Will Chinese coercion in Ladakh be India’s defining moment ?
Reporting the tragic martyrdom of three to 20 soldiers in 24 hours was a big jolt to a seemingly transparent government. That was not all- the government had clearly stated that 20 Indian soldiers were martyred, followed by specific statements that not an inch of Indian soil was occupied and that none was taken prisoner by PLA, eventually various media stating that 10 Indian soldiers were indeed released 26 / 48 hours later. This has been followed by serious drubbing to voices that are pointing out the absolute flaws in government stand and statements in the days after the altercation. However, the question should not be whether our brave hearts had guns or not, it is as foolish a question as it is to ask a cricketer if he carried a bat to a match. We don’t have any right to pose such questions to the best ever defenders called the Indian army. There are far serious questions to raise.
It is a clear communications debacle to say the least. Our flip flops internationalised the issue to an international dispute. Firstly, the entire messaging has been exceptionally chaotic; were we armed or not? Were the Chinese on our soil or were we on theirs? Either way someone was occupying someone’s land otherwise the brutal melee would not have ensued. Of course Indian army is without a doubt the most disciplined and professional army in the world and that precisely brings forth another important lapse of the safety of our soldiers. There is nothing wrong if we did not use arms as none of us are competent to make a judgment on that situation in one of the most hostile and stressful battle frontier of the world.
Same is true for Pangong Tso lake. We have all along been saying that the PLA has come into Indian side of the proclaimed LAC and yet we say China has not occupied even an inch? So, what is a common Indian supposed to make out of this freckled Government communication? There are other brazen follies as well – every voice seeking clarity is now being shown an alleged memorandum of understanding between China and the Congress party years ago and rightly so but then is that something discovered in the last few days? The government has been in power for nearly six years and has engaged at the highest ever level with China – so what happened? Why was this travesty never corrected? I have a far more embarrassing question for the Congress, far more embarrassing than the 1993 honeymoon with the Chinese. The Ladakhi students and activists would hold demonstrations year after year in Jammu in the 80’s and the 90’s to draw the attention of the government about steady advancement of Chinese forces into Indian territories. No one ever paid attention to the cries of our frontline eyes and ears in NEFA – the shepherds and frontier nomadic groups. Year on year, they would come, demonstrate and regrettably return. It is embarrassing to write that subsequent governments in India have systematically gifted our motherland to China. We have been a nation run by cowards at the centre. Fault lies with us too for choosing such people to govern us.
This fracas has led to another fallout – the ban China wave. Regrettably, I have to say, given the challenges of the economic spectrum in India, we need to differentiate between plain rhetoric and harsh reality. At least for next 10 years, there is no way India can suffice domestic commercial needs sans china. Even so, to what extent would it pose a roadblock to Chinese coercion? May be less than 1% – is that good a consolation for our bruises and the last full measure of supreme devotion of our soldiers? Ultimately, ban china wave will only harm our own small time shopkeepers whose windows will be broken and glass smashed for displaying Chinese products. Goods worth a billion dollars have already been paid for so what are we going to do with them? Ask our fragile downtrade and SME to burn their investments to create a spectacle for TV news channels?
Then there is a geo-political tragedy waiting in the wings. Can we go to war with China- even if it is within the ravines and deep alleys of Galwan for a surgical five days engagement? Maybe, maybe not but wars are no longer mainly about valour but more of two way communication statements of people in power. India is quite capable of giving a bloody nose to China in a focused mountain theatre of war but a resolute ascending China has been demonstrating for long their intent to deliver knockout punches. They have thrown in the towel and the gloves now it is up to India to stand up or seek a face saver. Short term economic sanctions may drive the short term rhetoric but in the long term any traditional sanction on China will hurt India more as the costs of multi-dimensional projects will rocket by about 20 to 35%. This will be a setback to a post corona Indian economy. New allies along the Atlantic may be economic but the landed cost in India will be far higher and tip the economics of scale. Maybe over the next five years, when India builds a hinterland economic web to replace China, India can hurt China but any interim economic roadblock will only be a face saver to an emotional balm to bruised national feelings. There is another aspect that we risk by firing the salvo. We risk Daulat Beg Oldie and Siachen contrary to common belief. A Chinese response will make it challenging and economically unviable to maintain both given the position of battle readiness backed by incredible infrastructure build up and back up China has. In the ultimate theatre of Indo-China short term adventure, India risks a permanent Chinese buildup at a stone’s throw from Leh. Then there is CPEC going right through Gilgit Baltistan. This is as embarrassing as it gets considering we proudly include Gilgit Baltistan in our map; so the question remains, what have we done so far?
The answer to all this is apparently quite simple – yes we are working on various international diplomatic fronts to raise the issues and isolate China. This is the same answer we have been rendering for our Pakistan woes since 1947. The bigger question is – does China care about International diplomatic coercion or coalition against it? What does India do then? Accede quietly and seek an extended dialogue for years to come or wait for the US and Russia to rally for us – or be assertive? It is a difficult position that India finds itself in given China is not Pakistan. As far as I see it, this is a defining moment for India. India must decide sans diplomatic coercion and stand on its own. It may falter, it may fail but what will rise is a new India that will forever dominate the entire North South Asia as an absolute symbol of democracy and resurgence. Today, India is led by the best ever government and the most popular and capable leader since Independence. The 125 crore Indians stand by our Prime Minister and we are prepared to face the frailties of war, of escalations and recessions for years to come but once we are done then we will truly wake up in a country that is free from fear, from terror and cowards masquerading as politicians; an India that fears no one and threatens no one.
(The writer is a media veteran and a bestselling author. Views expressed are personal)
Thursday, 25 June 2020 | Ashish Kaul | in Guest Column