Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Yoga Guru BKS Iyengar no more

According to PTI, world-renowned yoga guru and founder of the Iyengar School of Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar passed away early this morning.
PTI says: "96-year-old Iyengar had been ailing since some time and was admitted to a private hospital here [in Pune] a week back. He was put on dialysis after his condition worsened two days back."
The master breathed his last at 3.15 AM.
Iyengar, who is survived by a son (Prashant) and a daughter (Geeta) was a Padma Vibhushan awardee.
Iyengar was considered one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world. He wrote many books on yoga practice and philosophy including 'Light on Yoga', 'Light on Pranayama', and 'Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali'.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the death of BKS Iyengar.
He twitted, "I am deeply saddened to know about Yogacharya BKS Iyengar's demis; offer my condolences to his followers all over the world", adding "generations will remember Shri BKS Iyengar as a fine Guru, a scholar; a stalwart who brought Yoga into the lives of many across the world," the Prime Minister said.
Born in 1918 at Bellur in Karnataka, he came to Pune in Maharashtra in 1937 where he began to popularize yoga; in 1975, he set up his own 'Yogavidya' institute which later expanded in various branches across the country and abroad (lately, he became very popular in China).
PTI adds: "The senior-most internationally acclaimed yoga guru had taught 'yogasanas' to many prominent personalities along with commoners."
I am posting here some pictures of B.K.S. Iyengar with the Dalai Lama in 2010 in Delhi.
 
 

Train, Don't be corrupt says General Fan in Tibet

General Fan Changlong (right)
with President Xi Jinping earlier in Xinjiang
On August 17, Xinhua reported that General Fan Changlong, a member of Communist Party’s Politburo and Senior Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) visited Tibet and Qinghai to inspect the forces “stationed on the snow-covered plateau, the loyal soldiers defending the frontiers”.
According to Chinese media, he brought to the troops the sincere greetings of the President Xi Jinping and the Central Committee and convey their high esteem.
General Fan requested the armed forces to thoroughly study and implement President Xi’s series of important speeches about the situation in the Party (read the corruption cases against Zhou Yongkang and others ‘tigers’).
The focus of the defense forces, said General Fan, should be on fighting and be prepared to win a war. For this, they should grasp the importance of military training, the importance of improving the military capability to fulfill the mission and the tasks entrusted by the Party and the People.
General Fan Changlong pointed out that combat training is an important task for the preparation for military struggle; it is the basic starting point.
Interestingly, Chinese reports did not mention which units he visited, how long he stayed in Tibet and Qinghai, where he went; we don’t even know when his visit took place.
The main purpose of his Tibet tour was most likely to convince the PLA officers that they should follow Xi Jinping in his crusade against corrupt officers.
Xinhua reported that General Fan told the army to firmly obey the command of President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee.
China's senior-most general told the troops that “the army and the armed police should resolutely implement the strategies made by the CPC Central Committee and Xi, also the CMC Chairman, and uphold the correct decisions to investigate Zhou Yongkang and punish Xu Caihou.”
General Xu Caihou, a former vice chairman of the CMC (like Fan) was expelled from the CPC for suspected bribery in June. He is the senior most officer to have been ‘expelled’ in the history of the PLA.
To follow the orders of Chairman Xi was important, said Fan; the defence forces should implement the instructions by achieving ‘Four [questions] to Ask’.
What are these ‘Four to Ask’? It is not very clear, as often when written in Communist jargon, but according to the Chinese media:
  • To ask oneself whether one follows the correct guiding ideology in training, whether the practices followed are correct to [avoid] other negative phenomena [i.e. corruption?];
  • To ask oneself whether the organization of scientific [modern] training, training strategy, training tactics, training style is correct to remove the squeamish;
  • To ask oneself whether the conditions are in place for the training [no corruption?] and to strengthen the various types of training bases and venues [in order to get] comprehensive benefits;
  • To ask oneself about the meaning of strict inspection and supervision of training, while one should not be afraid to do mistakes, afraid of messed up, not afraid to reinvent the wheel during the drills.
In the recent months, the Central Military Commission has been insisting on the importance of ‘training’.
For example, China Military Online yesterday announced a free air-combat confrontation drill between an aviation detachment equipped with several fighters belonging to the East China Sea Fleet of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and a troop unit under the PLA Air Force (PLAAF). The announcement says that it is a first in the history of the PLAN and the PLAAF: “The free air-combat confrontation drill will be conducted on the one-to-one and two-to-two basis respectively among the two sides' third-generation fighters. The drill will focus on studying how to deepen the joint operations and improve the joint-combat capability by carrying out the air-combat confrontation.”
It probably means that in the past, the PLA, PLAN and PLAAF had forgotten to prepare themselves for war as they had been engaged in more lucrative activities. President Xi seems determine to change this.
The question remains, why to make this announcement in Tibet?
Does it mean that many corrupt officers are posted on the high plateau?
Probably, otherwise how to interpret this semi-clandestine visit of General Fan Changlong in Tibet.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Neglected Frontiers of India



The report by NDTV posted below is interesting because it is one of the rare times when Indian journalists were allowed by the government to visit border areas.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a man of many firsts.
His office should take the initiative to regularly organize media trips to the borders in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh (Shipkila), Uttarakhand (Mana, Lipulek-la, etc.), Northern Sikkim and Arunachal.
The journalists should be briefed on the local issues by the civil administrations (District Commissioners, etc.) as well as by the Army and the paramilitary forces (ITBP, SSB and others).
It would be a first to make known to the general public the issues faced by the people living on the border. It could be a first step towards a greater integration of the Indian frontier areas.
In my interview with Kiren Rijiju, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs, he mentioned about relocating people in these areas, but it is a much more difficult exercise, which will take more time and planning.
To bring the media may also highlight some negative issues such as the lack of infrastructure, the poor communication network, the tensions between the local population and the paramilitary forces, etc.
But if these issues are known to the general public, it could be the first step to correct them and make sure that the patriotic border populations do not migrate further towards the 'big' towns of Leh, Gangtok or Itanagar.
By the way, in the NDTV's report, one sees that the Zorawar Fort near Demchok, which is in the hands of the Chinese, one also sees the newly-constructed guest house on the Chinese side. See my posting on this a few weeks ago.

