The Galwan valley violent clash on June 15th in the eastern Ladakh borders of India and China, has triggered an emotionally charged situation in the country. With the hike in military activity and occasional clashes occurring between two militaries in Pangong Tso (lake) area from May 5th this year, the peace and tranquillity at borders of India and China was disturbed. The casualties and loss of lives stirred the feelings of revenge and patriotic chauvinism. They were racked to heights, through media, news, rumours, official and unofficial press notes regarding Chinese incursions on Indian territory accusing transgressions into the areas of kugrang Nala, Gogra and north bank of Pangong lake etc., on 17th &18th May (the document with such accusations of aggression by China had been withdrawn officially now by Indian defence ministry).Such calculated misinformation and one sided half-truths submerged the reason and rhyme of proper perspective of the situation. Military officials, diplomats and leaders from both sides are engaged in a series of talks to diffuse the tension. So far by 5th August, five rounds of talks were held in two months period between the senior military commanders of India and China to ensure expeditious disengagement of troops from all the friction points along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The steps taken in this direction of de-escalation have eased the situation to some extent only and are of temporary nature. The present disengagement negotiations are also in a state of deadlock to unwind the situation and “present stand off is likely to be prolonged”.
In this situation the persons and organisations advocating for India China friendship and a settlement of the long pending issues through dialogue of mutual understanding and agreement, are sought to be ostracised. But they have to sail against the present tide to create a sensible and congenial atmosphere that can pave a way for permanent peace and tranquillity between the two countries.
The border dispute between the two countries is not new. It is rather a leftover of the history and a legacy inherited from the British colonial rule. During its reign the British imperialists unilaterally drew certain lines as per their advantage and convenience and declared them as defacto borders between the territorial entities. They even changed the lines periodically several times as per the ease and resistance faced by them during the long period of colonial hegemony. It is to be noted that the counterparts have not agreed wilfully for such settlements and declarations done by the brutal force of imperialism.
After the establishment of Independent India in 1947 and Peoples Republic of China in 1949, there arose an opportunity and need to define the borders between the two countries with mutual consent, but no such agreements were arrived, in spite of several appeals and genuine trials by the Chinese side. Not only the borders, but the line of Actual control of land also became a point of contention in several sectors due to the difference of perception about this line. Whereas China sticks to the principle of confining the areas under its control in 1959 as LAC, India assumes all the territory inherited from the British (which is in dispute and not resolved between two sides) as its LAC. So, it is not real if Indian government repeatedly accuses of Chinese incursions in to Indian territory. It is refuted by China saying that they are confined and are working in their administrative areas only. Hence defining China as aggressor is far from reality and such blame game is intended obviously for some other purpose.
There were several rounds of talks spread over decades, over 22 times, between the two countries at various levels of leaders, officials and diplomats; several mechanisms were developed to solve the border issue. Several times goodwill meetings were conducted but yet a solution is elusive. To arrive at a mutually agreeable solution one should adopt “give and take policy” “meet each other in halfway”, try to adjust and accommodate the opponent’s view point, respect the mutual core points and interests and foremost should have a political will and wish to resolve the conflict. More than the mechanisms, one should adopt a true rationalistic spirit with determination to prevent and avoid war, which is harmful to both sides. For this visionary political acumen, a realistic approach and consideration to ground realities must prevail. Hence,the Indian ruling class must revisit its approach, think out of the box for a reasonable solution and seek a way to curb the rivalry and live harmoniously as friendly neighbours.
The policy of colonial rulers of aggression, occupying certain lands by might and accession by hook or crook are not acceptable in modern history. The forward marching of forces into disputed lands, building certain military dwellings, camps or patrolling posts in such areas cannot be treated as means of establishing sovereignty over a territory. Declaring such territories as non-negotiable will not lead to any solution. It is not justifiable to follow the footsteps of colonial rulers and insist on claim “every inch of land” accessed by them with ill intentions, unjustified methods of aggression, biased and unequal treaties, unilateral decisions. Walking in the shoes of the previous imperialist rulers only amounts to the intention of present Indian rulers to establish themselves as a regional lord and local hegemonistic force.
