As India and China clash, it is time to heed Chanakya
He warned that your immediate neighbour is your natural enemy. India has been too lax in defending its borders
In conversation with leaders of the Opposition recently, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi clarified that no one had entered Indian territory or captured any border post with reference the deadly border clashes with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley. The Opposition asked him several questions on the border stand-off at the virtual meeting. It is not clear whether they were satisfied with the answers they got. But one thing is clear. There is little at the moment to reassure people on the nature of the conflict with a resurgent and belligerent China.
India has officially fought four wars since Independence. In all these, there are many unanswered questions which successive generations have been exercised about. Across the world, narratives about wars are scripted to suit political interests. But the people have a right to know what were the circumstances in which Pakistan and China dared to take India on and what has been done to minimise this possibility in the future.
To understand this, let us take a walk down history. Till today, it is not clear whether China actually attacked India in 1962 or, as some claim, Jawaharlal Nehru ordered this offensive, completely overlooking ground realities. Whatever the truth, the official stand is that China stabbed us in the back even as Nehru sought friendship with it and that our brave soldiers were defeated despite putting up a valiant fight. But it was more than just a defeat; China occupied a few thousand square kilometres of Indian territory at that time. Our Parliament has always sworn that we will not rest until we get all of it back.
I wonder if today’s generation knows that this land is still with China.
Five years after that war, there were bloody clashes in 1967 and again in 1975. These were not wars but underlined the threat posed by China.
When the late Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee was foreign minister, during the Janata Party government, he visited Beijing. But by then, there was a perception that ties with China should be normalised even with issue remaining on the back-burner. This is why Indira Gandhi stepped up efforts to cement ties with Beijing in 1981. Her son and successor Rajiv Gandhi took this forward, and his historic 1988 visit laid the framework for India-China ties, which has persisted till data. Subsequent prime ministers , PV Narasimha Rao, Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and, now, Narendra Modi have all held out the hand of friendship to China, seen as a great Asian power and counterpart to India. Over time, the resolve of Parliament and the pain of defeat faded away. But this cannot be the basis for diplomacy. Chanakya, India’s great ancient philosopher, said that your immediate neighbour is your natural enemy as he covets your territory and resources and is positioned to take them if he is more powerful than you.
The only exception to this trend towards considering China as a potential friend was the late George Fernandes, defence minister in the Vajpayee government. He was emphatic that China is our enemy number one. He was roundly attacked for this. Though he was under pressure, he kept discussing this informally with military officers. As defence minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav, too, saw China as a clear threat and raised some serious questions about the Tibet policy.
After the Galwan Valley clashes, I thought of George Fernandes. Why did we choose to ignore the issues he raised? Why did India’s establishment continue to focus on a much weaker country such as Pakistan and view it as our main enemy? We merely managed the border with China; New Delhi did not put in place concrete infrastructure until recently. China, on the other hand, prepared ceaselessly. It built roads close to the Line of Actual Control, laid railway tracks and put together all the necessary infrastructure its army would need for an eventual confrontation. Today, we are paying the price.
It is this same lackadaisical attitude to defending India’s borders that allowed Pakistani soldiers to enter Kargil in 1999. Even that conflict did not teach the government the right lessons. Those in charge feel that the answer is to blame everything on Nehru and the Congress But that is not good enough.
When PM Modi was holding his conversation with Opposition leaders, I was busy in an online conversation with General VP Malik, Indian Army chief during the Kargil war. Let me quote him. “National security is the biggest issue. It is a matter of great sadness that our political parties are publicly raising their fingers on the issue of national security. Of course raising questions is your right, but instead of doing it publicly, discuss it in the meeting, it would do more good.”
The establishment should have listened to George Fernandes and issues he raised