost by chance’, as he put it, ‘unearthed the true position’ and discovered, the secret agreement that McMahon had made with the Tibetans 22 years before.

The Assam government commented on 13 November 1935 on Caroe’s message to Williamson, in these terms: “As regards the connection of Tawang with Tibet, the Governor-in-Council believes that Tawang is more or less independent territory, but holds some in¬direct allegiance to Tibet. The position is partly explained at page 100 of the Vol. XII of Aitchison’s Treaties. It may be that owing to this indirect connection with Tibet the Dzongppns of Tawang consider that they have an authority to grant Kingdon Ward permission to enter Tibet. So far as information goes, there has been no change in recent years in the attitude of the Tibetan Government in respect of their part of the frontier.”

Until the end of 1935, so far as can be seen from the record, Caroe’s efforts to resuscitate the McMahon Line had only been within the Indian Government. In April 1936, the subject was now put to Whitehall. In a personal letter to J. C. Walton, head of the political (External) Department of the India Office, Caroe summarized his version of the circumstances pertaining to the north-eastern frontier.

In August the following year, a conference was held at the Government House Shillong, in which all the key officers concerned with the north-east frontier participated—including the Governor of Assam (Sir Robert Reid was back at his post), the Governor’s Secretary, the Political Officer of Sikkim, the political Officer of Sadiya Frontier Tract, and the Political Officer of Baliyara Frontier Tract. Caroe was not included. However, he had put his views on border policy in a paper, ‘The Mongolian Fringe’, which was widely circulated among the officials concerned. At this conference, it was agreed that the Government of India should not press their claims to Tawang: Twynam’s suggestion that an alignment more suitable for the boundary line than the McMahon Line could be found farther south, in the neighbourhood of Dirang Dzong, was accepted.

Simla Agreement, though initiated was never signed nor ratified ever by the parties concerned. To be operative international agreements and conventions are not only required to be formally signed by the governmental appropriate representatives but also to be ratified by the concerned authorities. We cite one example here. In the absence of Congressional ratification, the SALT-II Agreement between Soviet Union and the United States of America, though formally signed by top authorities of the two countries, fell through. Even in eighties, INF Agreement, signed by the US President Ronald Reagon and the Soviet Union Chief Mikhail Gorbachov could not be operative until was ratified by the ratification authorities of the two countries.

“… Now that China was at the next door he asked Nehru to initiate effective measures to take care of the undefined state of frontier and existence on our side of a population with its affinities to Tibetan or Chinese. …The people inhabiting these portions have no established loyalty or devotion to India”. —Sardar Patel’s letter to Nehru, 7 November 1950.

First Secretary General to Ministry of External Affairs Sir Girija Shankar Bajpai wrote to Nehru in December 1953, urging that India should take the initiative in raising the question of McMahon Line which might be one of those scars left by Britain in the course of her aggression against China, {who) may seek to heal or erase this scar on the basis of frontier rectifications that may not be either to our liking or our interest.

“Nehru described the Agreement {in a memo issued in July 1954 after Treaty with China) as a new starting-point of our relations with China and Tibet, and affirmed that both as flowing from our policy and as a consequence of our Agreement with China, the northern frontier should be considered a firm and definite one, which was not open to discussion with any body. A system of checkposts should be spread along this entire frontier. More especially , we should have checkposts in such places as might be considered disputed areas.” —D. R. Mankekar, Chief Editor of The Times of India. (Foreign Secretary T. N. Kaul had endorsed this facts)

“… Nehru told me in 1952…. friendly posture would help to continue the dialogue {with China) and allow time to firmly consolidate India’s hold on the previously unadministered areas.” “… He (Nehru) was very keen that the morale of the Tibetans as kept up, {and) he instructed me to keep in touch with the Dalai Lama’s brother and all other Tibetan refugees and help them in every possible way.” {1953).”… Nehru, far from being sanguine and idealistic disposition in his thinking about foreign policy was in fact a very Bismark of realpolitik.” —B. N. Muliik (Director, Intelligence Bureau).

“We felt we should hold by our postion and that the lapse of Time and events would confirm it and by the time, perhaps, when the challenge to it came we could be in a much stronger position to face it.” —Prime Minister Nehru, Rajya Sabha, 9 December 1959

“( Revold in Tibet) It was far angrier than the world realised at Nehru’s harbouring of the Dalai Lama,—a breach of the Five Principles. Moreover it has a legal case—a better case than most people recognise, since they have not bothered to read the documents.” —Guy Wint, a scholar, Consultant to British Foreign Office for Far Eastern Affairs also had worked in Foreign Deptt during British Raj in India in early 1940s, and on later as an advisor to The British Raj.

May 4, 2018