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Issue Dated: April 22, 2007
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SARDAR PATEL TO NEHRU The persona of India’s first Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, is so down to earth that we underplay his role as the sole administrative unifier of post-Independence India. some say he was the best Prime Minister we never had. This is a letter that Patel wrote to Nehru on the threat to India from China. Nehru ignored it and India was humiliated in the 1962 war with the Chinese. The letter (2,323 words in full) is remarkably prophetic. Read on.

7 Nov 1950

My dear Jawaharlal,

Ever since my return from Ahmedabad, and after the cabinet meeting the same day which I had to attend at practically 15 minutes’ notice and for which I regret I was not able to read all the papers, I thought I should share with you what is passing through my mind. I have carefully gone through the correspondence between the External Affairs Ministry and our Ambassador in Peking and through him the Chinese government. The Chinese government has tried to delude us by professions of peaceful intention. The tragedy of it is that the Tibetans put faith in us; they chose to be guided by us; and we have been unable to get them out of the meshes of Chinese diplomacy or Chinese malevolence.

From the latest position, it appears that we shall not be able to rescue the Dalai Lama. It is impossible to imagine any sensible person believing in the so-called threat to China from Anglo-American machinations in Tibet. Therefore, if the Chinese put faith in this, they must have distrusted us so completely as to have taken us as tools or stooges of Anglo-American diplomacy or strategy. This feeling, if genuinely entertained by the Chinese in spite of your direct approaches to them, indicates that even though we regard ourselves as the friends of China, the Chinese do not regard us as their friends. With the Communist mentality of “whoever is not with them being against them”, this is a significant pointer, of which we have to take due note. Recent and bitter history also tells us that Communism is no shield against imperialism and that the communists are as good or as bad imperialists as any other. Chinese ambitions not only cover the Himalayan slopes on our side but also include the important part of Assam. Chinese irredentism and communist imperialism are different from the expansionism or imperialism of the western powers. The former has a cloak of ideology which makes it ten times more dangerous. It is of course, impossible to be exhaustive in setting out all these problems. I am, however, giving below some of the problems which, in my opinion, require early solution.

a) A military and intelligence appreciation of the Chinese threat.

b) An examination of military position of our forces.

c) A long-term consideration of our defence needs.

d) The question of China’s entry into the UN.

e) The steps we should take to strengthen our northern and north-eastern frontier.

f) Measures of internal security in the border areas as well as the states flanking Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal and Assam.

g) Improvement of communication in these areas and with frontier outposts.

I suggest that we meet early to have a general discussion on these problems and decide on steps we might think immediately necessary and direct.


Vallabhbhai Patel
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017