By Anand K. Sahay.
“Modi doesn’t have the privilege, unlike India’s first leader did, of being the Mahatma’s first disciple, and a visionary of peace. He dreams only of narrow gains of politics at home, of tying the knot with the great powers on the chessboard of world affairs, of being bossy around the home frontiers….”
There seems significant confusion in the government over how best to play the incursion of Chinese soldiers in extraordinary numbers into what’s been indubitably seen as our side of the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh since the 1962 conflict, with two top Cabinet ministers appearing to make somewhat loose and pointless public remarks.
Indeed, these even give the impression of being suggestio falsi since nothing has happened on the ground so far that may give Indians reassurance about the recovery of ground lately lost to China in a crucial border area in Ladakh.
Days before talks to defuse the increasingly tense military situation were to begin on June 6 in the high Himalayas practically on the field of battle in Ladakh at the top military level with the Indian side led by the commander of 14 Corps, defence minister Rajnath Singh said in a television interview that the Chinese forces “had come in achchi khasi sankhya” (substantial numbers), but the Indian forces were also doing what was needed.
Where exactly had they “come” was it in areas that India has long regarded as its territory (without Beijing objecting), or along China’s side of the unmarked LAC? This was not made clear. Our experts including former Army Chiefs and retired heads of the Northern Command have concluded, however, that Chinese soldiers are on the Indian side “up to 40 to 60 sq km deep”.
On the whole, the Raksha Mantri’s statement, although loose, left the impression of being transparent the first time from the government since the first Chinese thrust was reported in early May.
His remarks were widely seen as acknowledging the harsh reality of the Chinese intrusion, and India’s inability to send them back.
If this weren’t the case, what exactly is India now seeking to negotiate with the Chinese, while urging them in these talks to withdraw to the ground positions held by the two sides in the month of April? What was the need for urgent talks if the PLA soldiers hadn’t marched into our territory?
After the Leh corps commander held day-long technical conversations with a senior Chinese officer on June 6, neither side briefed the media. There was obviously much to be sorted out beyond the glare of publicity; the stakes were too high.
Even the television channels that routinely amplify the government’s chauvinistic and barely concealed communal messaging when it comes to Pakistan or even Kashmir were evidently under orders to keep mum.
An official statement was unambiguous: “Indian and Chinese officials continue to remain engaged… At this stage therefore any speculative and unsubstantiated reporting about these engagements would not be helpful and the media is advised to refrain from such reporting.” This was really an instruction. It was clear that if the government hid the facts around the Chinese incursion, the media was asked to desist from probing.
It was in this atmosphere, on June 7, while addressing party cadres in Bihar through the virtual mode to prepare for Assembly polls in that state, that Union home minister Amit Shah said, like only a braggart can, that besides the United States and Israel, India was the only country in the world that knew how to defend its borders.
This is false of course and empty boasts can throw a spanner in the works when delicate discussions are on. But Shah seems unequal to the demands of high politics or even plain subtlety. China is not likely to be amused at being left out of the list of nations that can keep aggressors at bay.
A blunt instrument may have its uses, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi would do well to cool the ardour of the overenthusiastic faithful.
For the first time since 1962, the Indians had no idea that their ground was being occupied in broad daylight. Sixty years ago, Jawaharlal Nehru’s India had no military or intelligence resources to speak of to defend its territory marked on any version of British-era maps.
It was only after the event that it came to know of China seizing Aksai Chin and building the Tibet- Xinjiang road through that icy waste where “not a blade of grass grows”, to recall the peace-romantic’s sloppy words.
Not long after, the first Prime Minister had to pay for betting on an era of tranquility with the Chinese because he had pleaded for them at world forums in the (unrealistic) hope of building an axis of peace in Asia in order to deny imperialism a field of play.
He had read the book of history but omitted the chapter on power politics. Later, Nehru spoke of Beijing’s “betrayal”, but the Chinese were giggling all the way to the bank.
Modi doesn’t have the privilege, unlike India’s first leader did, of being the Mahatma’s first disciple, and a visionary of peace. He dreams only of narrow gains of politics at home, of tying the knot with the great powers on the chessboard of world affairs, of being bossy around the home frontiers, and being cagey and cautious and somewhat worshipful in negotiating with Beijing. What explanation can such a man offer for sleeping on the job?
The PM has to therefore live with the terrifying truth that Chinese soldiers have indeed marched in unimpeded with their weapons of war into our territory. A national security adviser especially awarded Cabinet rank, and a newly created Chief of Defence Staff, who has no need to answer to the defence ministry bureaucracy, have been of little avail.
True, India has a modest defence spend, seen regionally or globally. But it has enough resources, unlike in Nehru’s day, to detect any foray by an army of interlopers.
Not since 1962 has China’s People’s Liberation Army assembled against India vast numbers of troops, tactically deployed and backed by heavy guns and armour.
The Chinese military disposition mocks the 1993 agreement on the maintenance of peace and tranquility in the border areas, and four subsequent compacts on confidence-building and border management. The situation is very serious. It must be finessed through talks on equitable terms and without hoodwinking the people.