Ground Report from Ladakh's Neglected Border Areas
Nitin Gokhale
August 16, 2014
Demchok, Ladakh:  Chewang Rinchin, resident of Merak Village along the Pangong Lake is angry. For years, he and fellow residents of this village that partly serves as the Line of Actual Control with China, feel totally let down by the government for not providing even the basic amenities to them.
He is a vocal participant in the rare meeting the villagers have with the District Collector. Villagers resent their backwardness more because on the other side of the LAC, China is developing border areas faster.
Rinchin says a vital road connecting his village to district capital Leh is absent so many years after Independence. "If you look at the Chinese side, barely 10 km from here, they have developed their area so well. What crime have we done not to even get as basic a facility as a road," he asks this reporter, perhaps the first to reach here.
Ladakh District Collector Simrandeep Singh and officers of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police listen to the woes patiently. Mr Singh gives some instant decision but years of neglect cannot be undone in some months. The story gets repeated in every village along the LAC.
At Demchok, the last and the southern most village in south eastern Ladakh, is where Indus enters India.
"First of all the BADP funding was required to increase over the years. It has always remained around 10-13 crore which has to be spend in about 30-odd villages which are along the LAC and Line of Control on the Pakistan side. So, the funding hasn't increased much. Even if we ignore the funding, this is the area we are severely short of staff. Today you must have noticed when I was interacting with the villagers they do not have the junior engineers in this entire block and a junior engineer is very important in rural development for preparing bills and insuring that the works take on the ground and finally for the payments after the works are done... this poses multiple challenge, our side constantly feel that they are being ignored. So the challenge to keep the people happy," Mr Singh told NDTV.
However, the well laid out residential colonies on the Chinese side are clearly visible in total contrast to poorly equipped housing on Indian side.
The Demchok nullah serves as the LAC. On the other side of the nullah is the Chinese side where the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has made buildings for civilians that are made of concrete and look modern, whereas on the Indian side, the buildings are primitive and shabby. So, the people living here resent the presence of Chinese, and may be tempted to actually go to the other side. That's the danger India faces far as border population in Ladakh is concerned.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Return of the Marxist Propaganda

Delegates having a good time in Tibet
Yesterday Xinhua published a text called the 'Lhasa Consensus'.
It is the resolutions reached at the end of the ‘2014 Forum on the Development of Tibet, China’, organized by Beijing with a few foreign supporters of the Communist Party of China.
The ‘2014 Forum’ was jointly organized by the State Council Information Office of the People's Republic of China (The Cabinet) and the so-called People's Government of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
It was an official affair and the ‘invitees’ had no choice, but to agree to the terms dictated by the Party in Beijing.
They probably knew this before: there is no free meal in Communist China (and the meals looked very good on the photos!).
The ‘Forum’ was held from August 12 to 13 in Lhasa.
The official propaganda says (and publishes photos to prove it) that it was attended by 100 distinguished participants (read Communist China apologists) from more than 30 countries (this is doubtful).
On the official photos released by the organizers, a large percentage looked Chinese amongst the ‘100’.
It was the first time that this type of propaganda exercise was held in Tibet.
According to the organizers, the owner of an Indian ‘national newspaper’, a regular supporter of China’s occupation of Tibet, represented India.
The opening ceremony was addressed by Lobsang Gyaltsen, the chairman of the TAR government, who gave his usual speech on ‘leap-frog development’, “the basis for and key to solve all problems Tibet is facing and the region's sustainable development is at the core.”
Gyaltsen added: “Tibet will never develop at the expense of its environment… To protect Tibet's environment is the biggest contribution we can make to the nation and even humankind."
It impressed the delegates.
Gyaltsen also ‘vowed’ to maintain social stability and harmony …a pre-condition for Tibet's leap-frog development, he said.
The problem is that in China ‘stability’ does not rhyme with ‘freedom’.
Just before the Forum, The People’s Daily had reported that Beijing had released new nationwide regulations for instant messaging services (SMS). The regulations bring ‘limitations’ in terms of content for account-holders. One of the key requirements in the new rules is that all users must register with real names; names must be validated by the service provider upon registration. Those public accounts opened by organizations that provide information services must go through additional reviews and must register with corresponding government administrative offices while service providers are also required to preserve records and proof of violations.
This is for the mainland, you can imagine the situation in ‘minority’ restive areas like Tibet and Xinjiang?
Cui Yuying (a Tibetan, with a Han name), who is vice director of the Information Office of China's State Council, inaugurated the ‘Forum’.
She used the old argument that only Beijing wants modernity for Tibet. The same argument was used in the 1950s, when Mao and his colleagues pretended that the Dalai Lama did not want ‘reforms’ and therefore Tibet needed to be ‘liberated’.
More than one million people died in the process.
Cui insisted that for some (the Dalai Lama?) “Tibet should remain primitive and any development of the region equals the annihilation of Tibetan culture and the region's environment.” She added: “To their understanding, Tibetans should always ride yaks and live in tents.”
According to Xinhua, during the two days, representatives, including scholars, journalists, politicians and entrepreneurs, “voiced their understanding of Tibet' s development”. The Chinese news agency quoted Beijing’s special invitee, the ‘publisher of India’s largest English newspaper’ (it is wrong, The Hindu is not the largest newspaper in India): “The rapid and sustainable development of Tibet within the socialist system, in a way that benefits the region's 3 million people, is one of China' s strategic objectives. …Tibet has been visibly transformed by double-digit GDP growth over two decades without a break and has entered a new stage of development".
The same Indian ‘representative’ affirmed: “As a result of this development, Tibet's interaction and integration with the rest of China has deepened and its isolation from the rest of the world has decisively been ended."
Mr. Ram probably never reads the Chinese press, which readily admits that most of the infrastructure in Tibet is built for the ‘defense of the national borders’ (read, to forestall an Indian attack).
In Tibet, ‘Interaction and Integration’ is first undertaken for defense purpose.
The theme of the Forum was ‘The Development of Tibet: Opportunities and Alternatives’, while sub-themes were ‘Sustainable Development, Inheritance and Protection of Tibetan Culture, and ‘Ecological and Environmental Protection’.
Lord Neil Davison of the Labor Party, ‘represented’ the United Kingdom.
Lord Davidson was quoted by the Chinese as saying: “Many western reports are written by enthusiasts of the Dalai Lama. And they may feel uncomfortable when their presumptions or assumptions are challenged. It is uncomfortable and expensive to have their prejudice challenged."
Amazingly, Lord Davidson's argument is that the high cost of travel to Tibet is one reason why the ‘profit-making’ western media chooses not to report from the region. He seems unaware that Beijing has banned foreign journalists from visiting Tibet, “let alone carrying out any kind of independent journalism there,” adds the BBC which reports: “His comments have been met by astonishment by Free Tibet, a UK-based group that campaigns for an end to what it calls China's occupation of Tibet.”
The group in a statement said: “If the reports are accurate, Lord Davidson should have acquainted himself with the facts before regurgitating China's propaganda on Tibet. Economic development in Tibet is far from what it seems from the window of a car or a plush meeting room in Lhasa."
Lord Davidson
The BBC admits that it has been unable - either through the Labour Party or through Lord Davidson's legal practice in Scotland - to contact the good Lord.
As for the Indian publisher, when he was asked: What are choices for the 14th Dalai Lama? he declared: "The remarkable fact is that after the 14th Dalai Lama has incited and done many separatist activities, the Chinese government still opens the door and would like to talk with him. The communication door is always open.”
It was clearing speaking on behalf of Beijing.
N. Ram adds: "But even if the 14th Dalai Lama said if there was a solution, he would dissolve his government in exile and claimed that he was a simple monk. He had no intention of coming back, because he has spent his whole life fled, from 24 years old when he was immature, and now considered as a wise man over art of happiness and meditation. It is not doubt that he is more a political leader than a monk. He knows how to play on the emotions, which fools the world. Even the Hollywood stars think he is charismatic."
Not only he speaks for Beijing, but it takes decision for the Dalai Lama. It is amazing.

