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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 27, New Delhi, June 20, 2020

Galwan: Culmination of Years of Wrong China Policy | Barun Das Gupta

Saturday 20 June 2020, by Barun Das Gupta

What happened in the night of June 14-15 in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh in which twenty Indian soldiers, including the commanding officer of the patrol party, a colonel, were killed, was the culmination of decades of the wrong China policy pursued by India since the first Chinese aggression of 1962. India-China relations have come to a flashpoint like it never did before Let us take a quick look at the sequence of events since 1962.

India and China attained independence almost simultaneously: India in 1947 and China in 1949. The new leader of Communist China, Mao Zedong was a totally unknown figure in the comity of nations. It was the Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who introduced Mao to the world leaders. Again, it was Nehru who declined the offer of India’s permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council, in favour of China. The first thing that the Communist China did was to occupy and annexe Tibet the very next year (1950). India saw the subjugation of an independent country by China helplessly, because, as Nehru later explained, India did not have the strength to prevent the Chinese from overrunning Tibet. The Dalai Lama fled to India with his close associates and was given asylum by Nehru. China resented it greatly.

China’s imperial ambitions became evident almost on the morrow of the Communist victory. An eminent and erudite journalist, very close to the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who visited China in 1949, came back to report to Nehru the impression about Mao’s China he had come back with. “Panditji, China is emerging as another Germany in the heart of Asia”, he told Nehru. Nehru differed strongly from this view and made his displeasure known to the journalist in no uncertain terms. Years later, after the Chinese aggression of 1962, Nehru told that journalist that he (the journalist) had been right and he (Nehru) had been wrong. Unlike some of his later-day successors, Nehru had the humility and the grace to admit his mistakes.

The first indication of China’s intention toward India became evident in 1959, much before the 1962 aggression. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) entered Longju in the then North-Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA), now Arunachal Pradesh, on August 25, 1959. They clashed with the 19 Assam Rifles which then used to guard the borders. Next came Aksai Chin in Ladakh.

But before going into Aksai Chin it is worth recalling that immediately after the Communists consolidated their rule in China, they started building a 1200 km road connecting the Xinjiang Province of China with Western Tibet. Of this, 180 kms ran south of the Johnson Line through Aksai Chin which is in Ladakh. The Chinese army entered Ladakh, occupied it and, as is their wont, claimed it to be their territory. India did not offer military resistance (those were the days of Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai) but on July 1, 1954, Jawaharlal Nehru categorically stated that Aksai Chin had been part of Ladakh (India) for centuries and that the border, as defined by the Johnson Line, is non-negotiable. PLA pinpricks throughout the Sino-Indian border have continued. Most of these were considered insignificant and many incidents of Chinese incursion into Indian territory went unreported.

Then came the Great Betrayal by China. On October 20, 1962, the Chinese army made a massive invasion in Arunachal. The feeble military resistance by India collapsed like a house of cards. Through Arunachal, the Chinese army entered Assam and came right up to Tezpur on the north bank of the Brahmaputra. Then suddenly they declared a unilateral ceasefire and went back.

What was the atmosphere prevailing in the Indian Army Headquarters then? Brigadier J. P. Dalvi, who commanded the 7 Infantry Brigade, fought the Chinese in Arunachal and was himself taken prisoner by the Chinese, writes in his book Himalayan Blunder that in January, 1962, he was formally posted as commander of 7 Infantry. Brigadier (later Major-General) D. K. Palit, was then the Director of Military Operations (DMO). Before taking up charge, Dalvi decided to consult Palit who had once commanded 7 Infantry himself and knew the area thoroughly well. Writes Dalvi:

“The DMO was very kind and briefed me personally. He was calm and assured. There was no apprehension of any hot war in the immediate future . . . He raised the question of the induction of 9 Punjab of 7 Brigade into Tawang, during the height of winter in December, 1961. He was puzzled by this move which had stretched the slender airlift resources without achieving any operational purpose. He recommended that I send them back to the plains . . . “ (Italics mine, BDG.)

So it was not just the political leadership of the Government (meaning Nehru) but the military leadership also, which had no inkling of what was coming soon.

But even the 1962 war failed to make us aware of the Chinese intentions and prepare ourselves accordingly. After 1962, the Chinese started quickly building roads along their side of the border. We did nothing. They built one airport or airstrip after another in Tibet for handling different kinds of aircraft. We did nothing for decades. It is only during the UPA-II regime that border road construction in Arunachal was taken up in right earnest, several HALS (high-altitude landing strips) were built in Arunachal Pradesh. A couple of them can even handle huge transport aircraft like the US-made C-17 Globemaster.

The UPA-II under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took another momentous decision for defending the mountainous terrain of our northern borders. It decided to raise a new corps of the army, to be called the 17 Mountain Strike Corps. The new corps was to be raised at a cost of Rs. 64,000 crore. It would have consisted of two Infantry Divisions, three Independent Armoured Brigades, three Artillery Brigades, one Engineering Brigade, one Air Defence Brigade and one Aviation Brigade. The corps was to be specially trained for high altitude warfare and would be ready to cross into Tibet to fight the Chinese at a short notice.

For that they had to be, apart from being given training in mountain warfare, acclimatized thoroughly. Soldiers sent to fight at an altitude of fourteen, fifteen or sixteen thousand feet without acclimatization are likely to die without firing a single bullet due to high altitude cerebral oedema, high altitude pulmonary oedema or lose their eyesight due to high altitude retinopathy.

