Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Prosenjit Dasgupta | A Conflict in Thin Air

This review was published by The Statesman  on 19th March 2017

Prosenjit Dasgupta published by Cinnamon Teal Publishing Price Rs 399/- pages 147.

At a first glance, Prosenjit Dasgupta’s A Conflict in Thin Air seems to be about the Indo- China war of 1962 but on reading this slim volume, it is much more. Dasgupta has focused in great detail with meticulous research on the history, relationship and conflicts between Tibet, China, India as well as Russia from the 8th century onwards.

Most people believe that China’s invasion of Tibet in 1959 was an event which was precipitated by the aggressive policies followed by the Peoples Republic of China led by Mao Zedong, but,  in reality, way back in the 1750s, Tibet was ‘infuriated at the Chinese interference in their affairs and frequent clashes and skirmishes broke out between them.’  However, despite this, when Nepal attacked Tibet in 1792, the Dalai Lama appealed to the Chinese emperor Chien Lung for assistance and he sent a force which beat back the Gorkha forces.

Dasgupta  analyses in detail  the events occurring in the famous Simla Conference which started in October 1913 and ended in April 1914! In this meeting, China accepted Tibet as an equal entity and even  more Tibet and Mongolia signed a treaty to respect each other’s independence without  any ‘by your leave’ to China.  Not known to many is that the Simla Conference proposed an Inner Tibet closer to China and an Outer Tibet closer to Lhasa. The first zone would be under Chinese administration and the second would enable Tibet to function as an autonomously.  Thus, the seeds were sown to create the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) which came to pass many years later.
In 1950, the Chinese carried out what was then referred to by them  as the  ‘peaceful liberation of Tibet’  and other than El Salvador in Central America no other nation though it fit to bring up this matter before the United Nations.  Pandit  Nehru, as Prime Minister of India, did protest but did not go far beyond this, possibly not wanting to ruffle Chinese feathers.

  Dasgupta finally end his treatise with the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962.  It is most interesting to read that twenty days before the war started, Lt. Gen. Umrao Singh heading 33 Corps in charge of NEFA (North Eastern Frontier Agency) was abruptly removed and a new 4 Corps under Lt. Gen. B.M.Kaul was set up to mann the frontier at the last moment!  The lack of India’s defence preparedness is aptly brought out in this chapter and the Chinese abrupt cease fire after occupying Indian territory and being in a winning position was to ‘teach India a lesson’. Once the war was over, Menon was removed as Defence Minister and Lt. Gen. B.M. Kaul resigned from the Army along with Gen P.N Thapar then Army Chief.

In conclusion, Dasgupta’s detailed research attempts to unravel the tangled threads of history of China and Tibet and the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962 and the border disputes are only symptomatic of large ranging differences between the two countries. The book attempts in a concise volume to address all these far reaching issues and in this Dasgupta has been successful.


  1. Salkantay trek is the alternative to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was recently named among the 25 best Treks in the World, by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine.



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