It’s sad to see Chinese soldiers hitting the Indian soldiers with clubs wrapped with barbed wire, causing fatal casualties and Indian soldiers, despite carrying weapons on their shoulders, maintained restraint, displaying utmost respect for the protocols signed between India and China in 1996 and 2005 restricting both sides to open fire.
However, it remains a serious question as to how Indian soldiers remained indifferent to improvisation of using other weapons like bayonets when it is taught as part of military training. Although it has been confirmed by Chinese media that their side has also suffered casualties (figures remain unclear), as a military man, I think it should have been ten times higher so that no such misadventure could be undertaken in future.
It’s time that Chinese must be reminded of the acid test of the battle of Rezangla in 1962, where they had lost almost 1300 soldiers at the hands of 121 brave Indian Kumaonis under Major Shaitan Singh Bhati, Param Vir Chakra.
The incident raises serious questions on military leadership too, although, it is resultant of prolonged faulty policies initiated by Nehru and subsequently followed by his progenies. The fault-line lies on different fronts.
Minimal Development Of Infrastructure Along The LAC And North Eastern States Bordering Tibet
Congress government did not develop any infrastructure along the Indo-China border. It just adopted an appeasement policy which was initiated by Nehru from his sheer belief that Hindi – Chini were Bhai – Bhai, little realising the underlying evil intention of the Chinese. Taking advantage of Nehru’s illusion, Chou and Chinese Military kept consolidating and built military infrastructure under the garb of civilian utility for Tibetans.
The blunder was continued by the subsequent Congress govt. even till the Manmohan govt. on the apprehension, that same infrastructure may fall in the hands of Chinese in case of Indo – China confrontation. Didn’t the Congress govt. have confidence in the Indian Army, despite the fact that India did not lose even a single inch of land in three subsequent wars in 1965, 1971 and 1999? Rather, Congress had lost the ground gained by Indian Army in the 1965 war.
Congress could not come out of the Nehruvian hallucination of the 1962 debacle for which Nehru himself was responsible to a great extent. Besides, the Indian Army has long ago abandoned the concept of retrograde operation and adopted the doctrine of fighting until ‘last man last bullet’.
So what was the fear that prevented Dr Manmohan Singh from visiting Arunachal Pradesh even once in his ten years tenure as Prime Minister? Was it fear, or was it a calculated move not to antagonise the Chinese or a sign of subservient weakness? If so, it is not only an insult to the Indian Military, which is capable of defending every inch of our motherland but also insult to the Indian Republic as a sovereign state.
Blindness To Chinese Consolidation In Tibet
Meanwhile, China kept working on multiple fronts like:
(i) Demographic change in Tibet induced by Chinese
Chinese kept settling the Huns from North-Western and Northern provinces in Tibet by what is called Hunnanization. They provided free land to the migrated Huns along Indo Tibet border.
(ii) His Holiness Dalai Lama was cut to size
China adopted the policy of suppression and peaceful Tibetans residing along the Indo-Tibet border were muzzled to eradicate the influence of Dalai Lama. His Holiness’s photograph was banned and keeping the same in the house was made a punishable offence. Chinese military could enter the house of the residents at any time utterly disregarding the right to privacy and religious freedom, in search of so-called “banned substance”.
(iii) Building Military Infrastructure by China
China kept on building massive infrastructure in Tibet, in terms of roads, Airfields, Helipads, railways, bridges, tunnels, storage etc. in the garb of dual usage for the civilian as well as military. They exploited even natural caves and turned those as ammunition dumps with little effort. They constructed a road up to hundred meters near LAC in many sectors, whereas Indian soldiers have to walk two days to reach their posts in Arunachal Pradesh.
(iv) Creating a divide between older and younger generations of Tibetans
China exposed the younger Tibetans to modern life in terms of luxury and easy life in the cities thereby drawing them away from the influence of older Tibetans. At the same time, Chinese leadership emerged as The Messiah for these younger lot and projected itself as the only well-wisher of Tibetans while Indian leadership remained indifferent to such strategic change.
(v) Created Village Defence Force from amongst local young Tibetan villagers who were given authority to directly access the local military commanders to inform them about any demographic change, any unusual activity in the village. These forces were provided with weapons to create fear in the minds of peace-loving Tibetans and made these forces loyal to the local military commanders.
Indian Liberalised Trade Policy Exploited By China
Chinese exploited the Indian markets to the fullest by pumping cheap goods to the poorest households, thereby creating a huge trade deficit. Indian manufacturing companies could not fulfil the aspirations of poor and lower-middle-class Indians forcing them to turn to Chinese for the fulfilment of their desire to use modern gadgets at affordable prices.
Having been used to such practices, it’s difficult if not impossible, to suddenly turn to Indian manufacturers to get their desires fulfilled at such a reasonable price. It’s only now that the govt. has imposed restrictions on Chinese companies. Indian manufacturing sector still has to play a vital role in making “Make in India” a success story.
No Serious Effort Was Made To Resolve The Border Dispute
Since the 1962 debacle, hardly any serious effort has been made to engage China to resolve the border dispute other than forming a Joint Working Group, periodical meeting of which has become nothing but rituals without substance. Indira Gandhi remained completely averse to speaking to Chinese.
It was Rajiv Gandhi who restarted the process of engagement, but again it suffered serious setback due to political instability because of coalition politics. Indian political and diplomatic community failed to use the huge Indian market as tactical bait to resolve the border dispute.