The UPA Government also took the decision to base two squadrons of deep penetration strike aircraft (the Russian made Sukhoi 30 MKI) in Assam, one squadron at Tezpur and another at Chabua. The Sukhoi 30 has a range of 3000 miles and can strike deep inside China.

One of the first things that the NDA Government did on coming to power in 2014 was to send the proposal for raising the 17 Mountain Corps to the cold storage on the plea that it was “too costly”. It is useless to argue with people who consider any expenditure for national defence to be “too costly.”

On their part, the Chinese have built five regularly functioning airports in Tibet. Now they are building a railway line to link Kathmandu with Shigatse in Tibet. The 628 km long railway will cross into Nepal at Gyirong-Shigatse point. It will run 555 kms in Tibet and 72 kms in Nepal. Have we constructed a single km of roads along our northern border in Arunachal which was once promised? Or border roads along the entire stretch of the China-Arunachal border? What happened to the once much-talked about India-Myanmar-Thailand Trialteral Highway?

And what happened to the strategically important Kaladan road project which would have linked Myanmar’s Sittwe seaport in Rakhine State to Kolkata port through Mizoram? At what stage of construction is this $484 million project now? How many times has the date for the completion of the project been deferred?

Now, coming to the other aspect of Chinese jingoism and India’s meek surrender to it. It has become the standard practice of China to nibble away Indian territory. The PLA troops would surreptitiously enter into an Indian territory close to the border, claim it to be “historically and traditionally” belonging to China and, like a magician producing rabbits out of his hat, would produce a map in support of their claim. Immediately a decidedly Indian territory becomes Chinese territory or, at best, a “disputed” territory.

It is quite well known that there are disputes about Sino-Indian border. Both India and China claim certain areas as theirs because there is a “difference in perception” between the two countries about where exactly the Line of Actual Control (LAC) lies. Quite often, it has led to a paradox. India will accuse China of border violation and of Chinese troops crossing into India and obstructing border patrolling by India. Each time there is a hubbub after a case of border violation by China, the Indian side would rush to deny there was any violation.at all. The response of the Government and the Army has been, from the Congress days to the Modi dispensation, a meek, tongue-in-the-cheek, apologetic one. We accepted every forcible occupation of Indian land by China as a fait accompli. It only encouraged the Chinese.

Both the Government and the Army rush to deny any incursion by the Chinese. They say: “No, no, it is nothing serious. This is because of our ‘difference in perception’ about the location of the LAC.” It only implies that India has accepted the right of the Chinese side to act according to their perception of the location of the LAC but India on its part cannot do the same. Such submissive behaviour of India has only emboldened the Chinese to take more liberties with our territorial integrity and sovereignty. This kowtowing to the Chinese was quite unnecessary and uncalled for. Past experience has shown that whenever we stood firm or retaliated, the Chinese withdrew. The latest example is the Doklam stand-off of 2017. For 73 days, the troops of the two sides were facing each other in an eyeball-to-eyeball contact. But the intimidation did not work The Chinese had to blink first and pull back.

The cold-blooded killing of 20 Indian soldiers in the Galwan Valley, north of the Pangong lake, is the result of India’s appeasement policy. There are several mountain spurs called “fingers” here. The Indian army used to patrol from Finger one to Finger 8. Suddenly, the PLA troops blocked the Indian patrol party from proceeding beyond Finger 4. Indians resisted and stood their ground. A fresh controversy erupted and tension escalated in the border.

Then border talks for resolution of the dispute began. Here also, the Chinese scored over us. It was decided that talks would be held at the Lieutenant-General level. But on the day of the talks, it was found that while India was represented by a Lieutenant-General, the Chinese side had sent a Major-General who is one rank below an L-G. We should have walked out of the meeting. But we chose to pocket the affront and engage in talks. While talks were going on at various levels, the Chinese troops sneaked into our territory in the dead of the night and butchered twenty of our brave sons.

But this time there was a clear departure from the past. India forcefully declared that it is not going to budge an inch from where it is – come what may. Troops and heavy artillery have been reinforced all along the Sino-Indian border, from Arunachal to Manipur. They are ready to go to war, if necessary. Appeasing China to buy peace is no solution. Appeasement does not satisfy the aggressor. It only whets his appetite for more. The classic example of this is the infamous Munich Pact of 1938. Britain and France meekly accepted Hitler’s annexation of Sudetenland in Western Czechoslovakia.
The surrender failed to buy peace from Hitler. It only paved the way for the Second World War next year (1939). England and France had to pay an immensely heavier price than they would have had to if they had stood up against Hitler. Now, there must be no humouring of Xi Jinping and his cohorts, quand meme.

. It should be made plain to that gang that India wants peace but would not hesitate to hit back at the enemy to uphold its national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Simultaneously, India will have to make a major diplomatic offensive against China and expose its expansionist policy and practice of plain and simple usury in the name of “helping” infrastructural development of under-developed countries of Asia and Africa.
China’s aim is to emerge as the world hegemon, replacing the United States. But before that, China will have to weaken and emasculate India which alone can stand against China in Asia. It is also the only country to which other countries of Asia and Africa turn with the expectation that India will foil all attempts by China to lord it over Asia. We have to understand not only our national but also our international responsibility and frustrate Chinese designs.

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