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Jawaharlal Nehru and China: A Study in Failure?

Dr Ramachandra Guha, Professor Arne Westad
Tuesday 29th November 2011, 6.30-8pm, Old Theatre, Old Building

The historical reputation of Jawaharlal Nehru has been stained by India's defeat during the Sino-Indian War of 1962. This national humiliation, for which Nehru was considered personally responsible, nullified all of his previous accomplishments. By putting 1962 in the broader perspective of China-India relations, Dr Ramachandra Guha attempted to reassess Nehru's legacy.

Until the late 1950s, Nehru showed a sympathetic inclination towards China and enjoyed cordial relations with its leaders. By the early 1960s however, tensions were rising between New Delhi and Beijing and Nehru's perception of China became less benevolent, although he did not expect a war. According to Dr Guha, Nehru contributed to the Indian defeat by committing important strategic mistakes: he entrusted advisors whose skills were questionable, overlooked the nationalistic propensities of Chinese communism and failed to adequately arm and train the military.

Still, Dr Guha argued that the war between India and China was very likely—with or without Nehru—for three structural reasons: Tibet, the differences between Indian and Chinese political systems, and the two countries' conflicting aspirations. Tibet was a major irritant. The unsettled Tibetan border with India was a potential time bomb; China's occupation of Tibet exacerbated India's sense of insecurity; and New Delhi's providing asylum to the Dalai Lama frustrated Beijing. In addition, the fundamental differences between India's democratic system and China's dictatorship complicated the resolution of issues related to Tibet and intensified misunderstandings between the two countries. Moreover, a clash between India and China was bound to happen, for both countries' national and civilisational aspirations were, to some extent, mutually antagonistic.

To focus on Nehru's personal responsibility in the Indian debacle of 1962 oversees his much more important failures in handling education and health, as well as overstates the importance of a somewhat minor event, according to Dr Guha. Interestingly, 1962 is given a lot less importance in Beijing than in New Delhi. It would be time for India enthusiasts to correct this asymetry, to look beyond the Sino-Indian War.

- Maxime Lauzon-Lacroix


Ramachandra Guha

Ramachandra Guha is Philippe Roman Chair in History and International Affairs at LSE IDEAS for 2011-2012.

Prof Arne Westad

Professor Arne Westad is co-director at LSE IDEAS





Old Theatre, Old Building, London School of Economics.


LSE IDEAS Public Lecture