In This Review
The Fractured Himalaya: India, Tibet, China, 1949–1962

The Fractured Himalaya: India, Tibet, China, 1949–1962

By Nirupama Rao

India Penguin, 2022, 640 pp.

In India, the 1962 border war with China is unforgotten and unforgiven, shaping relations between Beijing and New Delhi today. As a former Indian ambassador to China and, later, the number two official in the Ministry of External Affairs, Rao has a practitioner’s understanding of the history-making role of personalities and misperceptions. India inherited from the United Kingdom the idea of Tibet as a buffer zone, with a boundary defined in part by the 1914 McMahon Line, and a belief that Tibet enjoyed a form of autonomy under Chinese “suzerainty” rather than full subordination under Chinese “sovereignty.” Indian policymakers were therefore shocked in 1950 when China sent troops into Tibet. Scrutinizing the diplomatic record in close detail, Rao faults Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for believing that New Delhi’s professions of friendship would prevent China from challenging the McMahon Line, and the Chinese for stealthy expansion of their positions on the border. The flight of the Dalai Lama from Tibet to India in 1959 worsened relations, and war soon followed. Because neither country could “accept the national humiliation of losing territory that it regarded as . . . integral to its ‘sacred’ geo-body,” as Rao writes, the border issues remain unresolved to this day and the source of mounting tension.