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Time for Modi to win over the farmers

February 23, 2021 10:19 IST

Statesmanship requires that the prime minister himself reaches out to those amassed at the Singhu and Ghazipur borders.
Modi should be able to win over this domestic front with sheer compassion, suggests Virendra Kapoor.

IMAGE: Farmers during their protest at the Ghazipur border. Photograph: Kamal Kishore/PTI Photo

There is a great sense of relief in Bharatiya Janata Party circles that at long last one major source of potential trouble has been resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned.

The orderly pullback by rival troops from the disputed eastern Ladakh border, after eight months of an eyeball to eyeball confrontation, underlined more the government's extraordinary resolve than anything else in defending our turf.

That the settlement was honourable and does credit to the leadership cannot be denied, never mind Rahul Gandhi.

Whether one likes it or not, once the Indian border guards were taken by complete surprise when the Chinese occupied a small stretch on the Line of Actual Control last April sometime in early April last year, the firmness of the political leadership inspired the armed forces to repulse the aggression.

The army stood its ground, fiercely preventing further forays by the enemy into Indian territory.

The Galwan Valley clash which led to the death of twenty Indian soldiers, many more on the Chinese side despite the belated admission by China of only four fatalities, revealed what the armed forces can achieve when assured of the unstinted support of the political leadership.

That India and China were on the brink of a real shooting war after our troops in a counter move occupied the strategically important heights in the Kailash range, rendering the Chinese garrison and the enemy troops on the road passing below virtually into sitting ducks, has now been confirmed by none other than the Northern Army Commander Lieutenant General Yogesh Kumar Joshi.

This, along with the full-scale mobilisation by India to confront the Chinese challenge underlined the government's determination to fight back the aggression.

At one time, there were 50,000 troops in the Ladakh sector, ready for the worst.

Hitherto the Chinese had successfully practiced the salami-slicing tactics, periodically encroaching on small stretches of the Indian territory without inviting a counter-punch from this country.

No longer would India look the other way while the Chinese sought to bully and intimidate us at the un-demarcated border.

At the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, with the energies of the government concentrated on fighting the spread of the deadly infection, the security forces amassed in strength at the border risked both the virus and the red-hot tension to take on the Chinese threat.

Post-haste, India had to procure, mainly from the US, various ammunitions, high-altitude kits and other equipment for use in the Ladakh sector in preparation for a likely shooting war.

Over Rs 20,000 crore (Rs 200 billion) worth of such equipment was procured.

To their credit, the Western nations responded with dispatch to fulfill the urgent needs of the Indians.

We can only speculate as to why the Chinese relented.

The first signal of their softening came soon after they transferred out the most celebrated military commander of the entire region after India seized the initiative by occupying the strategic heights in the Kailash Range.

Now the initial advantage enjoyed by China was more than neutralised, with the Indians actually in a much better position to inflict huge costs on the Chinese in case of a war.

After that counter-action by India, the celebrated high-ranking officer, who was believed to be groomed by Chinese Communist party General Secretary Xi Jinping personally for a much bigger role, was replaced by a much experienced veteran.

As it is, the mounting trade and economic pressures faced by China in the US, Europe and Australia underscored its growing isolation globally.

An increasingly belligerent China under Xi was now staring at an unwritten but a real gang-up by the democratic world.

On its part, India by its response to the aggression left China in no doubt that it could not expect it to be business-as-usual even as its troops encroached on the Indian territory.

Not only did it amass troops and the full arsenal of war at the border but it demonstratively took steps to hurt Chinese businesses operating in the country.

Even if the Chinese businesses account for a fraction of its trade, say, with the US or Europe, the Indian action could not have gone unnoticed in Beijing.

Meanwhile, it is remarkable that after forcing Vivo, a major presence in the large cell phone market in India, to withdraw as the main sponsor of the popular IPL tournament last year, it is back as its main sponsor for this year's championship.

This could not have happened without the nod of the authorities.

The Chinese desire to restore a semblance of normalcy with its biggest Asian neighbour, and the only one which refuses to be cowed down, is unmistakable.

Of course, as per their own Confucian philosophy they seem in no hurry to settle the border dispute.

The longer it lingers, the more they are persuaded that in time they will grow so big economically and militarily that any settlement would have to be on their terms.

This in fact is the real challenge for India.

Unless it grows its economy at a much higher rate than has been seen in recent years, China, an increasingly assertive and aggressive China, will seek to bend it to its wishes in global councils.

India is fortunate that, led by the US, the entire free world looks up to it to stand up to the global bully.

It ought to provide further impetus to us to adopt pragmatic economic policies for faster growth.

Which brings us to the second front which is still waiting to be resolved.

Although the farmers' protest has lost much of its steam, the fact is that the government stands to gain nothing if the protesters go back defeated and dejected, unable to show anything for hardships suffered in the three months of bitter cold and uncertainty.

A wise leadership will go out of its way to make the protesters feel it cares, that it has taken their concerns on board.

Give the burly Sikh peasantry from Punjab a face-saver so that they have something to keep their heads high.

Even while being certain that the three agri-reform legislations are in their long-term interest, the government needs to show magnanimity.

After all, these are not the hostile Chinese who must be made to learn that aggression against India no longer pays.

No. These are our own people. They may be slow in realising the value of reforms, but they cannot be humiliated into submission.

Statesmanship requires that the prime minister himself reaches out to those amassed at the Singhu and Ghazipur borders.

His one gesture is certain to persuade them to call off their stir.

Modi should be able to win over this domestic front with sheer compassion.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/