Can In­dia afford to ‘chill-out’ about China?

With a trade cor­ri­dor that flouts In­dia’s sovereignty in full swing and wounds of Dok­lam still fresh, for­mer Army Chief Gen­eral V.P. Ma­lik and for­mer Air Chief Mar­shal Fali Homi Ma­jor in­ter­pret the Sino ad­vances on Indo turf

SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE - [ By Ar­pita Kala

The re­cent vi­o­la­tion of In­dian airspace by China isn’t a first nor does it seem to be the last. A 73-day mil­i­tary face off at Dok­lam last year at the be­hest of Bhutan that in­volved sol­diers from the two sides throw­ing punches and stones at each other, and the fre­quent ap­pear­ances of Chi­nese at­tack sub­marines in the In­dian Ocean has got the na­tion on its ten­ter­hooks.

With the re­cent mil­i­tary bud­get al­lo­ca­tion be­ing the low­est since 1962 (also the year of Sino-In­dian war, an omi­nous date in­deed), many are con­cerned if we can afford to ‘chill-out’ about China?

Hope Springs Eter­nal

“No, we can’t afford to ‘chill out’ but we shouldn’t put China on a pedestal. It’s not 12 ft tall and I think given the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of our armed forces cou­pled with good diplo­macy, China doesn’t seem to a prob­lem to me,” says for­mer Air Chief Mar­shal Fali Homi Ma­jor.

And he isn’t alone ei­ther. Serv­ing Chief of Army Staff Gen­eral Bipin Rawat has also re­cently stated that the In­dian Army can main­tain pre­pared­ness and its ac­tive op­er­a­tional ac­tiv­i­ties within the bud­get that has been al­lo­cated for the armed forces.

On that note, the an­nual In­dia-China mil­i­tary ex­er­cise will also re­sume this year af­ter be­ing shelved due to tensions last year. In­dia is also be­ing ex­tra cau­tious to ap­pease the dragon vis-à-vis Ti­bet. Re­cently se­nior govern­ment of­fi­cials were in­structed not to at­tend the “Thank You In­dia” event or­gan­ised by the Ti­betan govern­ment-in-ex­ile mark­ing 60 years of po­lit­i­cal asylum in In­dia. Re­port­edly, the Ti­betan spir­i­tual and re­li­gious leader, His Ho­li­ness Dalai Lama also can­celled an up­com­ing visit to the In­dian bor­der state of Sikkim — a re­gion that China claims is part of Ti­bet, lest it of­fended China. While many of­fi­cials main­tain that Indo-Ti­bet re­la­tion­ship is ‘very lit­tle po­lit­i­cal but more spir­i­tual, re­li­gious and cul­tural’, the Prime Min­is­ter’s up­com­ing China visit may be the rea­son be­hind the move.

“Th­ese are just nu­ances of diplo­macy. Like I know that the Prime Min­is­ter is sup­posed to go to SCO sum­mit, then our de­fence min­is­ter and even for­eign min­is­ter will be vis­it­ing China. So, there are a num­ber of events com­ing up in the next few months where there will be ex­changes at a very se­nior level and prob­a­bly that’s the rea­son why the Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs (MEA) doesn’t want to create a sit­u­a­tion which can fiz­zle out the ma­jor changes that can take place. I wouldn’t like to pass any judg­ment but if the Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs has passed th­ese in­struc­tions, it must be for a valid rea­son,” rea­sons Gen­eral Ved Prakash Ma­lik, who also served as Army Chief dur­ing the Kargil War.

Crouch­ing Tiger, Not-So-Hid­den Dragon

How­ever, China’s ad­vances can­not be taken lightly ei­ther. For­mer Army Chief Gen­eral Ved Prakash Ma­lik agrees. He says, “China has started as­sert­ing it­self mil­i­tar­ily on all its fronts whether it is South China Sea or un­re­solved Indo-Ti­bet and Indo-China borders. What’s wor­ri­some is that what­ever they think be­longs to them, they are be­com­ing more and more as­sertive about it. They may not want to start a war at th­ese places but inch­ing for­ward is what we have seen along our borders. So, with their ag­gres­sive pa­trolling, try­ing to inch for­ward, we have to be re­ally alert around the borders.”

