By Kanchan Gupta on April 28, 2013
There is understandable national concern over the sudden surge of belligerence in China’s attitude towards India, most notably visible in the marked shift in its approach to resolving the border issue which has been festering for half-a-century now. Although talks on demarcating the border to the mutual satisfaction of India and China have been dragging on without any resolution in sight, both New Delhi and Beijing have remained committed to maintaining peace and tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control, thus preserving the status quo in the interregnum. Seen against this backdrop, China’s sudden smash-and-grab adventurism in Ladakh has come as a surprise, though many who have been warning about Beijing’s true intentions would disagree with that proposition: the Dragon was never to be trusted.
Nearly a fortnight after a platoon of PLA soldiers – 30 of them, we are told – marched across the LAC 15 km into Indian territory and set up camp, thus occupying a strategic height which had proved advantageous for India during the 1962 war, that concern is fast turning into anger. The mounting rage is directed as much against China’s new leaders who appear to be far more cavalier than the lot that stepped down earlier this year, seemingly intent upon recreating the flawed relationship that faltered and collapsed so horribly 50 years ago and took several decades to nurse back to health, as the weak Congress-led UPA regime in New Delhi. Then, as now, Beijing sneered at New Delhi’s concerns and refused to countenance its objections while spurning India’s sovereign claim over its territory. If memories of India’s humiliation in 1962 had dimmed, they were adequately revived last year when the sordid saga of China’s loathsome treachery and India’s stunning incompetence to protect its land and people was told all over again, reopening the wound of defeat that was presumed to have healed.
Between April 15 and Saturday, April 27, we have seen nothing but a clueless Ministry of External Affairs and an impotent Ministry of Defence trying to hide their failure in dealing with the situation effectively by taking recourse to inanity and worse. Flailing arms and wringing hands are unlikely to deter an adventurist PLA backed by an aggressive CPC with its leaders at the helm of affairs in China. Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid laughably believes that his scheduled visit to Beijing will help restore status quo ante in the Daulat Beg Oldie sector of Ladakh while Minister for Defence AK Antony touchingly places his trust in achieving a “peaceful resolution through negotiation and consultation”.
Meanwhile, providing much-needed comic relief in these tense times, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has assured the nation that he has a plan in place to deal with the situation without accentuating it. “We do have a plan. We do not want to accentuate the situation. It is a localised problem. We do believe that it is possible to resolve this problem,” he told newspersons on Saturday. If there is indeed a plan, as he claims, it is only fair that he should share it with the nation rather than expect us to believe him. In the past our effete Prime Minister has proved to be singularly incapable of defending India’s national interest while dealing with Pakistan. There is no reason why he should be trusted on dealing with China without compromising our national interest. Also, there is nothing ‘local’ about the problem: Chinese soldiers have been intruding into Indian territory across the 4,057 km LAC; this time they have stayed put. There have been 600 instances of Chinese troops intruding (our Government coyly refers to it has ‘transgressing’) into Indian territory over the past three years. On no occasion did this Government, more so the Prime Minister who virtually runs the Ministry of External Affairs, so much as wag its little finger at China. To expect the nation to be calmed by Manmohan Singh’s claim of having a ‘plan’ now that the Chinese troops are refusing to budge after ‘transgressing’ 19 km into Indian territory is a bit thick. Only the naïve and the untutored would feel reassured; even Congress loyalists would feel alarmed.
If we were to rewind to 1961-62 before Chinese soldiers marched into India, we would find that then too Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had fobbed off a worrying nation by pompously declaring he was sure of staving off a crisis through negotiation and consultation. That bluff didn’t work and we know how Nehru abandoned the people of Assam to their fate after the fall of Bomdila: “Huge Chinese armies are marching into the North-East of India… yesterday we lost Bomdila, a small town in Kameng division… my heart goes out to the people of Assam!” Krishna Menon, as squeaky clean as AK Antony but a million times more ineffectual than our present Raksha Mantri, had starved the Defence Forces of funds and equipment, and staffed the upper echelons of the Army with Nehru loyalists who couldn’t tell a rifle from a revolver. Army Chief General KS Thimayya chose honour over political loyalty and resigned; Krishna Menon was undeterred. And so it came to pass that General BM Kaul, a Nehru favourite catapulted to high office in the Army, ordered his officers and men to prepare to withdraw from Tezpur. That would have been as good as surrendering to the PLA. It required the grit and determination of Sam Manekshaw, who gathered his officers and told them, “Gentlemen, there shall be no withdrawals”, to salvage whatever could be salvaged of what was by then a lost war.
But then, for Nehru there was nothing sacred about the national interest or protecting India, its land and its people, from its foes. He disallowed the Army from reclaiming Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in 1947 and legitimised Pakistan’s illegitimate claim by taking the issue to the UN against Sardar Patel’s advice. That trait was to surface again and again. China’s occupation of Aksai Chin had fetched his (in)famous comment that “Not a blade of grass grows in Aksai Chin” and hence India had not lost much. “My heart goes out to the people of Assam” was to soon follow. Nehru was found not to have a plan. If the intrusion by the PLA into DBO sector remains unresolved, and the camp set up by Chinese soldiers expands into a strategic base, we should not be surprised. Nor should we be surprised to discover that Manmohan Singh never had a ‘plan’.
This is not a moment for pious pontification. Nor is this occasion meant for sanctimonious posturing or taking recourse to bunk about negotiation and consultation. There is time still for letting the Indian Army do what it is meant to do: defend India and protect its territory. Let our soldiers cut off supply lines to the PLA intruders, which can be easily done; let them go and plant the Tricolour at more than one place across the LAC; and let India raise its voice in support of Tibet and its oppressed people. A spineless Prime Minister heading a thoroughly corrupt regime can’t be depended upon at such times.
(This appeared as Coffee Break in Sunday Pioneer)