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

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - COMMENT - SHASHI SHEKHAR Shashi Shekhar is the editor-in-chief, Hin­dus­tan The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

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

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