Not only mil­i­tar­ily, but eco­nom­i­cally too China is mak­ing no bones about irk­ing In­dia. Its ambitious Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive (BRI) that seeks to re­build the China’s old Silk Road trade routes by­passes In­dia, apart from a cor­ner of the dis­puted Pak­istan oc­cu­pied Kash­mir (PoK) re­gion but in­volves the neigh­bour­ing Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Mal­dives, with the ex­cep­tion of Bhutan. In­dia’s bone of con­tention is not as much the cold shoul­der from the ini­tia­tive but the fact that it passes through the PoK and even boy­cotted last year’s Belt and Road Fo­rum or­gan­ised by China. The MEA also is­sued a state­ment on its ob­jec­tions on mainly three grounds— the cor­ri­dor in­cludes projects in lands be­long­ing to In­dia, the ini­tia­tive risks run­ning smaller coun­tries into huge debts and could de­stroy the ecol­ogy as well as dis­rupt lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

How­ever, in spite of ap­pre­hen­sions, govern­ment at­ten­dees at the up­com­ing SCO meet are ex­pected to tactically re­frain from op­pos­ing BRI as well as the China–Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC).

“I am def­i­nitely not ask­ing for a war or any sort of war mon­ger­ing but if the sit­u­a­tion is likely to es­ca­late, we need to be pre­pared for it,” says for­mer Army Chief Gen­eral V.P. Ma­lik

Bud­get Trou­ble

De­spite Gen­eral Bipin Rawat’s re­as­sur­ances, the fact re­mains that the de­fence bud­get is in­ad­e­quate to counter hos­tile neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. Min­is­ter of State for De­fence Sub­hash

Bhamre also men­tioned the same in a writ­ten re­ply that the cur­rent bud­getary al­lo­ca­tion was around ` 76,765 crore less than what the forces sought.

Gen­eral V.P. Ma­lik says,

“Any serv­ing army chief has to say things like this. Even dur­ing Kargil war when we had lots of de­fi­cien­cies, I had also said that we will fight with what we have. So, you can­not wrong him (Gen­eral Rawat) on that. The fact is that to­day we know that there are a large num­ber of de­fi­cien­cies and our mod­erni­sa­tion has been lack­ing. Th­ese in­di­ca­tions were given by Vice Chief Lt Gen­eral Sarath Chand…even min­is­ter Sub­hash Bhamre has spo­ken about the same in a let­ter. The point is that we are weak to­day on two ma­jor is­sues—the in­fras­truc­ture, par­tic­u­larly around the north­ern borders and se­condly, de­fi­cien­cies and lack of mod­erni­sa­tion. Both th­ese things re­quire money and there­fore a large num­ber of us feel that the bud­get is in­ad­e­quate.”

Ac­cord­ing to Gen­eral Ma­lik, the bud­get may hit the govern­ment’s ambitious ‘Make in In­dia’ project too with the lack of cap­i­tal not at­tract­ing enough com­pa­nies. He also sug­gests that the army, navy and air force also amp up their sav­ings to be used for mod­erni­sa­tion. He says, “I am def­i­nitely not ask­ing for a war or any sort of war mon­ger­ing but if the sit­u­a­tion is likely to es­ca­late, we need to be pre­pared for it. When we are look­ing to ‘Make in In­dia’, the pri­vate or any other sec­tor wants to see how much cap­i­tal do we have. If we don’t have that what kind of or­ders can they ex­pect from the Min­istry of De­fence? So, it is es­sen­tial, I be­lieve to give them more money as well as save money within the Armed Forces, all three forces, to the ex­tent that it’s pos­si­ble. And, that sav­ing should also go into the mod­erni­sa­tion kitty, not any­where else.”

“We shouldn’t put China on a pedestal. It’s not 12 ft tall and I think given the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of our armed forces cou­pled with good diplo­macy, China doesn’t seem to a prob­lem to me,” says for­mer Air Chief Mar­shal Fali Homi Ma­jor

In­de­pen­dence Day bon­homie be­tween In­dian and Chi­nese Bor­der Troops in Eastern Ladakh

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