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On the Border

Sonika Gupta

By Parshotam Mehra
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 306, Rs. 675.00


The contest over the political identity of Tibet has led to a protracted conflict between Tibet and China and India and China. The Sino-Indian border issue is intrinsically linked with the question of Tibet’s political identity. In India, scholarship on this issue has tended to focus more on the Sino-Indian dimension of the Tibet issue. This book peels back the layers of history to delve into Tibet’s strategic importance in British, Chinese and Indian thinking and their attendant implications for the Sino-Indian border dispute. The book is a collection of earlier published articles of the author on various aspects of the Sino-Indian border dispute. It is comprehensive in scope and rich in historical detail providing the reader with integrated snapshots of the historical progression of the dispute from colonial times to the recent past. The book is also timely in that current relations between India and China, while on an upward curve, continue to simmer on the border question.   The book grounds the border issue in its historical context, examines the implications of past actions on present ground realities and provides an opportunity to debate the possible solutions to the dispute. Mehra has meticulously documented the wrangling over the frontier between the Chinese, British, and the princely Indian state of Kashmir. He does this through an impressive reconstruction of official communication between high-ranking representatives of the Crown in India and Hong Kong and between Maharaja Gulab Singh of Kashmir and the British. The period covered leads up to and after the fateful Shimla Conference of 1914. The crucial Younghusband expedition also figures here. The pieces put together reveal the British attempts to counter the growing Russian influence in the region as a prime objective of the Raj in Tibet. Mehra concludes that the Dogra ruler’s claims to Kashmir’s frontiers in the Tibetan plateau were compromised by the British in favour of the Chinese to stem Russian interests in the region. It is, of course, crucial to remember here that both India and China held the view that India had inherited its Tibet policy from the British. It would then appear that the Chinese while criticizing the British policy on imperialist grounds preserved the advantages of it!   Mehra has mastery over his archival material and presents a lucid and riveting picture of political shenanigans on all sides leading upto the Shimla Conference. This includes interesting details such as ...

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