In the 1950s, India’s foreign policy towards China was incredibly utopian—utopian because the Indian government was being led by fools who were convinced that communist regimes are kind and nonviolent, and that they would never invade other nations. What else can one conclude after reading the praise that the Indians who held powerful positions in the government of that period were bestowing on China’s Chairman Mao Zedong.
K. M. Panikkar, India’s ambassador to China from 1948 to 1952, wrote a book called In Two Chinas: Memoirs Of A Diplomat (published in 1954). In 1952, he met Mao, and in several pages of his book, he has talked about the meeting. On page 31, he writes: “[Mao] was generally described in the newspapers as the great philanthropist. In appearance he looked a distinguished old-style mandarin, a grave, benevolent personality, courteous and dignified, one who looked on the affairs of the world with a friendly detachment.”
On page 81, Pannikar writes: “[Mao’s] personality is impressive but not intimidating and he has the gift of making people feel at home. There is no cruelty or hardness either in his eyes or in the expression of his mouth. In fact he gave me the impression of a philosophical mind, a little dreamy but absolutely sure of itself.”
On page 82, Pannikar makes the case that Mao and Jawaharlal Nehru are alike. “A more profitable comparison would be with Nehru. Both are men of action, but with dreamy, idealistic temperaments. While both may be considered humanists in the broadest sense of the term, Nehru has his roots in Western liberalism which affects even his socialist thinking. Mao Tse-tung, being mostly self-educated, with his economics and history learnt from Marx and Lenin, has perhaps no use for the liberal creed of individual liberty. However, as one bred in the classical literature of China, with an early Buddhist training, it is perhaps fair to add that Mao has something more than the dry theories of Marxism in his mental makeup.”
Diplomats are supposed to be a shrewd judge of people, but Pannikar was foolish. He made an outrageously incorrect analysis of Mao’s character. Perhaps he was a good professor and newspaper editor, but he was unfit for the post of a diplomat. Nehru made one of his worst appointments when he gave Pannikar the post of India’s ambassador to China.
In the summer of 1952, Nehru sent a delegation headed by his younger sister Mrs. Vijayalakshmi Pandit to Beijing. Mrs. Pandit had earlier served as an ambassador to Moscow. In Beijing she met Mao and was enchanted. In her letter to her brother Nehru, she said that Mao had a “great sense of humor.” Somehow Mao made her think of Mahatma Gandhi. She wrote in her letter that as with Gandhiji, “the public doesn’t just applaud [Mao], they worship him. There is both love and adoration in the glances of those who look at him. It is moving to see.”
How could she compare Mao with Gandhiji? Didn’t she know that Mao was starving and butchering millions of his countrymen? Even in the 1950s, this was not a secret—most countries knew about what was happening in China. The members of Nehru’s government were living in their own dreamworld in which the communist regimes are always nice and nonviolent. They were deluding themselves by the notion that Mao was benevolent, philosophical, and kind, and that he was like Gandhiji.