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Beyond the Legacy of Conflict

Kishan S. Rana

By Sudarshan Bhutani
Roli Books, Delhi, 2004, pp. xiv 282, price not stated.


Sudarshan Bhutani served as a young officer in the Indian Embassy in Beijing in the years covered in this elegantly written short study of some 215 pages, not including the appendices. It lucidly summarizes the essentials of the India-China border dispute as seen from an Indian perspective, offering a kind of ‘everyman’s guide’ to an issue that must figure as a problem to be resolved, as the two countries move forward in a relationship that has gradually moved beyond that dispute’s legacy of bitterness. The author is scholarly in his tempered comment, and has marshalled a wealth of information from published sources.   Bhutani occupied a privileged vantage point in those critical years, and this is reflected in the depth of the study. But in eschewing personal comment, save in a few places (like the April 1960 visit of Premier Zhou Enlai when the author attended some meetings with Indian political leaders), a tantalizing glimpse is offered of the material that the active players and the first-hand observers of history hold with them, which eventually needs to be shared with the public, in the interests of history and accountability. It is a sad fact that too little of such authentic diplomatic source material is available in our country, especially with the official archives locked away and the key — the 30-year disclosure rule — virtually conjured away by all our governments of varied political shades. This makes it all the more vital that these witnesses should come out with their personal accounts, leaving it to scholars to pierce through inevitable self-service and exaggeration, and piece together the authentic narratives.   Similarly there is a crying need for an ‘oral history’ project covering the members of our diplomatic service, as well as the political leaders. This can be illustrated with an example. In a paper entitled ‘Panditji Knows Best: Abdication of Advice and Dissent by the Bureaucracy’, written for an academic conference in 1990 at the University of Texas at Austin, Jagat S. Mehta (who headed the Indian team at the 1960 border talks and served as the head of mission in Beijing, 1964-66) refers to a lack of professional assessments and other policy inputs by bureaucrats to the Prime Minister. He adds that after the 1953-54 letters sent by G.S. Bajpai (former Secretary General, then Governor of Bombay) disagreeing with Panikkar’s advice that the boundary issue not be raised with China at the time ...

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