ormally unnoticed, the anniversary of Sardar Patel’s November 7, 1950, warning to Pandit Nehru about China repays attention this year. The recent spate of similar alarums and the government’s deliberate dampening of them reminds many people of the earlier contrast between a hard-headed practicality identified with Patel, and woolly wishfulness attributed to Nehru. That story, like the India-China relationship itself, is not so simple.
Worse than ignoring history is misreading it. Exciting public hysteria obstructs sensible handling. Not every compromise is doomed to be a Munich, nor every intervention a Vietnam. This is not 1962, except for one damaging legacy: public mistrust of the government. New Delhi appeared as covering up for both Beijing and itself. But similar criticism of today’s government misses out on both past and present.