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'It is time to wake up to Chinese incursions'

Kiren Rijiju
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March 04, 2008
K iren Rijiju, the 36-year-old firebrand Member of Parliament representing Arunachal Pradesh (West), does not share the government's and Indian Army's perceptions about Chinese incursions in his border state.

While Defence Minister A K Antony and army chief General Deepak Kapoor have underplayed the intrusions on several occasions, Rijiju has tried to convey in Parliament the seriousness of the situation in the strategic state. Unfortunately till now his voice has been lost in the corridors of power.

Rijiju has pointed out for long that the Indian Army is not prepared for a conflict with China and today this is an accepted fact. The young MP still regrets that only cosmetic actions are being taken to correct this imbalance.

In this wide-ranging interview with Claude Arpi, the MP highlights not only the patriotism of the people of Arunachal, but also conveys in the strongest terms that it is time for India to wake up, to be self-confident and to stand by her interests and her borders.

Chinese intrusions have been denied by the army and the government, but you have repeatedly brought the matter to public notice. Could you tell us what is really happening?

In my constituency in Arunachal (West), there are many points where Chinese intrusions are happening. And it happens throughout the year. Since the 1962 war, the Government of India has not developed adequate infrastructure on the border. This has made access to the border very difficult from our side; while on the Chinese side, they have built infrastructure to facilitate movement of their army and people. Their side is far more accessible.

The Chinese (intrusions) are happening in a slow, creeping manner. Inch by inch, the Chinese station their army personnel and bring equipment.

Is it the army or grazers?

Grazers are basically a camouflage because the terrain is very difficult. I am speaking of areas from eastern Arunachal (Walong) to the western part (Tawang). The public (and the government) only know of Chinese incursions if it happens in known places like Tawang. When incidents happen in more remote places, it does not come to the notice of the general public. The army keeps it secret. They won't let the people know what actually happened.

In one place in Tawang district, some villagers were in possession of rice and grain supplied by the Chinese authorities. When these Monpa tribals were asked they took Chinese help, they answered: "Well, we have not been supplied with essential commodities from the Indian side. To survive we had no other choice but to accept what the Chinese offered." This shows that the government is not doing enough for the development of the border areas.

But the real issue is that India after 1962 adopted a secret policy not to develop the border areas. The idea behind it is that if we develop the border areas, the Chinese can easily use these facilities in the event of a war. It is a wrong policy. It means that we are in a defensive mode, we have no confidence in our army. This encourages the Chinese. We have to be confident in our own policies. Our demand has been that we should connect all the border areas right to the McMahon Line by a road network.

Do you think that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's [Images] visit to Arunachal, though he did not visit Tawang, opened the eyes of the government?

The government is now realising the hard realities, but it is still committing the same mistake. Why did the PM avoid Tawang? By not going, he has given some leverage to the Chinese who can say 'he has not gone to Tawang, because it is a disputed territory'. It is an acknowledgement that it is disputed, while in fact it is not. The PM's decision gives justification to Chinese claims and encourages them.

When they found out that the PM was going to Itanagar only, the Chinese knew that their pressure tactics had worked. Arunachal is the only issue which has a potential for conflict between India and China. If ever, India and China go to war one day, it will be on this issue.

Do not forget that Arunachal is (potentially) the richest state in India. About 30 percent of the power will come from Arunachal alone. Arunachal has petroleum; gas, minerals, and the largest forested area in India. Arunachal has great water resources. India is going to face a water shortage. Our state has a great potential, it is going to be the richest state in India in 15 years. The Chinese know this.

What if the Chinese divert the Brahmaputra river?

It will be only on the Siang (Brahmaputra) which represents only 25 percent of the waters of the state. Most of rivers flow from the Arunachal side of the McMahon Line which is the dividing line on the top of the ridge. All the rivers which originate from the Indian side flow towards India and cannot be diverted. Their flow increases in Arunachal.

The Chinese have built a new airport in Nyintri district in Tibet, just north of the McMahon line.

This airport is very close to Arunachal. On the belt along the Brahmaputra (Tsangpo) river, towards Arunachal, particularly from Tsona (north of Tawang) to the Yunnan province (of China), the Chinese have built adequate infrastructure with many airports. Further, the Golmund-Lhasa railway line will be soon extended till Shigatse (Southern Tibet), it should be completed next year.

They announced it for 2010?

But Chinese are always able to complete their projects before schedule. They will reach Shigatse in 2009 and then, turn eastwards following the Tsangpo basin towards Tsona. Once it reaches Tsona, we will have a massive deployment of military hardware, right on the Arunachal border.

There is already a full deployment in Tibet, including nuclear weapons. In fact till 2005, they could not move heavy military equipment due to bad roads. The railway connectivity has dramatically changed the geopolitics of Tibet.

India's plan to counter this move is not enough. The recent package for a trans-Arunachal road which will cost Rs 6,000 crore or Rs 7,000 crore only connects the lower districts of Arunachal. Nowhere will this touch the McMahon Line.

I have written to the prime minister asking him to make sure that the road connectivity touches all the border areas. Otherwise, it will not serve the (defence) purpose. From the package announced by the prime minister, all border points will be five or six days by foot.

How can military personnel take care of our borders when they have to walk five or six days with arms and ammunition? I am honestly admitting that we are not prepared.

It was also admitted by A K Antony during a recent visit to Sikkim.

Yes, he admitted it and I have said it in Parliament for so many years. For years, the government denied it. Now they have accepted my point. The question remains 'What have you done so far (to solve it)?' I would like also to mention that the people of Arunachal are very patriotic; it is a positive point. It is the same thing in Ladakh and other hilly areas. We are honest, patriotic and nationalist people.

