Book Review: Himalayan Challenge by Dr. Subramanian Swamy

Book Name: Himalayan Challenge

Author: Subramanian Swamy

Publisher: Rupa


Rating: 4.9/5

Book Blurb: In September 1978, at the invitation of the prestigious Chinese people’s Institute of foreign affairs, Subramanian Swamy, then a Lok Sabha member of Parliament of the ruling Janata party and an elected member of the Party’s National executive, travelled to China as an envoy of the then prime Minister, Morarji Desai, where he met senior leader Ji pengfei. This led to the first contact, since 1962, between the ruling parties of both countries. Later, in April 1981, Swamy, the then deputy leader of the opposition, was invited to meet China’s Supreme leader, Chairman Deng Xiaoping. In this historic 100-minute meeting, Swamy successfully persuaded Deng to reopen the—Kailash Mansarovar route for Hindu pilgrims. In August that year, he also led the first delegation to the holy site, which he Revisited as a guest of the Chinese government in June 2016. It is this vast, first-hand experience that Swamy combines with a provocative exploration of historical sources and fascinating new insights to create Himalayan challenge—the most compelling and definitive account of India–China relations. From uncovering the perfidy committed by the British vis-a-vis the McMahon line in 1936 and the circumstances leading to the folly of war in 1962, to the current fluid situation at the border, this seminal work effortlessly blends meticulous scholarship and memoir-style writing in an intellectually rich fashion. Swamy breaks new ground when he suggests a middle path—grounded in pragmatism, and not carried out over fear or overreaction—that India must take in her interactions with China.

Review: Himalayan Challenge brings about a lot of clarity to the age-old dispute between India and China. The entire fiasco around the LAC is very difficult to understand and not many people have a good understanding of this dispute. Dr. Swamy’s book, therefore, lends a fresh perspective and suggests a way forward for both emerging economies.

The book goes into the legacy question and how an opportunity to settle the dispute was waste away by India. It shows how similar disputes between China and other countries such as Myanmar, Vietnam and Russia were solved, sometimes through the use of force and sometime through dialogue- but essentially they were solved and this is something which India has been unable to do. For this, the Indian leaders are also responsible and the botched up Tibet policy in India is also partly responsible for the same.

“The Asian mind is a community based on ideas, beliefs, and traditions, which are the contributors of the close association of the Indian and Chinese people over so long a period”.

Himalayan Challenge explains how Tibet was never really a free nation and in any case, the entire Tibet-China dispute is so complex that India cannot solve it. There is very little to gain from the Indian perspective by dabbling in the Tibet dispute. In any case, India has already recognised China’s claim on Tibet.

“…The first in July 1948, had two maps: one had no boundary shown in the Western Sector, only a partial colour wash; the second one extended the colour yellow to the entire state of J&K, but mentioned ‘boundary undefined’.

Both India and China are powerful economies and nuclear powered nations. A war between these two countries would benefit the interests of other superpowers but would be detrimental to both these nations. This book brings about a lot of clarity and shows how India needs to course correct its military as well as political strategy to put behind the legacy issues and focus on settling this long standing border dispute.

The book also recognises how China has taken advantage of the unmarked border while India has been unable to do so. Indian leaders fail to learn from history and tend to repeat their mistakes with regard to Indo-China policy. Short term political and diplomatic dialogue cannot serve the long term interests of India. The nation must decide where it stands on long-debated questions and solve issues with China once and for all. It is easier said than done but if China’s other disputes could be solved, India can also learn from history and solve its border dispute.

“Nevertheless, the core truth on the Sino-Indian border dispute remains even today: neither the Indians not the Chinese have an uncontestable case on the border. China has taken full advantage of that since 1950’s.”

Given a problem of such enormous size as the Indo-China dispute, no book can cover the entire topic within its limited pages. Himalayan Challenge could have gone into larger questions and explained how China and other countries disputes were solved. However, given the limited length of the pages, it still covers a lot of material and presents the border dispute in an easy to understand manner.

In international political disputes, usually, a favourable outcome is one where everybody gets something. If India can solve the dispute in the western sector, it will stand to gain something in the eastern sector in the form of a possible solution to the Arunanchal Pradesh and Bhutanese border disputes. This could perhaps lead to peace in the eastern sector of India- something that New Delhi desires. The powers in New Delhi need to realise that short term border skirmishes are no answer to a border dispute. Otherwise, both nations will keep fighting short term battles with no end in sight.

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