For nearly a fortnight now the weather has been worse than beastly and weather experts do not hold out any hope of improvement for several days. First came the snow, up to six feet deep in places. This was followed by sleet and ice creating Arctic conditions in large parts of the country. On Wednesday last a freezing drizzle (rain drops being frozen in midair) descended on southern England where hundreds of villages had remained cut off from the rest of the country for over a week. The same night a blizzard – the weather-men call it low zulu – hit southern England full blast.
Nothing like it has been known here since 1881 when, according to records, on January 18 there was a 15 feet drift in the famous Oxford Circus in London. It has been quite a task to keep even the trains to, from and in London itself moving. In London the bus service has somehow been kept going. All the highways in England have turned into death traps. The marooned villages have had to be supplied by helicopters. Even for wild animals food has had to be air-dropped. Inevitably, milk supply in many areas has been disrupted and green vegetables have virtually disappeared from the market.
In spite of all the hazards of travelling there have been no complaints of absenteeism in offices and factories which is a remarkable tribute to the people. Even in this Siberian weather several hundred young men and women found it possible to usher in the new year in the traditional fashion – dancing in the Trafalgar Square. Some of them even jumped into the fountain. It was rather ungallant of the bobbies to arrest 150 of them for throwing snow and slush at passing cars.
Naturally enough the weather has been big news. It has provided lead stories for the national dailies day after day. Snowed up and abandoned cars, marooned villages, rescue operations by helicopters and thousands of men trying to keep the railway lines clear have provided excellent pictorial material for television. The BBC has been issuing special weather bulletins to help the people to decide whether they should take out their cars from snowed up garages. But the big issues like the United Nations action in Katanga and the future of the British nuclear deterrent have not allowed themselves to be put into the deep-freeze. If the Sino-Indian dispute has got relegated to the background, the weather is not to blame.
As already reported the Indian High Commissioner to the Court of St. James will be in New Delhi next week to give his assessment of the British attitude and policy to India in the new situation created by the Chinese invasion and the subsequent withdrawal, and to acquaint himself with the nuances of his Government’s overall policy.To be fruitful these discussions should be thorough. A policy based on illusions and half thought-out premises is bound to be not only frustrating but harmful to the future good relations between the two countries. Seen from this end it appears as if we have been fluctuating between fond expectations of total support and total despair. Neither reaction is justified by the facts of the situation.
The first altitude was popular among the Indians here when following the Chinese onslaught on October 20 the British government rushed supplies of small arms and sent a high-power political and military mission to discuss India’s short-term and long-term defence needs. The second attitude is the result of the display on the part of the British press and officials of almost total lack of understanding of India’s inability to oblige Pakistan by making a gift of the Kashmir valley to her. In both cases our people have shown a surprising incapacity to look below the surface.
It deserves to be recalled that even when the Chinese army was cutting through the Indian defences in NEFA and Ladakh there was virtually no discussion here on the merits of the Indian case regarding the border as such. The British governments own statement referred only to the McMahon Line which the Chinese themselves have been willing to recognise as India’s border in exchange for Aksaichin in Ladakh. The influential Times cast some doubt on the validity of the McMahon Line as well when on November 21 it published a map showing the so-called pre-McMahon Line frontier of British India. I have not met anyone here who is willing to recognise that New Delhi is justified in refusing to surrender Aksaichin in return for the Chinese acceptance of the McMahon Line.
This attitude does not detract from the fact that there was genuine sympathy and concern for India here at the time of the Chinese invasion. But it does mean that there is no firm policy on whether India is to be encouraged or discouraged in pursuing her policy of not surrendering Aksaichin as the price of “peace” with China. There are several reasons for this indecision. There is great respect here for China’s military power. Aksaichin is regarded as useless to India both economically and strategically. Above all no hard line has emerged on India’s role in the world. Pakistan’s dispute with India over Kashmir comes in handy for side-tracking the main issue of strengthening India’s defences so that she does not have to live in fear of China’s power.
It is common knowledge that the British Government was not at all enthusiastic about the war in defence of South Korea. It effectively blocked American intervention in Indo-China. It played a key role in the arrangement of the present shaky settlement over Laos. In all these “peace” missions New Delhi whole-heartedly collaborated with Whitehall because it was following the same policy of trying to avoid confrontation with China. There is no positive proof that Whitehall has not abandoned this approach. It should be the task of our diplomacy to see to it that Whitehall does not once again actively engage in restraining the “war-mongering” Americans.
The differences in the Indian and British approaches to a variety of problems have not disappeared with the rise of the Chinese menace to India. All that has happened is that in view of New Delhi’s preoccupation with the threat from China, and its anticipation of military assistance from Britain, its capacity to press or even express these differences has been greatly reduced. This naturally suits the British government. But for New Delhi to accept this as the basis of understanding with Britain is to abdicate its role particularly in the Middle East and Africa which would inevitably produce unhappy consequences. In both these regions the British policy is at odds with America’s and would be drastically revised if Labour is returned to power.
The consequences are not difficult to foresee. It would help Peking in realising one of its principal objectives of eliminating India’s influence from these regions. The demonstration of India’s military weakness has been only one facet of the Chinese effort to achieve their aim. Even a casual perusal of the propaganda material pouring out of Peking would show that it attaches even greater importance to proving that India’s policy of non-alignment is a thin facade and that in fact she has all along been the West’s military ally. Peking alone publicised the Pakistan Foreign Minister’s baseless allegation that India signed a secret military pact with America in 1951. One would need to be a great optimist to believe that this propaganda has not paid dividends.
Whether the West likes it or not, it cannot be easily disputed that its own assessment of India’s importance and consequently its willingness to extend economic aid has at least been partly influenced by her standing among the Afro-Asian group of Nations. For India to forfeit her influence among these countries is to risk the loss of respect of the West. Viewed in this context, the insistent demand for the withdrawal of our troops from the Congo would appear to be shortsighted. It could be even worse if New Delhi were to become cool towards the rights of the African people in Southern Rhodesia – a case it has rightly championed – in the hope of cultivating the goodwill of the British government. This analysis would suggest how difficult is the task of Indian diplomacy in Britain.
The Times of India, 5 January 1963