It appears that at the end of their ‘deliberations’, the delegates passed some resolutions, termed by Beijing ‘The Lhasa Consensus’:
  1. Participants notice that Tibet enjoys sound economic growth, social harmony, deep-rooted Tibetan culture and beautiful natural scenery, and the people enjoy a happy life. It is a place where the modern and the traditional meet and where man lives in harmony with nature. Tibet has embarked on an irreversible path of modern civilization.
  2. Participants notice that ordinary people in Tibet are satisfied with their well-off lives, good education, sound medical care, housing and various social securities. All ethnic groups in Tibet have full confidence and motivation for building a better future.
  3. Participants notice that Tibet's traditional culture is apparent everywhere. Fine traditional culture and cultural relics have been well preserved. This is a result of the dedication and efforts of the Chinese Central Government and the People's Government of Tibet Autonomous Region in protecting, inheriting, and advocating Tibetan culture, which should be encouraged and supported.
  4. Participants notice that different religions co-exist in harmony in Tibet and the Tibetan people enjoy religious freedom. Prayer flags, pilgrims and people burning aromatic plants for religious purpose can be seen easily on the streets of Lhasa. The temples are crowded with worshippers and pilgrims.
  5. Participants notice that most parts of Tibet are still in a natural state. While enjoying modern civilization, the Tibetan people are able to enjoy blue skies and white clouds, holy mountains and lakes, forests, grasslands, clean water and fresh air.
  6. Participants notice that a path of sustainable development in Tibet featuring coordinated and balanced economic, social, cultural development, ecological and environmental protection will not only be beneficial to the long-term development of Tibet but also offer a significant model for other countries and regions. Participants appreciated the substantial efforts and considerable achievements of the Chinese Central Government and the People's Government of Tibet Autonomous Region in promoting economic and social development, improving people's well-being, preserving the culture and improving the ecology and environment of Tibet.
  7. Participants unanimously agree that what they have actually seen in Tibet differs radically from what the 14th Dalai and the Dalai clique have said. The Dalai clique's statements on Tibet are distorted and incorrect. Many Western media reports are biased and have led to much misunderstanding. Seeing is believing. Participants express the aspiration to introduce the real Tibet to the world.
  8. Participants notice that the forum, jointly held by the State Council Information Office of China and the People's Government of Tibet Autonomous Region is of great significance for bringing Tibet to the world and helping the world have a better understanding of Tibet. Participants were satisfied with the considerate arrangements for the forum and looked forward to regularly holding the forum in Tibet.
In the meantime, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) in Dharamsala received a list of 45 Tibetans from Sichuan Province who were arrested between 2008 and 2009.
According to TCHRD, all of the prisoners on the list were held in Deyang (德阳) prison, located in Huang Xu Town in Deyang City, Sichuan Province. TCHRD says: “The list is the latest evidence from Tibet of the harsh measures the Chinese imposed in Tibet during and after the 2008 Tibetan Uprising.”
The Dharamsala-based human rights organization affirmed that the list was compiled by Gonpo Trinley, who was himself held in the same prison from 2008-2009; Trinley smuggled the list out of Tibet and brought it in India on August 2, 2014.
It is of course the tip of an iceberg.
TCHRD also reported that “despite strict restriction on communication, information is coming out of Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP) in Sichuan Province [the apologists will say that it is not Tibet, as it outside the TAR] that Chinese paramilitary forces opened fire on unarmed Tibetan protesters on 12 August 2014. At least ten Tibetans were injured. The injured Tibetans suffered gunshot wounds to their heads and torsos. Photographs of the injuries appeared on social media sites shortly after the shooting.”
It is probably a detail for the ‘experts’, though according to TCHRD, the Tibetans were just protesting the detention of Wangdak, "a widely respected village leader, the night before. Local police officers detained Wangdak at midnight from his home in Denma Shugpa Village in Loshu Township in Sershul County of Kardze TAP.”
This is a drop in an ocean of repression.
No, development, road and infrastructure for the Army or the Chinese tourists cannot replace freedom of expression.
But Lord Davidson and Mr. Ram preferred to visit the Gorges of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), near the Indian border than the Chinese prisons in Tibet; they can always argued that they were not engaged for this.
Beijing should however by now be aware that during the last 60 years, propaganda has not helped to solve the ‘Tibetan issue’, which the Chinese leadership still consider as a ‘foreign’ invention.
Let the Dalai Lama come for a visit to Lhasa, Beijing will understand who the Master of the Hearts of the Tibetans.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Indian soldiers in the service of the Empire

My article Indian soldiers in the service of the Empire appeared today in The Edit page of The Pioneer

Over one million Indians fought on different European fronts during World War I.
A 100 years later, their contribution is being recognised by some foreign Governments. In India, they are a forgotten lot


Here is the link...

