When Neville Maxwell is on the move, can misfortune be far behind? This former British journalist recently published an article on “the pre-history of the Sino-Indian border dispute”. The gist is that India has no business being in Arunachal Pradesh.
Maxwell's thesis is that Henry McMahon who drew the present border “engaged in cartographic trickery” to produce a “deceitful map”. As for Olaf Caroe who succeeded McMahon, he “began to falsify evidence so that the aggressive annexation [ of Chinese territory] could be disguised as belated administrative correction”. China, Maxwell informs us, has been protesting all the time, only to be ignored by British India and then by Indian India.
Read this alongside China's recent moves to push Arunachal to the forefront – strident protests against Manmohan Singh's visit to the state, stapled visas for two Arunachal sportsmen, public statements by China's ambassador about his country's claims, preventing Asian Development Bank's loan to Arunachal-specific projects and, above all, developing superfast air and rail links to border posts for quick transportation of heavy military equipment and troops. Is Maxwell privy to something we are not?
For those not blessed with a long memory, Neville Maxwell is the famous author of the famous book India's China War. The book argued that India was poking China for a long time until China decided that if India was edging towards war, “then the Chinese were not going to wait to be attacked”. Thus it became India's China war and not China's India war.
Few informed Indians believe today that it was all a case of one-sided Chinese aggression. In many ways Nehru's India was foolish in its handling of China. Nehru's chaperoning of Chinese premier Chou Enlai at the Bandung conference of Afro-Asian nations was seen by the Chinese as patronising. When Chou visited India, our self-righteous Morarji Desai put him down quite unnecessarily.
This was on top of border needling by N. B. Mullick, the lionised founder of India's intelligence services whose influence on Nehru was too profound to be good. For Nehru Mullick could do no wrong. Yet Mullick did much that was wrong as he used the Border Security Force to establish armed outposts in remote areas that were vulnerable. All internal criticism of Mullick's “forward policy” ended when Gen. B. M Kaul, another Nehru favourite, became operational military boss of the border area. The rest is history.
India is mature enough to take these mistakes in its stride. Where Maxwell went wrong was not in exposing Indian blunders, but in doing so in a patently hostile mode. He wrote not like the London Times correspondent that he was or like the university scholar that he became, but like an apologist for China who had a deep dislike of India for some reason.
That dislike led him to make a prediction from which neither he nor the London Times ever recovered. On the eve of the 1967 elections, he reported that Indian democracy was disintegrating and that the world was witnessing “ the fourth – and surely last – general election”. He predicted the army taking control under a presidential system.
Clearly he lacked the basic attributes of a reporter or political analyst. It is reasonable to assume that an important book like India's China War would have been beyond him if he had not got to see the Henderson-Brooks Report on the Indian Army's debacle – a report that is still held top secret by India. That could also explain why he has never written a second book of any significance despite a lifetime of professorship and journalism.
But we should never make the mistake of assuming that Maxwell wrote the damn-India book at the behest of China. For one thing, China is too smart to make use of hacks with questionable powers of prediction. For another, as Humbert Wolfe reminded humanity: It is impossible to bribe or twist / Thank God, the British journalist; / But seeing what the man will do / Without a bribe, there's no occasion to.