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Needed urgently: A strategy for the Chinese menace

June 22, 2020 13:34 IST

If the Ladakh episode has ended, this is the time to find the truth about all the aspects of it and inform the nation and the world, advises Ambassador T P Sreenivasan.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi takes notes at the all party meeting to discuss the situation on the India-China border, June 19, 2020. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose discretion as the better part of valour at a critical moment in history when he told an all party meeting that India did not lose any territory to China in recent months.

'Neither have they intruded into our border nor has any post been taken over by them (China). Twenty of our jawans were martyred, but those who dared Bharat Mata, they were taught a lesson.'

He confirmed what I had predicted in another column on June 17: 'Mercifully, the tragedy of June 15 and 16 led to the withdrawal of the two sides to the original positions and the present episode virtually ended.'

What remains is a post-mortem of the events and learning of lessons.

History will repeat itself after another round of unending border talks and even a summit meeting, while our China experts pore over Confucius and find that all the fault is in us and declare 'Mea Culpa!' We may as well quote Shakespeare, 'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.'

The statement came even as China made a claim of sovereignty over the Galwan Valley.

It was reported that China had transgressed to the Indian side of the Line of Control in several areas of eastern Ladakh, including Pangong Tso and Galwan valley.

But ever a fighter and an inspirer, PM Modi said: 'Today, we possess the capability that no one can eye even one inch of our land. India's armed forces have the capability to move into multiple sectors at one go.'

The prime minister went on to say, 'Whether it is deployment, action, counter-action... air, land or sea, whatever our armed forces have to do to protect our country they will do.'

Modi also said the government has given full freedom for taking any appropriate action necessary.

Perhaps, for the first time in the last five years, the PMO was constrained to offer an explanation for a statement by the PM.

'Prime Minister's observations that there was no Chinese presence on our side of the LAC pertained to the situation as a consequence of the bravery of our armed forces. The sacrifices of the soldiers of the 16 Bihar Regiment foiled the attempt of the Chinese side to erect structures and also cleared the attempted transgression at this point of the LAC on that day,' the PMO stated.

In plain English, it means that the Chinese intruded into our territory and tried to erect structures, but they were thwarted by the brave actions of the Bihar Regiment.

Saying that would have been factual and a matter of pride for the country.

Equally intriguing was the statement by Minister V K Singh about the casualties on the Chinese side.

'If 20 were martyred on our side, then there would have been at least double the casualties on their side,' Singh, minister for roads and transport, told a television news channel in an interview.

General Singh, who is a former army chief, did not provide any evidence to support his statement.

The general said China historically never accepted any war casualties including in the 1962 conflict with India.

Even without any first hand of knowledge of the terrain or reliable official data, it is not difficult to reconstruct the events on the border.

When the intrusion was reported, it was decided at the highest level to defuse the situation rather than follow a policy of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and the response of the Chinese was positive.

Right from the beginning, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was extremely optimistic about the outcome of the discussions.

The Raksha Mantri ignored the calls by the Opposition for details of the Chinese action and India's counter action as he wanted to break the news of the outcome.

In fact, he remained firm on this till there was agreement on disengagement, which was announced on June 15.

It is not known what gave him the confidence in a peaceful resolution and trusted the Chinese.

It appears that the things went haywire when a small unit went to oversee the Chinese disengagement.

A video clip clearly shows that Colonel Santhosh Babu politely asked the Chinese to abide by the agreement.

But the Chinese were extremely rude to him and the scuffle began, which resulted in casualties on both sides.

There followed the withdrawal of both the sides, who were in a state of shock.

If the actual scenario was anything similar to the one above, there was nothing to hide and the episode would have ended.

An inquiry into the incident would have revealed our weaknesses and strengths for the future to know how we dealt with the battle and what we should plan for the rest of the war.

The PM's statement and the explanation on it will remain a mystery for now.

India has not officially speculated on the nature and timing of the major and pre-meditated intrusion by China at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But there are credible theories.

One is that this is part of China's effort to shape the post-Covid world envisaged by them when the US appears to be on the decline.

Another is that it is the revenge on India and others who co-sponsored the review resolution at the World Health Organisation.

Yet another is the general assertiveness of China to show that China has not been affected by the ravages of the pandemic and this is seen in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea.

In the case of India, China chose Ladakh because of its concern about the changes made there by India.

If the Ladakh episode has ended, this is the time to find the truth about all the aspects of it and inform the nation and the world.

If a new strategy is possible to devise to deal with the Chinese menace, the time is here and now.

The boycott of Chinese goods will have an emotional appeal, but it is a double edged weapon and should be used only selectively.

There must be other ways to secure India's integrity and also maintain international trade.

T P Sreenivasan, (IFS 1967), is a former Ambassador of India and Governor for India of the IAEA.
Ambassador Sreenivasan is a frequent contributor to and his earlier columns can be read here.

Production: Aslam Hunani/