Georg Hegel says we learn from history that we have never learnt from history. In the context of Indo-Sino relations, this couldn’t be more true. Fifty-eight years after getting our tail tweaked, not so much by the Chinese, but by our own inept handling of the situation, we as a people and a nation are making a mockery of our own standing. In 2020, when the world is staring at multiple crises, perhaps among the worst ever, we didn’t light the fire on the northern borders, but now that it has been started, let’s play the game to win… for as Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw said to the Indian Military Academy passing out gentlemen cadets in 2002, “There is no place for a loser. If you lose, even your gharwali will not look at you.” That couldn’t be more true!
In 1962, whether it was 2 Rajput at Nam Ka Chu, 1 Sikh at Bumla, 4 Garhwal Rifles at Nuranang and Sela, 5 Guards at Thembang, 6 Kumaon and 4 Sikh at Walong, 5 Jat at Galwan or 13 Kumaon at Rezangla, the men fought and died with tremendous dignity and bravery. The trouble on all these occasions was the complete panic and chaos behind them—instead of reinforcing their success and taking the fight to the Chinese. Indian casualties galloped when the men were ordered to withdraw, not so much when they stood their ground and fought.
The Indian Army can more than easily take care of the borders, but the pin pricks and infiltration tactics will continue to make us bleed so long as we continue to deal with the border problem with blinkers on. Part of the Chinese game plan is to fan the fear psychology and I must say we have quite a few paper tigers amongst us doing just that. Chief among them is a person (I refuse to call him an officer) who in 2012 masterminded the blue print for India to withdraw from Siachen under instructions from the then powers that be. In 2020, he would have the government of the day rush headlong into an offensive just to counter his taunts. Anyway, the threat to India has always been from within and so long as we understand that, all the drum beaters who are behaving like a troop of twittering macaques at the sight of a leopard will be neutralised. On the larger canvas of time, I think the time has come for this country to stand up and change the narrative. And how!
We have been left with no option but to take the fight to the Chinese. It is not just with bayonets, rifles and missiles do we need to fight, we must fight them with everything we’ve got. But first we have to get our house in order—those not in power must not see this as Narendra Modi’s Waterloo a la Nehru, but stand together and shut the gates of Fortress India just this once. The government too must reach out to all parties and work out a common strategy. This cannot be an election issue, but a fight to take on the neighbourhood bully. We do that and half our battle is won!
As I said earlier, we didn’t start the fire—either in 2020 or in 1962. China, ever since it became the PRC under Mao, has ridden roughshod over India, which, in this bilateral relationship, ever since 1962, has adopted a submissive posture. Combined with the fact that most of mankind was exhausted by WWII and unlikely to take on Chinese expansion, Chairman Mao pulled off the largest real estate heist by annexing first Sinkiang and then Tibet. As a result, post-Independent India, which had nothing to do with China, suddenly had it as its northern neighbour, extending across 3,500 km of the most hostile terrain on the planet extending from Indira Point in Siachen in the west to Kibithu in the east.
Militarily, we as a nation failed to hold the Chinese in 1962 for a variety of reasons, most of which are brought out in my book published by Aleph (1962: The War That Wasn’t). At the time, 99% of India was too busy fighting for survival after 200 years of colonialism had ravaged the country, to be aware of the country’s frontiers, let alone worry about it. As a result, even after the military skirmish in 1962, few knew why we had fought the Chinese. Despite being the victim, we threw in the towel and a panicky leadership was just grateful that the Chinese went back to the McMahon Line.
The story is different now; 58 years later the history is known and the facts are indisputable. What China did in 1949, the 1950s and early 1960s was just plain and simple armed robbery—take what you want and kill those who stand in your way. They wanted Sinkiang and Tibet—they took it. They then needed the Aksai Chin to link these two—they took it.
Regardless of what and how the government of the day decides to do to defuse the immediate issue in Ladakh, we, as a nation, need to revisit these key issues. Today, in the comity of nations, China is striving to be seen as a “responsible” country and has repeatedly said it respects the “mechanisms” that are in place for a dialogue to sort out problems. So, let’s, for once, armed with the knowledge we have now, take them on. For a change let us start the fire! If we do not do that, India’s runt status in the face of Chinese aggression will keep haunting us and we will keep debating where Claim Line 1, Claim Line 2 and Claim Line 3 are. You may already have a Claim Line 4 and this will continue unless we outstare Xi Jinping and the rest of PRC.