The Centre today undermines the peaceful nature of these people. It may be very explosive and costly for the country if this situation goes on and if the people of the Himalayas who act as sentries for the nation, are ignored.

The negative policy of the Centre should be reversed; the passive attitude should become active.

Is there some understanding in the government?

I am telling them: "Don't fear China, just do your job. Help the people of border areas with roads, schools, hospitals, telecom facilities." This is the solution. We do not want a war with China.

Arunachal should not be the bone of contention between India and China, it should be the bridge. We have five traditional border posts with China (Tibet), it should be reopened. There should be more people to people contact.

Some ten years back I visited Arunachal. At that time, there was talk of opening the Bumla Pass for trade. What is the position today?

Today there is a fear psychosis vis-a-vis China. India wants only sea trade with China. India thinks that if we have a land trade relations, Chinese goods will flood the Indian market. Look at Nathu-la (in Sikkim), it was opened two years back, nothing happened. We have to increase the volume of trade. Even in the case of Nathu-la, India curtailed the process by not putting in place adequate infrastructure.

On the Chinese side, there is good infrastructure, on our side, there is very little. It means that India is not interested in border trade. These are negative policies which have to be reversed.

The problem is that India is obsessed with America. All the brains of the ministry of external affairs and the think-thanks in India are obsessed with two countries only: The US and Pakistan. How many people know about China, whether it is in the defence or intelligence fields? India does not understand what China is.

Is this changing?

It is changing in rhetoric only, not substantially. I was accused of being obsessed with two countries only. Why should we pay so much attention to Pakistan, a small neighbour? Just forget it! We can just have normal relations with them. What is the point of spending so much time, energy and brains on (this country).

In India, all parties except the Communists are in favour of a strategic partnership with the US to contain China. It is fine, but on the other hand, we are not brave enough to tell China what are our sovereign rights. On one side we are appeasing China, on the other side we want to contain them. Our policy is without any clear direction.

Now, India speaks about 'looking east', for closer relations with other Asian countries, but we remain obsessed with the US. Our ties with the US should not hamper our relations with China.

If we don't know about our adversary, we can't face it. You have to know their strength, their weakness, their plans, if we don't know this, how can we deal with them?

Let us continue to have good relations with the US. But why be obsessed with them? While news in Washington or Lahore [Images] make headlines here, nobody knows about the border areas. Ask any Union minister or Member of Parliament, where is Tsona (the Chinese town/district headquarters north of Tawang), nobody knows.

We should realise that if we lose Arunachal, we can forget about Kashmir. Look at the map of Jammu and Kashmir [Images]. Half is not in our possession (Aksai Chin, Azad Kashmir, etc). Within the other half, half is Ladakh and one third Jammu. What is left is an 80 km valley between Anantnag and Baramulla. But this small territory (12 percent of the state), but it takes all the energies of the politicians and our resources. For, 60 years our minds have been devoted to this small area.

At the same time, it is very unfortunate that a state of 84,000 sq km with the potential to provide 30 percent of the nation's energy is today ignored. It is unfortunate and it frustrates our youth. Don't forget that Kashmir is claimed by a small country which does not economically or militarily match India, while Arunachal is claimed by a nation far superior to India.

It is time to wake up. Once you lose Arunachal, you can forget Kashmir. If Arunachal goes, the damage will be irreparable.

The people of India need to know the reality on the ground, they need to know China, the Himalayan region, the northeast and Arunachal. The rest of India does not pose any challenge for the nation. Unless we know what China is, India is not safe.

In India today, politicians and journalists seem confused. They don't understand the background of the border issue.

India says it has a problem constructing roads to the border, but in 1962, the Chinese manually built roads (in Arunachal). In three weeks, they built 30 km of roads south of the McMahon Line. The British left us with some roads and a railway network. We have not able to expand it after Independence. Take the railway line in Assam, it was there in the British times, nothing new has been built for 60 years. Same thing in Darjeeling, Simla or Ooty!

Today, we are not asking India to built railway lines at altitude of 15,000 feet like the Chinese have done (in Tibet), but at least they should do it to the altitude of 4,000 or 5,000 feet.

I am very disappointed with our successive Union governments. Any party that comes to power is a complete disaster for the Himalayan belt, especially for Arunachal.

I was told that if you make an ISD call from Tawang, the person who receives the call abroad sees the code of China on his phone. Can you confirm this?

It happens not only in Tawang, but also on the Bangladesh border, in Meghalaya. There you use the Bangladesh network, since BSNL is not there. The problem is that there are too many restrictions in India. It is what I call negative policies not to develop border areas. So there are no roads, no mobile phones, no televisions, no infrastructure. This is the mindset of our country.

On the Chinese side of the border you have this airport which will receive 5,000 tourists a day to visit the gorges of the Brahmaputra and on the Indian side you have a drastic 'Inner Line Permit system'. What are your comments?

We have too many restrictions, it is unnecessary. We should open up. It shows a lack of confidence.

Do you think that the young generation of parliamentarians or bureaucrats can change this mindset?

As a Member of Parliament, I have done enough, I have tried everything, but the response is not enough. Before I came to Parliament, my predecessors were silent. As you know Parliament is a very noisy place.

Usually people from the northeast are calm, gentle, but I am of a different breed. I speak, shout, come down to the well (of the House), I make my point. Now people know about Arunachal, but what the government does is another thing. They are too busy with political problems, which are not national problems. It is eating the mind of the leaders and the real issues remain unsolved, unattended.

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