India’s former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi privately considered Chinese rule in Tibet illegal, Fernandes had asked USSR to recognize exile Tibetan gov’t

Indira Gandhi during a visit to the US. (Photo courtesy: Bettmann Archive/Hindustan Times)

(, Dec16’20) – While the government of India’s position on Tibet has been clear since its 1954 trade agreement with China, that it was part of China, several of its top leaders, including former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, privately considered China’s annexation of Tibet to be illegal. Besides, the late former government minister George Fernandes had, in 1979, asked Soviet Premier Alexei Nikolayevich Kosygin to consider recognizing the independence of Tibet.

These have been revealed in an extract from Himalayan Challenge: India, China And The Quest For Peace, authored by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy and published by Rupa Publications India.

George Fernandes Former Minister of Defence of India. (Photo courtesy: Frontline)

The, which carried the extract published in a Dec 15 report, noted:

Excerpted below is the declassified transcript, prepared by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of the Cabinet Secretariat, of the conversation between Fernandes and Soviet Premier Kosygin en route from Delhi to Anand-Baroda-Bangalore-Delhi, on 11–13 March 1979. On 12 March, while travelling from Anand to Baroda by car, the following exchange took place (interpreter’s notes):

(George Fernandes–GF): Will you be prepared to take a stand recognizing independence of Tibet? !e past governments (of India) made a mistake in not doing so.

(Alexei Kosygin–K): I did not know that. Mrs Indira Gandhi when she came to Moscow told us that India was opposed to China’s seizure of Tibet, regarded it as illegal, and that is why her government was giving refuge to the Dalai Lama.

It is your (Janata) government which supports the Chinese position. I heard it for the first time from your Foreign Minister (Vajpayee) four days ago.

GF: I and other like-minded persons always supported Tibet’s right to freedom, and always criticized the Indian government’s failure to do so. The Janata government should undo what the previous governments had done.

K: It is question for the Indian government. The Soviet government never suggested even in the fifties that China might conquer Tibet.

GF: Don’t you think then a fresh statement is necessary about Tibet’s independence? From a mighty power like the USSR, it would be a great encouragement.

K: Tibet is far from the Soviet Union and Soviet Union regards Tibet in India’s exclusive sphere of influence. It is for India to take a stand. Anyway, is there much of Tibet left? They have massacred them and forcibly married them.

GF: I draw great inspiration from your statement. Lovers (sic) of Tibet freedom could count on the Soviet government’s support if and when India takes a firm stand.

K: You are right.

The book’s author has noted that this discussion between Kosygin and Fernandes shows that when Mrs Gandhi was in power, prior to 1977, she had privately told the Russians one thing (that Tibet is an independent country forcibly occupied by China), and the Indian parliament another thing (that Tibet is a part of China).

The author has also noted: 

“In March 1983, while speaking in the Lok Sabha on the foreign affairs debate, I had pointedly asked the following question: ‘Does the Government of India (GoI) regard Tibet as a part of China or not?’ On 31 March 1983, the then foreign minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, in reply, stated that the Congress government did indeed regard Tibet as a part of China.

“This declaration, however, did not square with other developments. In March 1983, 70 Congress MPs signed a Memorandum and sent it to PM Indira Gandhi, requesting her to give a Tibetan rebel delegation observer status in the seventh Non-Aligned Summit in New Delhi. Could Congress MPs dare…”


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