TAKE CHINA TO ICJ
Let us revisit these key issues now—McMahon Line (1913/14), the ceding of the Shaksgham Valley by Pakistan to China, Aksai Chin, even Tibet. We put the facts before our people and also the rest of the world and ask China to walk the talk, take the matter to the International Court of Justice. The border with Tibet was based on the survey done by Captains Morshead and Baily in 1913, who demarcated the watershed (it is not a thick pencil line on a map open to interpretation, as again some of our learned friends would want us to believe!) and it was firmed up the next year at Simla.
Why would China agree to take the matter to the ICJ? Well, for a start, Government of India must start a major global campaign placing the facts before the rest of the world. The narrative is so blatantly in our favour, I wonder why we’ve never aggressively done it before. But more than the international community, the narrative needs to be understood by our own people, who then must unite and shut China out. Take your market away in real terms, it will hurt our northern neighbour much more than artillery guns opening up all along the border.
Xi Jinping is not an idiot, nor is the Communist Party that runs China today. A whimpering India grovelling at the feet of the US is a threat to their China and it is their natural instinct to rub the Indian nose further in the dust. Not just the Chinese, every bully will always whack the other guy every time he passes him by. Turn the tables, and let’s see where it goes. Geographically and logically, a Russia-China-India partnership benefits our northern friends a lot more than the current state of affairs.
I would actually go a step further and advocate we take on Pakistan as well—your two-front offensive! We took the matter of J&K to the UN in 1949 and it stalled mainly because of geo-political reasons that we failed to understand then. Post-1963, after Pakistan ceded the Shaksgam Valley and cosily got into bed with Mao, it became the cat’s paw for China to play with India. The biggest chunk of Indian territory occupied in J&K is today effectively under Chinese control, and that includes the Northern Areas and the Gilgit Agency, which is legally Indian territory, again usurped by armed tribal hordes and the Pakistan army.
The basic evidence is all there in my two books, The Long Road to Siachen: The Question Why (Rupa) and the 1962 book. If with my limited resources and dedicated research I as an individual can trace these facts, I see no reason why all the evidence cannot be put together to make our case in front of the rest of the world. We the people need to see the situation with this historical perspective and then take on the Chinese with real facts, rather than flit around deliberately created “pinpricks” that throw everything off balance. We must also remember that all the Chinese records pertaining to Tibet are with the Taiwan government, and not the PRC. Those maps and agreements tell a very different story from what Mao and his successors would have us believe. This will probably apply to other occupied regions as well.
At the end of the day, geopolitics is a game of perceptions and we are dealing with China that today has the kind of resources which are hard to imagine. Economically and otherwise, they may be light years ahead of us, and they do not shy away from investing in “perception management”. After the communists came to power in Nepal, for example, the first thing the Chinese did was to buy out most of their media companies. Today, even our friendly neighbourhood brother, who has everything in common with us and nothing in common with China, is dancing in the streets and waving khukris in the air.
We are dealing with a dangerous adversary who will exploit every chink in our armour to keep us off balance. God alone knows we are our worst enemies, having systematically weakened our own security apparatus. But our Army and security forces have, thanks partly to the Chinese, become battle hardened from years of fighting insurgencies. We need to up the ante, especially vis-à-vis our paramilitary forces that need to be sharpened. It is worth remembering the PLA got its nose bloodied by the Vietnamese Border Guards when it last tried to venture forth into someone else’s land. We need to put all the gulli danda nonsense of the past behind us and get our act together.
There are plenty of domain experts out there. Prime Minister Modi and his government now need to pick the right team. We as Indians, have today run out of options. We either stand up and hold our ground, or we might as well open up our companies to 100% Chinese investment.
China is often depicted as the dragon. Our country’s motto is “Satyameva Jayate”…so let’s fight this war by these non-violent means and be prepared to fight if we have to. Tweak the dragon’s tail and let’s see what happens. Conventional wisdom tells us if you stand up to a bully, he quietly goes home. Otherwise he will always continue to have his knee on our neck.
Shiv Kunal Verma is the author of “1962: The War That Wasn’t” and “The Long Road to Siachen: The Question Why”. His forthcoming book, “1965: A Western Sunrise”, will be released by Aleph later this year.