The recent incident in Galwan valley draws a watershed in India’s relations with China and this marks the end of a 45-year chapter which saw no armed confrontation on the LAC. External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar said that this “unprecedented development” will have serious impacts on the bilateral relationship. Many experts believe that trade and investments could encounter similar obstacles. According to many foreign policy experts like Nirupma Rao, C. Raja Mohan, H. S. Panag (retd. Lt. General), the violent incident which took place on June 15 night is considered way more critical than the violent clash of October 1959 between Indian and Chinese troops at Kongka La, the incident which acted as “a lightning conductor” to ongoing escalations which was at its peak due to providing asylum to Tibet’s spiritual leader Dalai Lama. These all events poured butter oil to the burning flame which ultimately ended with the 1962 Indo-Sino war.
The 1962 war inflicted enormous wounds on the national soul and prestige. Similar is the situation today where our pride and prestige are at stake.
Whether India is at the position where we can afford a full-Fledged War with China?
The answer is no. 2020 is not 1959, India and China are in a very different place in their history as nations today. They have grown immensely in strength and stature on the world stage.
Pot of Challenges –
India currently stands at a point where Covid-19 pandemic requires the full attention and resources of government, the economy needs to recover from the stagnancy of the last few months, unemployment, evergreen tensions with Pakistan, the dispute over territory with Nepal etc. These all challenges when combined creates considerable turbulence for the country. In such a scenario, a reincarnated battlefront with china cannot be blindly embraced.
But this doesn’t mean that we should remain a mere spectator to China’s incursions. India must stand resolute and firm in defence of territory in all four sectors of the border. But cool-headed thinking is the need of the hour.
What are the possible steps that the Indian government has?
- The problem with our Indian governments (both UPA and NDA) is that they never formally acknowledges the Chinese intrusions in our territory. This is due to vote bank politics so that anti-govt opinions among the masses can be prevented. Whenever the Indian govt portends the possible loss of territory, it peddles the logic of “differing perceptions”. This denial and obfuscation by our govt is the escape route which virtually endorses China’s state- that the PLA is operating in its own area and it is India that is interfering with its patrols. This also puts military morale down and diplomatic engagements would not be much effective. Therefore, national security must be delinked from domestic politics, so that Indian army can carry out their orders and missions, the battle of narratives and informational warfare without much worrying about pieces of evidence and proofs. The formal acknowledgement will deliver ground realities to the International community and to people. It will make the govt more accountable which in turn will lead to more strategic developments in border states.
- Indian government should give emergency powers to the Indian army ground and Commanding officers so that they can act according to the situations on the ground. So that through military talks and engagements, unprecedented escalation and the war-like situation can be further prevented because as rightly remarked by APJ Abdul Kalam sir “War is never a lasting solution for any problem”.
- Diplomacy, according to Chanakya, was the ultimate option to attain a solution. Diplomatic channels must continue to be open and should not be fettered in any way because their smooth operability is vital in the current situation.
- India should play on its strengths and should employ all available means to achieve it. Some examples:
- India’s strong democratic credentials and effective diplomatic sources can be used to counterbalance the Chinese ingress and assemble the international community’s opinion in our favour. Similar to what we have done on J&K issue after the revocation of article 370 where the majority of countries supported us.
- Friendly relations with powerful nations like the USA, Japan, France etc can be used to enclose China’s assertiveness and build pressure on it.
Intermediate and Longterm steps-
- One thing has to be noted whenever there is a border standoff particularly with China, we negotiate from a position of weakness, ambiguousness and hence such episodes given are a cause of bigger worry. It is because there is no proper National Security Strategy. Kargil Review Committee and Integrated Defence Staff had also recommended for NSS and even Defence Planning Committee has the mandate to formalise the NSS since 2018, but lots have to be done. NSS strategically review to establish what the present and future security challenges both internal and external, details the much-needed defence capabilities, determine the “Laxman Rekha” beyond which India will not entertain any country. It will facilitate our army in building fit, sound and solid blueprints.
- It seems that China is asserting itself with Mao’s Five Finger Policy where Mao considered Tibet as China’s right-hand palm and it was china’s responsibility to “liberate” the fingers, defined as Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. In response to this, India should relook in its foreign policy towards Tibet, Hongkong and Macau and should bring a newer approach such as exercising Tibet card, making remarks on human rights issue in Xinjiang province and Hongkong. Similar to what we have done with Pakistan after Uri attack of 2016 where we successfully isolated Pakistan globally by continuously stirring POK, Gilgit-Balochistan issue.
- One more thing has to be noted that China never comes on the table for negotiations when China initiates any assertion or claims or establishes its control on Indian lands. Therefore, the Indian govt and Indian army (by following the offensive-defensive approach) should wait for the perfect time to make tactical adjustments and manoeuvres in Chinese lands to deter their assertion and then appearing on the table for negotiations.
- The events in Galwan valley is also an opportunity for India to align its interests economically, strategically and geopolitically much more strongly and unequivocally with QUAD countries especially with the US in Indo-pacific region by using strategic advantage of its marine geography and by showing pro-activeness and securing Indian ocean communication sea lanes (one of busiest sea routes) and infusing more energy into its relations with ASEAN (as they are more concerned) enabling a high-resolution envisioning of Chinese aggressiveness.
- Some bureaucratic experts are of the view that govt once again should establish Indian Frontier Administrative Service dedicated to bordering states similar to what Nehru once established. They will provide ground suggestion which in turn will help in proper strategical development.
As rightly remarked by our former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, “You can change your friends but not neighbours”. Therefore in longterm, Good neighbourhood relations are crucial for national stability and well-being. But in our case having “big giants” on both sides, this is possible only if we are a robust and strong nation with our forces being modern and well-equipped and possesses adequate defence infrastructure. This, in turn, would be only achieved through a robust, vibrant and “ATMANIRBHAR” economy having manufacturing sector at its base and exports oriented market integrated with the world economy where India holds a considerable share.
UPSC Aspirant and MA from Delhi University
Sumit is an UPSC aspirant and defence enthusiastic who keeps an eye on recent Geopolitical Developments. He is Fitness Freak and great all-rounder in the game of the Cricket