If market power was used wisely by India to resolve the boundary dispute, today’s situation could not have arisen only. Rather, the Chinese managed to befool the Indian govt with the deceit of sugar-coated words of peaceful co-existence and kept exploiting the Indian consumer markets.
Today even if Modi Govt seriously wants to restrict the use of Chinese goods, it does not have an alternative. Besides, Indians are not Japanese, who did not allow the US to sell even a needle in Japan since the nuclear holocaust.
A segment of Indians will always prefer wallet over nationalism, moreover, left parties will add further woos to the Modi govt because Indian left parties feel closer to Beijing than New Delhi and history has enough evidence to prove it.
Neglecting Immediate Neighbours Thereby Allowing Them To Drift Away
Before Modi came to power, hardly any govt took initiative to seriously engage our immediate neighbours like Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Previous governments took it for granted that India’s neighbours have no alternative but to fall back to India, hardly realising that the Dragon had spread its tongue and engulfed all neighbours of India forming a string of pearls.
It’s PM Modi who realised the enormous importance of immediate neighbours and right from the beginning he started engaging them in a serious manner in equal footing.
China kept interfering in India’s internal affairs and kept stoking the insurgent groups in the North-Eastern states in terms of supply of arms and ammunition and by allowing them to use their territory for training. It even kept supplying arms to these insurgent groups surreptitiously through Bangladesh during Khaleda Zia regime since these groups had plenty of training camps and hideouts in Bangladesh.
All previous governments turned a blind eye to these simple facts and allowed the situation to deteriorate.
It’s only when PM Modi came to power, he started engaging these insurgent groups and paid attention to much neglected infrastructural development. It’s unfortunate that Dr Manmohan Singh did not visit Arunachal Pradesh even once during his ten years of Prime Ministership.
China viewed it as Indian weakness. And when Modi govt started numerous projects in terms of Highways, roads, bridges, airfields, helipads, storage capacity in Arunachal Pradesh, Chinese got disturbed.
The problem for the Chinese is that they are facing a whole new approach from the Indian side since Modi Govt came to power. They used to see the meek reaction of the Indians to their act of violation of LAC for long. When Chinese patrol parties are seen at the LAC and even when they try to intrude, the usual norm is a display of placards on which “This is India, please go back” and such words are written. Even as a mark of good gesture, tea and cigarette are also offered.
However, of late, their bully is being met with more bully from the Indian side in every sector, be it Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim or Ladakh. Indifference and sober approach from the Indian side for too long has been partially responsible for today’s debacle.
Role of military leadership is also questionable because when non-use of firearms within two kilometres of LAC was adopted as Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), military leadership failed to visualise the current situation and impress upon the political class not to adopt such self-destructing provisions.
It failed to learn lessons from signing of Panchsheel Agreement and subsequent aggression by Chinese in 1962. Hands of the tactical level commanders were so tightly tied with the strings of CBM protocols, that they had to look over their shoulder for every small decision.
The initiative of the tactical military commanders was killed by people sitting in Delhi. Youngsters had to seek every decision from rear Head Quarters thereby losing initiative and prestige in front of Chinese military commanders.
It is disheartening to see that senior generals left the valid questions of youngsters, pertaining to violent Chinese intrusion attempt, unanswered. Some of them even said, “Dekh le na” – means you do as per your discretion. This left the tactical commanders in a dilemma because if they used firearms they would violate protocols for which they would face disciplinary action and if not used, they would be facing a situation like today.
I think higher military brass should have impressed upon the political and diplomatic community about the ground reality and should have got the permission of using firearms if the situation so warranted without being branded as an aggressor. Higher military brass must leave some initiative with tactical commanders thereby removing the ambiguity.
The Way Forward – What Can India Do?
India must act in a matured manner without showing a knee jerk reaction. India needs to work on multiple fronts:
- Militarily take a tough stand and defend every inch of ground – Deployment of troops must be immediately augmented with already acclimatized troops to prevent any attempt of Chinese misadventure.
- Review the 1996 and 2005 CBM protocols and permit the local commanders to use firearms if the situation demands without looking over their shoulders. Brigade commanders must be authorised to judiciously use their discretion to open fire and once any Brigade Commander has exercised his power, he must not be subjected to questioning by the political and diplomatic community; else, no Brigade Commander is going to exercise his authority and would like to subject himself to such questioning.
- Gather diplomatic support from the world community since India has enough grounds to showcase its non-aggressive intention.
- Must persuade the world community to act against China, keeping into consideration Coronavirus damage inflicted by it on the entire globe.
- Must enter into a stronger military agreement with Japan and Taiwan for serious military support in case of misadventure by China.
- Must take immediate steps to curb imports from China as much as possible thereby balance the trade deficit.
- Must take immediate steps to protect all Indian installations from possible Chinese cyber attacks.
- Must monitor Pak-China military exchanges to obviate the chance of fighting in dual front.
- India must shed its Chinese appeasement policy.
- Must stoke and nurture the unrest already prevalent amongst Uighurs in Xinjiang province.
- Must gag the anti-Indian forces who are making the Chinese job easier through their politically parochial coloured views.
Last, but not the least, it’s time that military affairs are handled by military brass rather than a retired police officer who hardly has any knowledge on military tactics because it’s not a law and order issue, it’s an issue involving territorial integrity.