This Review essay is published in Economic and Political Weekly
In a vintage warship, the crow’s nest is the topmost spot on the ship’s mast from where a “lookout” scans the seas for incoming danger. In a modern warship this vantage point has been replaced by the radar. However, for students of strategy, the story of the cuckoo surreptitiously laying eggs in the crows’ nest continues to be relevant. The wise crow is lured out of his nest into a chase when provoked by the continuously jarring sounds produced by the male cuckoo. While the crow is busy in hot pursuit, the female cuckoo quietly moves into the crow’s nest, throws out some of the crow’s eggs, thereby making place to lay her eggs. Unknowingly, the crow warms all the eggs and nurtures the babies when the eggs hatch.
The crow is a perfect example of a strategic sucker. In the secular world too, there are nations who are suckered to provide their military manpower to fight someone else’s war. The first question to ask vis-à-vis China is whether the 1962 conflict was India’s own war? The lack of dispassionate analysis of the period has led Indian strategic thought to shy away from identifying and naming the cuckoo that clandestinely came and laid its egg in the Indian nest.
Foreign Strategy of India
According to K M Panikkar, America and Apa Pant were the twin factors responsible for a sudden deterioration in Sino-Indian relations in the mid-1950s (Gupta 1982: 14). A powerful American lobby having deep links with all political parties in India, barring the Communist Party of India, pushed the Indian establishment on an escalatory path vis-à-vis China that eventually resulted in a border war. Apa Pant, India’s political officer in Sikkim (1955-61), was instrumental in building a Tibet lobby within India. He convinced many “senior Indian political leaders like Jai Prakash Narain, G B Pant and the ex-president Rajendra Prasad to take up the Tibetan cause as their own” (Gupta 1982: 15). Purshottam Das Trikamdas, an old associate of Apa Pant, inspired the international commission of jurists to publish two reports on Tibet in 1959 and 1960 with an aim to establish that Tibet enjoyed de facto sovereignty between 1912 and 1951.
In 1959, India entered the game of brinkmanship vis-à-vis China and kept climbing up the escalation ladder. India was gullible enough to follow western instructions both on Tibet and its boundary with China and ended up fighting a frivolous war. By allowing asylum to Dalai Lama, India acted like a foolish crow that hatched American strategic eggs. The United States (US) actions in Tibet provoked the Sino-Indian war that fulfilled the American goal of preventing any possibility of Soviet Union, China and India forming a progressive joint front against western imperialism. The 1962 war was used to widen the wedge in the communist bloc and inch closer towards making Mao Zedong, a “Chinese Tito”, who could speak openly against the Soviets (Xiang 1992: 319). The conflict shook Jawaharlal Nehru’s belief in non-alignment, teaching him an unforgettable lesson on the relevance of empires in the postcolonial world.
Some argue that recent scientific studies have revealed that not all varieties of cuckoos are cunning. In some cases, the pungent juices secreted by the newlyhatched baby cuckoos protect the nest from being attacked by predators, thereby ensuring that the left-behind baby crows are also nurtured in a protected environment. According to this logic, America was not a cunning cuckoo since the war proved beneficial for some in India too. The US, by instigating India to take on China, helped the capitalist-driven Indian state to stem the growth of the left movement in India. The venom spewed against the communists during and in the wake of the 1962 war was enough to cause a three-way divide in the Communist Party of India and push the leftist forces on the defensive for times to come.