Restor­ing In­dia’s case, cred­i­bil­ity

PM must make a new, clear state­ment on China

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - COMMENT -

On Satur­day, the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice is­sued a much-needed clar­i­fi­ca­tion about Prime Min­is­ter (PM) Naren­dra Modi’s state­ment, on Fri­day, that there was no (ex­ter­nal) pres­ence in In­dian ter­ri­tory. It said that PM was re­fer­ring to the sit­u­a­tion per­tain­ing to the Gal­wan Val­ley, where In­dian Army per­son­nel had bravely foiled China’s at­tempts to erect struc­tures and trans­gress on June 15. The clar­i­fi­ca­tion came a day af­ter the PM’s state­ment, at an al­lparty meet­ing, cre­ated a political and diplo­matic row. The orig­i­nal state­ment, read in­de­pen­dently, had the po­ten­tial of un­der­min­ing In­dia’s sov­er­eign claims and its ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion, con­fus­ing In­dia’s friends, pro­vid­ing diplo­matic am­mu­ni­tion to China, and ap­pear­ing con­tra­dic­tory to ear­lier po­si­tions of the ex­ter­nal affairs and de­fence min­istries. It also seemed con­trary to re­ports about the sit­u­a­tion in Pan­gong Tso — namely Chi­nese oc­cu­pa­tion of a cen­tral por­tion of the shore that was be­hind the In­dian claims line, but is dis­puted and not un­der the sov­er­eign con­trol of ei­ther coun­try. It also prompted other ques­tions. If there had been no in­tru­sion in Gal­wan Val­ley, what led to the vi­o­lence on June 15? What is the restora­tion of sta­tus quo ante that In­dia wants if there is no trans­gres­sion?

While the clar­i­fi­ca­tion has helped, Bei­jing will throw the orig­i­nal state­ment back at the In­dian side dur­ing the com­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions. The con­sid­er­able sup­port In­dia has overseas can po­ten­tially get eroded as friendly gov­ern­ments pre­sume New Delhi is pre­pared to con­cede land. Do­mes­ti­cally, the PM’s re­mark deep­ened political po­lar­i­sa­tion and led to ac­cu­sa­tions about gov­ern­ment be­ing less than trans­par­ent.

The PM has been re­mark­ably sure-footed in the in­ter­na­tional arena and Fri­day’s state­ment was not in char­ac­ter. It is im­pos­si­ble to know whether it was a slip, or whether it was a strate­gic mes­sage meant to China to of­fer room for quiet de-es­ca­la­tion, or whether it was a political counter to the Op­po­si­tion’s cri­tique that the Line of Ac­tual Con­trol (LAC) had been breached, or whether, as the clar­i­fi­ca­tion noted, it was only about Gal­wan Val­ley. But ir­re­spec­tive of the mo­ti­va­tions, the mes­sage sent out an am­bigu­ous sig­nal. The PM must speak again, and cat­e­gor­i­cally ad­dress three is­sues: on Chi­nese trans­gres­sion across the LAC, if any, in re­cent months; whether China is at­tempt­ing to change the facts on the ground in Pan­gong Tso; and the cur­rent sta­tus in Gal­wan Val­ley. It is im­por­tant to es­tab­lish that the area that In­dia has al­ways claimed as its own is firmly un­der In­dian con­trol. There is some­times value to strate­gic am­bi­gu­ity in in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics. But this isn’t one of those. A new state­ment will help re­store In­dia’s stand.

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