Decoration season is in full bloom. The Indian media is distributing Bharat Ratnas to political personalities, though Government sources say that there is no move yet to confer the country’s highest civilian honour before the next Republic Day. Many important political names have been doing the rounds in the buzzing capital of India. Instead of politicising Indian decorations, the media should look at India’s participation in World War I, whose centenary is celebrated this year. It is far more inspiring.
The ‘Great War’ (I have never understood how a war which left millions of dead can be ‘great’) officially started on August 3, 1914, the day Germany declared war on France. More than 1,30,000 Indian troops, including the Sikhs and Gorkhas regiments, fought in France and Belgium during the bloody conflict in which more than nine million people died.
Can you imagine that a quarter of the Indian contingent never returned to their native Provinces? It is said that during the battle of Neuve-Chapelle in France in March 1915, the Sikh regiments lost 80 per cent of their men. These jawans were part of over one million Indian soldiers who served on the different fronts during the War; between 1914 and 1918, 74,187 of them died.
Some of the French battlefields where Indian soldiers showed their bravery and dedication to a cause which was not theirs, are today part of the history of France. It is good that a 100 years after the so-called ‘Great War’, the French Government has decided to pay homage to those who fought and lost their lives in the cold and cruel trenches of the Somme and other battlefields.
For example, a documentary film titled 100 Years shows the sacrifice of Subedar Manta Singh who saved the life of his British companion before losing his own. Born in Jalandhar district in 1870, Manta Singh belonged to 2 Sikh Royal Infantry. One day, crawling through no man’s land, his friend Henderson and he came under German fire. Manta  Singh somehow managed to push his companion under a wheelbarrow, saving the Brit’s life; unfortunately, fatally wounded in the process, he died soon after.
The film, written and directed by Paris-based Punjabi writer Vijay Singh, uses rare photographs, film footage, and Press clippings to show that many Indian soldiers won the appreciation of the French.
Retrospectively, it is interesting to note that the empire knew how indispensible Indian troops were to fight its battles. In 1999, Mr David Omissi, a military historian published Indian Voices of the Great War: Soldier’s Letters, 1914-18. This edited collection of letters sent by Indian soldiers to their family in India (and their replies) is deeply touching.
Places such as Ypres, La Bassée, Neuve Chapelle, Festubert, Loos and Givenchy will remain engraved forever in the military history of India and France. So many jawans of the 9 Bhopal Infantry, 15 Ludhiana Sikhs, 47 Sikhs, 57 Frontier Force, 58 Frontier Force, 59 Frontier Force, 89 Punjabis, 107 Pioneers, to quote a few, valiantly fought for a country that they did not know; they could not even speak the language.
For most of the Indian soldiers in the Allied forces, it was their first trip to Europe (and for many, their last, as they ended being buried on the front). As he arrived in France, an Indian soldier wrote to his family: “What is Paris? It is heaven!” He soon discovered that the trenches were Hell. Another bewildered jawan described Paris: “To-day I saw a museum in which all the living fishes of the world were kept in boxes of water and a magnificent palace which cost millions of pounds.” He must have visited Versailles Palace. Another one in transit in London explained: “In the train that goes under the earth… a strange and wonderful experience — they call it the underground.” Nobody had ever heard of the ‘Tube’ in his native Punjab.
Though some of the Indian soldiers could not read or write, they dictated letters to their families and the answers were read out to them. On September 19, 1916, one Farrier Major Khan wrote from Punjab to Wali Mahomed Khan of the 18 Lancers who was on the front: “I have heard all about your amours with the French women and how the officers forbid it. I can quite imagine how, if you know enough of the language, you have a great time and try to make yourself out a trustworthy person.”
They did not have a ‘great time’; in any case their missives were heavily censored. Today, the censored mails provide vivid testimonies of the bravery of the Indian jawans who were aware that the letters were opened. One Farrier Major Khan ‘wisely’ advised his relative: “No doubt your officers read the letters. But cannot you devise any way of dodging them? I will tell you what to do. When you write a letter, on one page write in invisible ink made out of lemon juice. If you cannot get this, take some lime which has not been wetted and grind it up and mix it with water and write, and I shall be able to read it all.” The story does not tell us if Wali Mahomed tried the trick.
One Jemadar Indar Singh explained to his relative Chattar Singh who lived in Ludhiana district: “It is quite impossible that I should return alive because a cavalry charge is a very terrible affair, and, therefore, I want to clear up several things… Don’t be grieved at my death because I shall die arms in hand, wearing the warrior’s clothes. This is the most happy death that anyone can die.”
This is perhaps what made the Indian soldier so special to the Empire. For which cause, the Punjabis, the Balochs or the Gorkhas bravely fought, nobody really knew; and they did not know themselves. And in an irony of history, the Germans and the French are today great pals trying to build Europe together. It is undoubtedly better that way.
From the British point of view, to have the Indian jawans on their side was a great boon. They realised this when a strike was called by Indian sailors of the Royal Indian Navy on board a ship at Bombay harbour on February 18, 1946. As the revolt rapidly spread and found support throughout British India, and as 78 ships, 20 shore establishments and 20,000 sailors got involved, the Empire started trembling.
The day these ‘local’ naval officers and men began calling themselves the ‘Indian National Navy’, and offered left-handed salutes to British officers, London realised the importance of being on India’s side. We should not forget these jawans who died for the Empire 100 years ago.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When Tibet was not yet in the hands of 'visionaries'

Harishwar Dayal in front of the Residency in Gangtok
In the first week of January 1950, as the Colombo Plan was under discussion, Harishwar Dayal, the bright ICS officer posted as Political Officer in Sikkim (responsible for Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet), was asked to prepare a note on the legal status of Tibet.
What is the Colombo Plan?
I quote Wikipedia: “In the Spring 1949, the Indian Ambassador to China, K.M. Panikkar proposed a multilateral fund to the British and Australian ambassadors, in order to help the states of southeast Asia to battle communist movements in their countries. The United States was to be by far the largest contributor of aid to the organization.”
Also according to online dictionary: “Formally, the organization was born out of a Commonwealth Conference of Foreign Ministers, held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in January 1950. At this meeting, a plan was established to provide a framework within which international cooperation efforts could be promoted to raise the standards of people in the region. Originally conceived as lasting for a period of six years, the Colombo Plan was extended several times until 1980, when it was extended indefinitely. Initially it was called the Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic Development in South and Southeast Asia. It has grown from a group of seven Commonwealth nations - Australia, Britain, Canada, Ceylon, India, New Zealand and Pakistan - into an international organization of 27, including non-Commonwealth countries. When it adopted a new constitution in 1977, its name was changed to "The Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic and Social Development in Asia and the Pacific" to reflect the expanded composition of its enhanced membership and the scope of its activities.”
Though the case of Tibet was probably not specifically discussed in Colombo, Dayal sent his note to Delhi."
It is posted below:
Following Nehru's 'instructions', Dayal concluded: "We should continue to deal with Tibet as an autonomous country on the basis of the 1914 Convention and, when the occasion arises, should let this fact be known to the Communist Government of China. We are also to meet the Tibetan Government’s request for arms and military training on a modest scale, on the basis of existing understandings."
As mentioned somewhere else on this blog, in December 1950, a few weeks after the PLA entered Tibet, Harishwar Dayal, while discussing the Chinese advance towards the McMahon Line with his Indian Trade Agent (ITA) in Gyantse, informed the latter of Sardar Patel’s death, “It is a heavy blow. He was the one person in this Government who had strong realistic view of things, including on foreign relations. Now, we are left at the mercy of the visionaries.”
The present note was written 11 months earlier.
TIBET
(Secret)
The first treaty negotiated directly with Tibet by the Government of India was signed at Lhasa in 1904, after the occupation of that city by the Younghusband Mission. The treaty authorized the Government of India to establish Trade Agencies at Gyantse, Yatung and Gartok. Its terms were confirmed by the Chinese Imperial Government in the Anglo-Chinese Convention signed at Peking in 1906; and trade regulations granting certain rights to Indian traders at Gyantse, Yatung and Gartok were drawn up in 1908. The 1908 Trade Regulations were agreed to by all parties, namely, the British (acting through the Government of India), the Chinese and the Tibetans. 
At this period the Chinese were active in their efforts to establish control over Tibet. Early in 1910 a Chinese force under Chao Erh-fehg [Zhao Erfeng] occupied Lhasa; the Dalai Lama fled to India and was 'deposed' by a decree of the Chinese Government. The Chinese Revolution of 1911 led to the collapse of the Chinese regime in Tibet and all Chinese officials and troops were forced to flee from Tibet through India. The Dalai Lama returned to Lhasa in January 1913.

