The Mandarin Muddle

There we go again. Living up to the tag of being one of the most pacifist civilizations of the world, India has once again risked going against its own popular opinion. It has traditionally been India’s stance in world politics to not interfere, side up or comment on the political affairs of any country and conversely also be soft on aggressors, by not being the first one to attack in a war-like situation. Blame it on the policy of Non-Alignment or NAM which was spearheaded by the country’s first premier Jawaharlal Nehru, or the Mahatma’s countless calls for peace and non violence. Be it braving Pakistan’s first assault during almost all the wars we have fought with them or withstanding numerous reports of torture against the POW (Prisoners Of War) of their own brethren and yet not doing anything about it, for years. India, from time and again, has clarified its foreign policy to be one of peace, aid in fostering the same in other countries for mutual benefit and at all times taking steps to avoid a full blown war. Of course there isn’t any iota of doubt on how well it has survived, on the very basis of such a peace-loving edifice but the question which stares back at us right now, is that how much is too much??

India and China have long been hailed as the two gargantuan hopes of the South-East Asian region, which has, for a considerable time now, been torn apart by civil strife, civil war, rebel uprisings, secessionist movements and various other acts of insurgency which have debilitated the functioning of state mechanisms in this part of the world. In such a scenario, it’s a well accepted view that the emerging economies of both these nations coupled with the fact that they are home to the world’s largest populace, hands them a unique role to play in the power politics of this region. Historically though, there have been a lot of skirmishes in this marriage which have threatened to render it voidable and belligerency has been the catchword for the art of survival. Needless to say, this has not augured well for either of the two. The flashpoint of such tensions was there for everyone to see when in 1962, China declared war on India with the main bone of contention being the disputed border area of Akshai-Chin. This was the ostensible reason for the showdown whereas many other factors such as the Tibetan uprising, granting political asylum to the Dalai Lama also drove apt fuel into the whole issue. The war ended with a heavily depleted Indian side and a premier who came in for a lot of flak regarding the callousness with which the pre-war signs were treated; so much so that it’s an oft-repeated notion in India that the Sino-Indian aggression ultimately took away Nehru’s life. So anguished was the man who brokered the ‘Panch-shila’ (Five tenets of Peace) agreement just seven years back, before the Chinese troops mounted their offensives in the region of Ladakh. It was viewed as an act of betrayal and left a bitter taste with majority of the Indians. And tensions between both the nations has persisted ever since which was further enunciated by the incidents like the Naxal uprising, Chola incident in the late 60’s and the granting of statehood to Arunachal Pradesh in 1986 which again brought the nations to the brink of another war. Nevertheless better sense prevailed and the heads of the respective countries decided not to aggravate it further; hence peace treaties and mutual peace agreements were signed between the leaders and the rapid growth of both countries, in the past decade has ensured in maintaining a cessation of hostilities and direct confrontations. Although this is still very much a situation of uneasy peace and insecurities persist on both sides of the border. Nothing can be a more blatant expression of this insecurity when the Chinese army conducts a military exercise to commemorate sixty years of its freedom and this is seen as a pretext to advertise all the showmanship which has gone in the careful collection and building up of an efficient cache of arms. Iam all for exercising personal choices when it comes to celebrations and especially on such memorable occasions. What surprises me the most is the time in which it happened? The world is anyway reeling under a nuclear-threat conundrum and add to that the new method of dispersing terror through biological warfare and chemical weaponry; all this only multiplies the uneasy peace position which we are in right now. When a developing giant like China parades its military strength so brazenly, it just gives out one sole impression. That non-adherence to the Big-fish policy is only going to juice out the strengths of the other weaker nations (Korea, India).

Ok so the Chinese population is proud about its military efficiency as compared to its neighbours. It is celebrating it on the most joyous occasion of its independence. So what? It only inculcates a stronger sense of patriotism and fosters feelings of nationalism among the countrymen. There’s nothing wrong with that. Nonetheless, India should plaster a frown on its brows with this exhibition of military prowess by a previous aggressor. And there are apt reasons for that. Primary reason would be the presence of certain ‘painted’ red rocks on the international border of Mt. Gaya which, in Mandarin, mean China. There have been increased reports of incursions by Chinese troops in the border area. On closer inspection, it has also been reported that Chinese vessels (speed boats) often intrude into Indian territorial waters on Panggong Tso Lake in Ladakh. This is not good news for the Indian government which is ever-so-keen in brokering peace and harmony even in the face of an impending war. The sticking point here is not that China is clandestinely preparing for war and also giving us signals wherein we are purposely overlooking it, merely because the government feels safeguarding our traditional ethics is more important than maintaining the sovereignty status of the country. It is a fact that though India’s military capacity is not strong enough as compared to the Chinese fleet, as agreed by the Air vice Marshal Mr. Naik himself, it’s not that dilapidated either to not take up urgent war exigencies on its head. Every Indian knows that and our defence expenditure exhibits that very clearly. However, all we want is a buffer to fall back on. None of us would like to witness an encore of the 1962 armed conflict which took away so many brave Indian lives and broke the back of countless families. The reason why we were caught unaware was because of the immense amount of trust reposed which was not backed up with adequate caution and care. If only the ominous signs of a brewing conflict would have been well assessed and analysed, many precious lives could have been saved, vast tracts of territory would have still been with India and there would have been no reason for drawing up of a Line of Actual Control. At least that time we had the flimsy, yet valid explanation of being newly-independent and naive, something which may not be ours to exercise this time around.

India may have many reasons to overlook such actions. It may be due to pursuance of friendly ties on the diplomatic and economic front, not risking bilateral trade relations (China is India’s largest trading partner) on the basis of certain noticeable-yet-harmless skirmishes, its assumption that China is more interested in gaining the top place on the world order more than a border confrontation with India and many more. Ultimately what counts is how the government responds to it and soothes the frayed nerves of its citizens. So far it has downplayed the entire episode to the extent that the Foreign Affairs Minister, S.M.Krishna has gone on record saying that the Indo-China boundary is one of the most peaceful and there is no dispute with China in that area. Fair enough as he’s doing whatever is a part of his portfolio, to allay the fears of the general public who do not want another war. But blaming the media for needlessly exaggerating the issue and blowing it out of proportion is not a right approach. All the major diplomats and ministers have actually condemned the media saying that excessive coverage may lead to a dramatic pause in the erstwhile smooth relations between the countries. The National Security Advisor,M.K Narayanan has expressed his reservations over the entire media coverage of such incursions, saying that all of it may just upset the applecart of the bilateral ties. Castigating the media for educating the intelligentsia on areas of concern is not what a democratic government should propagate. Instead with the kind of pacifist, to the point of being lackadaisical, attitude India has had in the past, it won’t be surprising to hear that the very fact that our authorities woke up to such an event was due to the stories which ran in the newspapers. So in that case, the role of the Fourth estate can never and should not be undermined. We have full faith in the ruling government and its policy measures. All what is expected out of it is that it should exercise more caution than its predecessors in treating such incidents, lest it wants to ends up shame-faced in front of the entire world. Belligerency need not be a catchword although providence never hurt anyone. For the sake of the nation, we can only hope that the present government realises it all too well and takes it to heart. Since it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Smrithi Suresh

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