As rulers of a modern India the present ruling dispensation has to shed away the colonial legacy, big brotherly attitude, and establish harmonious relations with all neighbouring countries including China, Nepal and Pakistan. Such a friendly and cooperative attitude only can bring us the due reputation and regard from other countries. Responsible behaviour coupled with respecting the national dignity of other countries whether small or big, and not interfering in their internal affairs, can bring back India into a leading role in international sphere. By the sheer size of the country or expansionism or jingoism one cannot win over neighbours. Such hegemonistic attitude will not solve any problem with any country, leave alone China. It will not improve relations. Continuation of Forward policy of Nehruvian era in a new way, repeating that our territorial claims are non negotiable, or sticking to 1962 resolution that “Not an inch will be negotiated”-will not ease the stalemate situation in border issue. It is unjustifiable, and a hindrance to achieve a solution and is the root cause of unfruitful negotiations.
Similar attitude was followed by Nehru-led India in late 1950s and 60s by manipulating geographical maps, moving forward into areas under dispute and those marked earlier as undefined, un-demarcated terrains, or regarded as no man’s lands. Such unilateral assertion of lands, badly provoked China and resulted in 1962 war. It would not be out of place to draw attention to a related report about that war.
The Henderson Brooks – Bhagat Report (by a two-man committee with Lieutenant General Henderson Brooks and Brigadier PS Bhagat, commissioned by Indian government after the war), was “Marked ‘Top Secret’. It was a ‘Review of 1962 war’ It was not released officially due to the severe indictments it made on Indian polity and military. Despite persistent demands to release it, by experts, and despite RTI Act is not made public. It recorded all relevant materials of military aspects ( political issues were not under its per view) of the war. The report was extensively mentioned in the famous book India’s China War by Neville Maxwell. He was one of the few who had an opportunity to read the secret report. Based on it and many other authentic sources he published the book. If the report be released at least now the people will be educated to counter chauvinism.
The report questions Nehru’s ‘Forward Policy’ by which the Indian army would move ahead of the 3000 km MacMohan Line separating India and China. Brooks says he does not know the background of the government’s decision because he does not have the minutes of the meeting where the forward policy was laid out. Nehru whose Forward Policy was a strategic blunder, died a broken man two years after the defeat of 1962 war.
“General Henderson Brooks held practically the entire civil and military leadership responsible for plunging India into a war it was not prepared for… General Thapar says that the Chinese could retaliate to the forward policy in Ladakh and capture an army post in the Galwan valley and reach their 1960 claim line.” (indiatoday.in, March 31, 2014, the guilty men of1962)
Before outbreak of the 1962 war, China had proposed a peaceful settlement of border with an attitude of respecting each other’s national interests and aspirations. It was prepared for certain concessions, so as to adjust its claims in lieu of a broader and permanent settlement. It was prepared to forego its claim on the present-day Arunachal Pradesh (eastern sector) in case India ratifies Aksai chin (western sector) which was under their actual control as part of China. Such “package deal” was based on considering the ground reality of who was exercising the actual administrative control on a particular area. If such a practical, realistic proposal was accepted by India, it would have settled the issue and would have prevented undesirable, unwanted consequences which arose in latter days.
Relentlessly China was proposing with Indian prime ministers Indira Gandhi, Rajeev Gandhi, Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and others, their intention to normalise relations, rebuild trust and cooperation, to settle the border issue once for all. The pendulum was moving to and fro but never the Indian rulers were determined for such a resolution. In spite of the border issue pending for decades, China had been pursuing a policy to improve the relations and develop all-round friendship with India including trade, commerce, and cultural fields. India too reciprocated to some extent. Thus, wide-ranging relations were developed with mutual agreement to maintain peace and tranquillity along the LAC, even while the settlement was kept pending. As a result, certain normalcy was established between the two countries and no bullet was fired at the Sino Indian borders for more than 45 years.
In fact, both sides had several rounds of discussions on the basis of MUMA and MAMU (referring to mutual adjustment and mutual accommodation), and the principle of give and take. In 1950s also such an attitude was displayed by both sides for some time. Then as well as now, jingoist elements in the Indian polity and media, aided and abetted by imperialists (mainly USA and erstwhile Soviet Union) thwarted any possible solution. Indian leadership was found wanting in political will to resolve the problem once and for all, which would have facilitated the cause of peace and development. Even now it is not too late.