2. Tripartite negotiations were held at Simla in 1913-14 to arrive at a fresh settlement on Tibet, consequent on these events, and a new Convention was initialed by the British, Chinese and Tibetan plenipotentiaries. The main features of the 1914 convention and of its accompanying instruments were:
(1)  Chinese suzerainty over Tibet was to be recognized but China was to recognize Tibetan autonomy.
(2)  The Chinese and the British were not to station troops in Tibet, but were allowed to provide their officials in Tibet with limited military Escorts.
(3)  The British Trade Agent at Gyantse was authorized to visit Lhasa when necessary.
(4)  The boundaries between Tibet and China were laid down.
(5)  The frontier between India and Tibet on the Assam border (the McMahon Line) was defined.
New Trade Regulations were also drawn up in 1914. The Chinese Government refused to proceed to full signature of the 1914 Convention, their objections at the time being directed only against the Tibet-China boundary line as laid down in the Convention. 

They formally declared that they would not recognize this document. The Government of India and the Tibetans accordingly signed it without Chinese participation, and issued a declaration that all advantages under the Convention would be denied to China until she signed it. In later declarations the British Government stated that they would treat Tibet as an autonomous State under Chinese suzerainty, and in 1943 they made it clear to the Chinese Government that their recognition of Chinese suzerainty was conditional on the acknowledgment by China of Tibet’s autonomy and on her acceptance of the frontier between Tibet and China as defined in the 1914 Convention.
 

3. By an informal arrangement the British Trade Agent at Gyantse, who accompanied the Political Officer in Sikkim to Lhasa in 1936, was left behind at Lhasa to carry on discussions with the Tibetan Government. The Mission has since continued on this informal basis, but since August 15, 1947, the British Mission and the British Trade Agencies have become the Indian Mission and Indian Trade Agencies. Similarly, the Chinese sent a Mission to Lhasa in 1934, ostensibly to condole on the death of the late Dalai Lama, and their Mission remained in Lhasa until July 1949, when it was expelled by the Tibetan Government.

4. In 1947, the Tibetan Government was informed by the United Kingdom Government that all rights and obligations arising out of the 1914 Convention would devolve on the Government of India after the transfer of power in India, but that the U.K. Government would maintain their friendly interest in the preservation of Tibetan autonomy and would remain in contact with the Tibetan Government through the British High Commissioner in New Delhi. At the same time, the Government of India formally assured the Tibetan Government that their relations with Tibet would continue to be governed by the 1914 Convention; this assurance has been repeated on various occasions since then.


5. The Tibetan Government is now gravely alarmed at the possibility of an invasion by the Chinese Communists, who have declared their intention of 'liberating' Tibet and are using one of the candidates to the Panchen Lamaship for the purpose of creating anti-Lhasa feeling. The Tibetan Government has affirmed their determination to resist attack and have appealed to the Government of India for a declaration that Tibet is an independent country, and for arms and ammunition and military training facilities. They have also asked for help from the Governments of the U.K., the U.S.A. and Nepal, and are planning to send special Missions to these countries as well as to India. They have asked for the help of the U.K. and U.S. Governments in securing Tibet’s admission to membership of the United Nations, but, so far as is known, these Governments do not consider this proposal opportune and are not anxious to receive Missions from Tibet. The Tibetan Government are also planning to send a Mission to Hong Kong or Singapore to maintain contact by correspondence with the Chinese Communist Government. They have already dispatched a letter to Mao Tse-tung asserting that Tibet has always been independent, asking him to ensure that no Chinese troops cross the Tibetan border and adding that they wish to discuss boundary questions with the Communists after the civil war is over. It is not known whether this letter has reached Mao Tse-tung. Conscription is now in progress in Tibet, and the Tibetan Government are also introducing administrative reforms to counteract Communist propaganda among the people.


6. In regard to India’s policy, the Prime Minister has decided that we should continue to deal with Tibet as an autonomous country on the basis of the 1914 Convention and, when the occasion arises, should let this fact be known to the Communist Government of China. We are also to meet the Tibetan Government’s request for arms and military training on a modest scale, on the basis of existing understandings. We are not, however, to take any action which may lend colour to the allegations which have already been made by the Communists that the Government of India are acting in Tibet as an instrument of the Anglo-American bloc or that they are coming Tibet against Communist China.

(Source: National Archives of India, file 10(11) NEF, 1950)
When Tibet was not yet in the hands of 'visionaries'

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The CIA's reconnaissance operations in India

The CIA recently declassified a new series of documents on the history of the U-2 surveillance planes.
In their
“The Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and OXCART Programs, 1954-1974”, Gregory W. Pedlow and Donald E. Welzenbach mentioned the U-2s operations in India.

