Manmohan did not correct map error to protect Nehru name (Sunday Guardian)
MADHAV NALAPAT New Delhi | 23rd Aug 2014
rime Minister Manmohan Singh rejected an August 2013 request by senior officials in his government to correct a serious error, dating back over 50 years, in India's official maps. In effect, this oversight in official maps mistakenly gave China control of two Arunachal Pradesh "fishtails" (see map), a territory as large as Sikkim or Goa, and continuously inhabited by Indian citizens. Key officials advising Manmohan Singh confirmed the incident. Although this assertion could not be independently verified, a former official claimed that "the problem with Manmohan Singh was his inability to say no to 10 Janpath". According to him, "Sonia Gandhi took the line that in the interests of good relations with China and Pakistan, we should keep turning the other cheek", and that in the matter of the Arunachal Pradesh map, rectification of Nehru-era maps, which incorrectly omitted both Fishtail 1 and Fishtail 2 from Indian territory, would draw attention to an error committed during the period in office of Jawaharlal Nehru.
"Classification as state secret of papers, which ought to be made public, has been motivated by the zeal of Sonia Gandhi (which has been shared by every Prime Minister of India until Manmohan Singh) to protect the image of Jawaharlal Nehru and other members of the family at the expense of transparency", according to a retired diplomat, who has direct knowledge of key records that show a very different picture of the situation prevailing in those periods than what the scanty flow of released information contains.
The two "fishtail" formations in Arunachal Pradesh were omitted from maps prepared by the Survey of India during the 1960s, although the area has always been under the control of India. No public records exist as to why and how such a significant error was made. In 1962, recognising the fact that this territory was Indian, soldiers from the People's Liberation Army of China, who had occupied the fishtails during November 1962, withdrew after the unilateral ceasefire declared by Beijing that month. "Since then and before, the area within the two fishtails has always been occupied by our troops, as well as by the Mishmi tribe, all of whom are citizens of India. Our claim on the territory is incontestable and our maps ought to have been updated to reflect this," a senior official stated.
Asked as to why official maps did not reflect the fact of the "fishtails" being Indian territory, the reply was that "as the mistake took place during Nehru's time, it was felt that correcting the maps formally would draw attention to this mistake on the part of the then Prime Minister and thereby tarnish his name".
A retired official claimed that "every government has protected Nehru's reputation by refusing to make public facts dating from the 1940s that they saw as damaging to the image of Nehru". He and a former colleague saw Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's 2013 refusal to formally change the map (a decision taken "after consultations with the political authority") as part of the effort to protect the reputation of Jawaharlal Nehru by refusing to make public any details of his failures, including the decision to keep secret the Henderson-Brooks Report on the 1962 war, or to draw attention to Nehru's failures even by the necessary step of rectifying them.
Interestingly, the fact that maps showed the two "fishtails" as being outside Indian territory was, according to a senior (and now retired) official, "brought to the attention of then Home Minister P. Chidambaram by the (then) Director-General of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) in 2010, along with reports of Chinese troops entering the area in 2011 and 2012, but the response was to do nothing".
A senior official active in Team Manmohan added that in April 2013, when Chinese troops set up six large tents deep within the Depsang bulge (near Siachen), "the Prime Minister refused permission to the Army to ensure that the intruders were challenged". Fortunately, Ambassador S. Jaishankar in Beijing was able to persuade the Chinese leadership to get the People's Liberation Army to withdraw from the bulge after 21 days, thereby defusing the situation.
Although this could not be independently confirmed, a former official asserted that both National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon and RAW chief Alok Joshi pressed for an early rectification of the Indian maps, and that their demand was turned down by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in August 2013.
A senior official said that "now that there is a new Prime Minister, Government of India should settle ex-servicemen in the regions subject to intrusion by China, including those from local tribes". He pointed out that "this can be done by providing land and money to such settlers". Until such a policy gets tried out, almost the entire territory subject to regular PLA intrusions is uninhabited except for the occasional shepherd. The most recent Chinese military incursion into the "fishtails" was on 13 August 2013, when PLA troops entered 26 kilometres into Indian territory. "In order to show the Chinese that the land is ours, it is essential that inaccuracies in official maps be rectified," a retired official said.
The Line of Actual Control (LOAC) between India and China represents area in the de facto control of both sides after the 1962 border conflict and the subsequent Chinese withdrawal from territory seized by them in that episode. Because of pressure from the Pakistan army, which would like to ensure a continuation of tensions between India and China, the PLA has thus far refused to agree to the delineation of the LOAC, despite the substantial beneficial effects of such a step on Sino-Indian relations. And although China has settled its boundary with Myanmar on the basis of the McMahon Line, Beijing has thus far refused a similar settlement with India. This has led to occasional flare-ups, such as at Nathu La in 1967 and Wangdung in 1987. Absence of an agreed demarcation line carries with it the risk of an exchange of fire and casualties, an occurrence which would damage Sino-Indian relations substantially.
"It was Jawaharlal Nehru who gave away the UN Security Council seat to China when it was offered to India; who gave away Gwadar to Pakistan after the Sultan of Oman offered it to New Delhi for just $1 million; and who handed over the strategically vital Cocos islands to China," a former official pointed out, adding that "his legacy has long paralysed policymakers from taking decisions that would secure India's interests". In his view, the "dereliction of duty showed by the making of maps that omitted huge chunks of Indian territory was a Nehru-era mistake that calls for immediate rectification".