[I quote from pages 231 to 233]
In October 1962, the People's Republic of China launched a series of massive surprise attacks against India's frontier forces in the western provinces of Jammu and Kashmir and in the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA). The Chinese overran all Indian fortifications north of the Brahmaputra Valley before halting their operations.
The Indian Government appealed to the United States for military aid. In the negotiations that followed, it became apparent that Indian claims concerning the extent of the Chinese incursions could not be reliably evaluated. US Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith, therefore, suggested to the Indian Government that US aerial reconnaissance of the disputed areas would provide both governments with a more accurate picture of the Communist Chinese incursions.
On 11 November 1962, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru consented to the proposed operation and gave the United States permission to refuel the reconnaissance aircraft (U-2s) in Indian airspace.
In late November, Detachment G [1] to Ta Khli, [2] to carry out the overflights of the Sino-Indian border area. Since the U-2s were not authorized to overfly Burma, they had to reach the target area via the Bay of Bengal and eastern India and, therefore, required midair refueling.
Because of severe winter weather conditions, the first flight did not take place until 5 December. Poor weather and air turbulence hampered the mission, and only 40 percent of the target area could be photographed. A second mission on 10 December was more successful, but the U-2 experienced rough engine performance because of icing of the fuel lines.
Detachment G U-2s made four more overflights of the Sino-Indian border areas in January 1963, which led to a PRC protest to India. Photography from these missions was used in January and again in March 1963 to brief Prime Minister Nehru, who then informed the Indian Parliament about Communist Chinese troop movements along the border. Although Nehru did not reveal the source of his intelligence, a UPI wire story surmised that the information had been obtained by U-2s.
The United States had provided photographic coverage of the border area to India for two reasons. First of all, US policymakers wanted a clear picture of the area under dispute. In addition, the intelligence community wanted to establish a precedent for overflights from India, which could lead to obtaining a permanent staging base in India for electronic reconnaissance missions against the Soviet ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] site at Saryshagan and photographic missions against those portions of western China that were out of range of Detachment H.
In April 1963, Ambassador Galbraith and the Chief of Station at New Delhi made the first official request to India for a base. The following month, President Kennedy agreed to DCI [Director Central Intelligence] McCone's suggestion to raise the question of a U-2 base in India when he met with India's President Savepalli Radhakrishnan on 3 June. This meeting resulted in an Indian offer of an abandoned World War II base at Charbatia, south of Calcutta [near Cuttack in Odisha].
The Charbatia base was in poor condition and needed considerable renovation before it could be used for U-2 operations. Work on the base by the Indians took much longer than expected, so Detachment G continued to use Ta Khli when it staged four sorties over Tibet from 29 September to 10 November 1963. In addition to the coverage of the Sino-Indian border during this series of flights, the U-2s also photographed all of Thailand to produce a photomap of the border regions as a quid pro quo for the Thai Government. During one of these photomapping missions, a U-2 pilot conducted the longest mission ever recorded in this aircraft- 11 hours and 45 minutes.
At the end of this flight on 10 November 1963, the pilot was in such poor physical condition that project managers prohibited the scheduling of future missions longer than 10 hours.
Charbatia was still not ready in early 1964, so on 31 March 1964 Detachment G staged another mission from Ta Khli. The first mission out of Charbatia did not take place until 24 May 1964. Three days later Prime Minister Nehru died, and further operations were postponed.
The pilots and aircraft left Charbatia, but other equipment remained in place to save staging costs. In December 1964, when Sino-Indian tensions increased along the border, Detachment G returned to Charbatia and conducted three highly successful missions, satisfying all of COMOR's requirements for the Sino-Indian border region. By this time, however, Ta Khli had become the main base for Detachment G's Asian operations, and Charbatia served merely as a forward staging base. Charbatia was closed out in July 1967.

[1] Elsewhere, the U-2 report says that Detachment C could not have stayed in Nevada much longer. In June 1957, the entire facility had to be evacuated because the Atomic Energy Commission was about to conduct a series of nuclear tests whose fallout was expected to contaminate the Groom Lake facility. All remaining CIA personnel, materiel, and aircraft were transferred to Edwards Air Force Base in California, and became known as Detachment G.
[2] Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base is today a Royal Thai Air Force facility, located in Central Thailand, approximately 144 miles northwest of Bangkok
 
What is surprising in this story is that the beginning of the collaboration between the CIA and the Indian Government for reconnaissance of the Himalayan borders, is given as November 11, 1962.
It is the day Nehru is supposed to have allowed the U-2s to 'refuel' during their reconnaissance flights.

To understand the context, it is necessary to look at The Foreign Relations of the United States (1961–1963 Volume XIX, South Asia), which publishes several telegrams from the Department of State to the US Embassy in India.
One of these cables is sent from Washington on November 20, 1962 (at 12:50 a.m. U.S. time) by the US Secretary of State Dean Rusk to the US Ambassador in India, John Kenneth Galbraith.
Marked ‘Eyes Only for Ambassador from Secretary’, the cable says of Nehru's request for assistance: “We have just forwarded to you second letter from Nehru today anticipated in your [cable] 1889. As we read this message it amounts to a request for an active and practically speaking unlimited military partnership between the United States and India to take on Chinese invasion India. This involves for us the most far-reaching political and strategic issues and we are not at all [emphasis mine] convinced that Indians are prepared to face the situation in the same terms. I recall that more than once in past two years I have expressed to various Indian representatives my concern that their policy would lead to a situation where they would call upon us for assistance when it is too late rather than give their and free world policy any opportunity for preventive effectiveness.”

This new development relates to the two panicky letters sent by the Indian Prime Minister on November 19, 1962, which were brought to the Indian public’s notice by the veteran journalist Inder Malhotra a few years ago.

Another telegram (also classified ‘Eyes Only for the Ambassador’) from Dean Rusk was sent the same day at 22:31 p.m. US time; it tells the US Ambassador: “Unless you think it inappropriate, please deliver the following message to Prime Minister Nehru as soon as feasible.”
The letter to Jawaharlal Nehru reads thus: 

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:
I was on the point of responding to your two urgent letters when we received news of the Chinese statements on a cease-fire. I, of course, wish your assessment of whether it makes any change in your situation. I had planned to write you that we are ready to be as responsive as possible to your needs, in association with the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. We remain prepared to do so.
We had already organized a small group of top U.S. officials [headed by Ambassador Averell Harriman, it included Paul Nitze, Carl Kaysen, Roger Hilsman, and General Paul D. Adams], who would arrive in New Delhi Friday [November 22], to help Ambassador Galbraith in concerting with your government how we can best help. It seems useful to go ahead with this effort as planned and we will do so unless you think it inadvisable.
It is signed Dean Rusk, who told his Ambassador: “You might suggest to Nehru that even under changed circumstances the team would be useful as a tangible gesture of US support.”
In the earlier quoted telegram, the State Department had informed the US Ambassador: “Latest message from PriMin [Nehru] in effect proposes not only a military alliance between India and the United States but complete commitment by us to a fighting war. We recognized this might be immediate reaction of a Government in a desperate position but it is a proposal which cannot be reconciled with any further pretense of non-alignment. If this is what Nehru has in mind, he should be entirely clear about it before we even consider our own decision.”
The problem was that Washington (and Delhi as well) had little information about the
Chinese intentions and even less on the dispositions of the PLA in Tibet. It was most urgent for both Washington and Delhi to get proper and reliable information; this probably justified the use of the U-2 surveillance planes.
This lack of information was admitted by Rusk when he cabled Galbraith on November 19 (at 11:06 p.m.): “We acutely feel lack of information regarding GOI [Government of India] plans and capacity to meet this new situation. Accordingly, we are sending a small high-level team to arrive New Delhi approximately Friday [November 22] to assess whole situation along with Indian plans and capability for meeting it and return with action recommendations as soon as possible. They may wish to visit scene of action on frontier. Team will include high ranking military officers both Army and Air with appropriate representation from State and CIA. Arranging best coordination we can with UK directly, but not waiting on them.”
This was what Ambassador Averell Harriman was sent to Delhi for: to ascertain Nehru’s long term intentions and India’s real needs. 

Washington however warned: “There are strong reasons why the United States should not appear to be the point of the spear in assisting India in this situation. The most impelling of these is that our role might force Moscow to support Peiping [Beijing]. We shall be considering here whether there is anything we can constructively say to Moscow about China's reckless and provocative action because there is some reason to believe that Moscow is also very much worried about the dangerous possibility. I would emphasize, however, India must mobilize its own diplomatic and political resources, seek the broadest base of support throughout the world and, more particularly, enlist the active interest and participation of the Commonwealth.”

Already on November 19 (in the cable quoted earlier), Rusk had defined the possible help Washington could immediately provide to Delhi: “We are prepared to dispatch twelve or more C-130's at once to assist in any necessary movement of forces and equipment to Assam area or to Ladakh. This would be US operation with planes, crews support. Request your urgent advice whether Indians prepared to use this transport immediately. Also earliest estimates men and tonnage involved. Special airlift team being dispatched at once. This provides another opportunity for you to remind Indians about importance of moving troops from Pakistan border. Urgency of situation underlines anomaly of Indian reluctance in this respect.”
Part of the Harriman’s mission was also to make peace between India and Pakistan. This has been mentioned elsewhere on this blog.
Washington was keen to rope in the British in the operation.

As mentioned by The US Secretary of State in the same cable: “This as far as we can see to go on basis of facts now available here. However, supply actions urgently needed and assessed as valid need not be delayed despite lack of clear picture Indian capabilities. View possibility India now ready use tactical air, one airlift requirement may be bombs request of UK. London should raise this and ascertain availability and British air shipment capabilities.”
This is for the overt assistance; we have another source of the events, which mentions the covert support (minus the U-2’s reconnaissance flights).
Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison in their ‘
The CIA'S Secret in Tibet’ (University Press of Kansas, 2002) recounts: 
On 21 November, Harriman's entourage departed Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Although the Chinese declared a unilateral cease-fire while the group was en route, the situation was still tense when it reached New Delhi the following day. Without pause, Ambassador Galbraith ushered Harriman into the first of four meetings with Nehru. The end results of these discussions were plans for a major three-phase military aid package encompassing material support, help with domestic defense production, and possible assistance with air defenses.
Convoy and Morrison, who are more interested by the covert aspect of the US-India collaboration (particularly the US support to the Tibetan guerilla), continue: 
As a covert aside to Harriman's talks, the CIA representatives on the delegation held their own sessions with Indian intelligence czar [Intelligence Bureau Director B.N.] Mullik. This was a first, as Galbraith had previously taken great pains to downscale the agency's activities inside India to all but benign reporting functions. As recently as 5 November, he had objected to projected CIA plans due to the risk of exposure. But in a 13 November letter to Kennedy, the ambassador had a qualified change of heart, noting that [Defence Minister V.K. Krishna] Menon's departure was a turning point to begin working with the Indians on ‘sensitive matters’.
Both the CIA and the Intelligence Bureau were quick to seize the opportunity. "I went into a huddle with Mullik and Des [FitzGerald, head of CIA’s Far East Division]," recalls Critchfield [James Critchfield of the CIA’s the Near East Division], "and we started coming up with all these schemes against the Chinese."
Most of their ideas centered around use of the Tibetans. "The Indians were interested in the Tibet program because of its intelligence collection value," said [India’s] station chief David Blee, who sat in on some of the meetings. "Mullik was particularly interested in paramilitary operations." There was good reason for this: following Menon's resignation, and [Dalai Lama's elder brother] Gyalo Thondup's stated preference, the Intelligence Bureau had been placed in charge of the 5,000 Tibetan guerrillas forming under Brigadier [Sujan Singh] Uban [first Inspector General of the Tibetan Special Frontier Force].
Convoy and Morrison analyse: "Mullik was cautious as well. Although he was well connected to the Nehru family and had the prime minister's full approval to talk with the CIA, he knew that the Indian populace was fickle, and until recently, anti-Americanism had been a popular mantra. It was perhaps only a matter of time before the barometer would swing back and make open Indo-U.S. cooperation political suicide.”
According to the American authors: “By the end of the Harriman mission, the CIA and Intelligence Bureau had arrived at a rough division of labor. The Indians, with CIA support from the Near East Division, would work together in developing Uban's 5,000-strong tactical guerrilla force. The CIA's Far East Division, meantime, would unilaterally create a strategic long-range resistance movement inside Tibet. The Mustang contingent would also remain under the CIA's unilateral control.”

But this is another story.
To come back to the U-2 operation in India, it is doubtful that a full-fledged use of the U-2s was permitted on November 11, though V.K. Krishna Menon, the arrogant Defence Minister and stumbling block for a closer collaboration between India and the US, had resigned on November 8.
It is also true that the CIA History of the U-2s mentions only the 'permission for refueling' given on November 11.
It is however certain, that the main thrust of the covert operations over the Himalayas was decided during Harriman's Mission to India, when the CIA's senior officials accompanying Kennedy's envoy met with their Indian counterpart, particularly B.N. Mullik.
Though not mentioned in the CIA's history, it would be interesting to probe the role of Biju Patnaik, the Oriya politician, who was instrumental in offering Charbatia as a base the U-2s' operations in the Himalayas and Tibet.
Early 1961, Patnaik became president of the Odisha's State Congress. Under his leadership, the Congress Party won 82 of 140 seats in the Assembly election and on 23 June 1961, he became the State Chief Minister (he remained in the post until 2 October 1963 when he resigned from the post under the Kamaraj Plan to revitalise the Congress party). Patnaik was then 45-year old. 
He played an important, though not recognized as yet, in the covert operations against China.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

When Indians fought for France

La Somme
Here is an article which I published in Geopolitics last month.

2014 is a special year. It will not only mark the 60 years of the infamous Panchsheel Agreement with China, which in many ways precipitated the war with China 8 years later, but also the centenary of World War I which started in July 1914.
It is an important date for India too.
More than 130,000 Indian troops, including many Sikhs and Gorkhas fought in France and Belgium during the bloody conflict during which more than 9 million people died; a quarter of the Indian contingent never returned to their native provinces. It is even recorded that during the battle of Neuve-Chapelle in France in March 1915, the Sikhs regiments lost 80% of their men.
Some of the French battlefields where Indian soldiers showed their bravery and dedication to a cause which was not theirs, are still part of the History of France.
A hundred years later, the French government has decided to pay homage to all those who fought and lost their lives in the cold and cruel trenches of the Somme and other battlefields of the Great War; a documentary film titled ‘100 Years’ will show the sacrifice of Subedar Manta Singh who saved the life of his British companion before losing his own life. Born in Jalandhar district in 1870, Manta Singh belonged to 2 Sikh Royal Infantry. One day, crawling through a no man’s land, he and his friend Henderson came under German fire. Manta somehow managed to push his companion under a wheelbarrow, saving the Brit’s life; unfortunately, fatally wounded in the process, he died soon after.
The film written and directed by Paris-based Punjabi writer Vijay Singh, is sponsored by France Television and the French Embassy in India. It uses rare photographs, film footages, and press clippings to show that many Indian soldiers won the appreciation of the French.
More than 1,000 such initiatives should mark the commemorations of the Great War, during which France will try to pay back a small portion of its debt to the Indian jawans.
A few years ago, David Omissi, a military historian wrote Indian Voices of the Great War: Soldier’s Letters, 1914-18 (Palgrave, 1999). This edited collection of letters sent by Indian soldiers to their family in India (and their replies) is deeply touching.
Places such as Ypres, La Bassée, Neuve Chapelle, Festubert, Loos and Givenchy will remain engraved forever in the military history of India and France. So many jawans of the 9 Bhopal Infantry, 15 Ludhiana Sikhs, 47 Sikhs, 57 Frontier Force, 58 Frontier Force, 59 Frontier Force, 89 Punjabis, 107 Pioneers, to quote a few, valiantly fought for a country that they did not know; they could not even speak the language.
For most of the Indian soldiers in the Allied forces, it was their first trip to Europe (and for many, their last as they ended being buried on the front).
As he arrived in France, an Indian soldier wrote to his family: “What is Paris? It is heaven!” He soon discovered that the trenches were Hell.
Another bewildered jawan described Paris: “To-day I saw a museum in which all the living fishes of the world were kept in boxes of water and a magnificent palace which cost millions of pounds.” He must have visited Versailles Palace.
Another one in transit in London explained: “in the train that goes under the earth … a strange and wonderful experience — they call it the underground.”
Nobody had even heard of a ‘Tube’ in his native Punjab.
Though some of the Indian soldiers could not read or write, they were allowed to dictate letters to their families and the answers were read out to them.
On September 19, 1916, one Farrier Major Khan wrote from Punjab to Wali Mahomed Khan of the 18 Lancers who was on the front: “I have heard all about your amours with the French women and how the officers forbid it. I can quite imagine how, if you know enough of the language, you have a great time and try to make yourself out a trustworthy person. I have no doubt you are always meeting the French people. It is a great pity that you never write any real account of the war in France.”
They did not have a ‘great time’; further their missives were heavily censured. Interestingly, it is why one can still see them at the India Office Record (IOR) in London. The website of the British Archives explains: “At the beginning of the War, in response to an Indian 'revolutionary' distributing 'subversive' literature, a Censors office, under Captain E.B. Howell, was set up in Boulogne [near Paris] to censor Indian out-going as well as in-coming letters, both from the front and from the hospitals in England.”
The 'tranchées'
he IOR is right when it affirms that the ‘Censored Mails’ are of great sociological importance and provide vivid testimonies of how Indian soldiers and civilian personnel saw the War, France, and Britain.
The Indian jawans knew that the letters would be checked: “We are not allowed to write about the war. What they put in their papers is all lies; we have only captured 400 yards of trenches. The war is very hard”, one soldier said.
Farrier Major Khan ‘wisely’ advised his relative: “No doubt your officers read the letters. But cannot you devise any way of dodging them? I will tell you what to do. When you write a letter, on one page write in invisible ink made out of lemon juice and I will read everything. If you cannot get this, take some lime which has not been wetted and grind it up and mix it with water and write and I shall be able to read it all.”
The story does not tell us if Wali Mahomed tried the trick.
In a rare description of the operation in September 1916, one Daya Ram of the Jat Regiment told Kalu Ram in Ambala: “I went into the trenches on August 7 and returned on August 28. Some of our men were wounded. I am not permitted to give any fuller details. The battle is raging violently, and various new ways of fighting have been introduced. The ground is honeycombed, as a field with rat holes. No one can advance beyond the trenches. If he does so, he is blown away. Mines are ready charged with explosives.”
Daya Ram continues his vivid account: “Shells and machine guns and bombs are mostly employed. No one considers rifles nowadays, and serviceable rifle ammunition is lying about as plentifully as pebbles. At the trenches, thousands of maunds of iron, representing exploded shells, lie on the ground. At some places corpses are found of men killed in 1914, with uniform and accoutrements still on. Large flies, which have become poisonous through feasting on dead bodies, infest the trenches, and huge fat rats run about there.”
By that time, most of the surviving Indian troops had been sent to a more clement climate in Turkey, only a few Indian cavalry regiments were still on the front.
1 Gurkha
Jemadar Indar Singh belonged to one of them. He explained to Chattar Singh who lived in Ludhiana district: “I am off for a cavalry attack on the September 15 [1916]. It is quite impossible that I should return alive because a cavalry charge is a very terrible affair, and therefore I want to clear up several things which are weighing on my heart at present. Firstly, the sharp things you have written to me have not annoyed me. Don’t be grieved at my death because I shall die arms in hand, wearing the warrior’s clothes. This is the most happy death that anyone can die.”
This is perhaps what made the Indian soldier so special to the Empire.
On October 7, 1927 France officially acknowledged India’s participation in the World War and expressed its deep gratitude. A memorial in Neuve-Chapelle was inaugurated by Ferdinand Foch, Maréchal de France and Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies who paid a vibrant homage to the Indian soldiers. The old Marshal told Indian representatives: “Return to your faraway Oriental country, bathed in sun, and make the entire world know how your countrymen have soaked the cold soil of northern France and the Flanders with their blood; and how with an exemplary courage, they have delivered France. They fought hand-in-hand with a redoubtable enemy, also, tell everybody in India that we shall look after the tombs of your soldiers with the same devotion that merits our own dead.”
During the centenary celebrations, France and Britain should express their deepest appreciation for the role of Indian soldiers, though it is not clear for which cause, the Punjabis, the Baluchs or the Gorkhas fought so bravely. This is often the cases in wars; years later, the reasons for conflict becomes blurred.
And as an irony of history, the Germans and the French are today great pals trying to build Europe together. It is undoubtedly better that way.

On the occasion of the 100 years, most of these letters have become available online on the site of the British Library and the EU’s archive project, Europeana. It is worth having a look.