The Chinese build-up and incursions with release of maps in early 1950s brought to the notice of the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru by the Indian Army’s top brass were trashed by him based on his belief in Panchsheel and Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai (India-China brother brother) which ironically amounted to ‘bye-bye’ with the 1962 Chinese aggression. According to Achamma Chandersekaran, an expert in 29 languages, who was one of the official interpreters during Zhou En Lai’s visit to India in 1962, did not agree with the interpretation that others gave. He predicted that China would attack India in six months.
Nobody in the government, including Nehru, was willing to go with his interpretation. As Major Francis resigned in protest, China did attack India within six months. Indian Army lost 1,860 personnel. Nehru was a broken man and then Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon was sacked.
As expressed in Parliament by Pranab Mukherjee, when he was the external affairs minister, there was no defined boundary separating China and India. Mukherjee then stated, ‘China illegally claims approximately 90,000 sq km of the Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh and about 2,000 sq km in the middle of the India-China boundary.’ China also controls 38,000 sq km territory that India claims in Jammu and Kashmir. After the humiliating Chinese aggression in 1962 (because of India’s political leadership refusing to admit Chinese intentions) there were a large number of incursions culminating into violent attacks by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) at Nathu La and Chola in Sikkim in 1967.
Indian Army’s aggressive retaliation in 1967 broke the 1962 jinx and may also have resulted in Chinese stepping down after build-up of tension and stand-off at Sumdorong Chu Valley in Arunachal Pradesh in 1984 and 1987. Thereafter, the first major step forward was Rajiv Gandhi’s path-breaking visit to China in 1988. This was followed by other high level visits on both sides. His successor, P V Narasimha Rao, took the process forward and in September 1993 signed the Treaty of Peace and Tranquility between the two countries, which also signified India quietly accepting the loss of 90,000 sq km of its territory. While this agreement ended the ‘eyeball to eyeball’ confrontation and soon after, in 1994, late General B C Joshi became the first Indian army chief to visit China.
While his visit was a success, it did not stop the Chinese from continuing to enter the Indian territory ‘looking for herbs’ – a favourite excuse – or deploying surveillance stations all around India as its ‘string of pearls’ strategy, or targeting it with their nuclear warheads, also substantially supplied ‘by private arrangement’ to Pakistan. So far, the only saving grace of the peace and tranquility agreement is that despite the intrusions, there has been no exchange of fire from either side.
But the way tension prevails by repeated provocation by frontline PLA troops, there can be no guarantee of that odd moment when some soldier’s patience snaps and firing is resorted to.
Although not a single Chinese bullet has been fired at the Indian troops since the Nathu La confrontation of 1967, China has kept the 4,057-km LAC live with incursions. Beginning with Finger, the northern-most point as named by the Indian Army in Sikkim (which was accepted as India’s and affirmed during Vajpayee’s 2003 visit), by May 2010, motorised foot and amphibious armed patrols of the PLA intruded into the strategic Trig Heights and Pangong Tso lake in Eastern Ladakh, bringing the figure of transgressions to 30 in Trig Heights itself and thereby signifying a quantum jump up to 52 per cent from 27 per cent in 2009.
Another major cause of worry is construction of airfields, roads, railway lines and strategic link up of Kashghar, in Pakistan with Havelian in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and ultimately with Tibet’s Medong region bordering Arunachal. Also worrying are China’s efforts to bolster surveillance capability by constructing border out posts (BOPs), which at places, can also be used to direct precision guided ammunitions (TV guided cruise missiles, terrain guided missiles e.g., KH59 mk II, which has a range of over 1,200 kms ) – all of which have the potential to substantially alter the strategic balance in favour of China.
In 2000, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Mukut Mithi accused China of violating the LAC and crossing into the Indian territory near the Kayela Pass in the state’s Dibang Valley district, bordering Tibet. ‘They come in the guise of hunters, cross the LAC and at times even claim that parts of Arunachal belong to them,’ he had said.
In May 2007, Kiren Rijiju, former Member of Parliament, from Arunachal Pradesh made a startling claim that China had moved 20 km into the Indian territory, amounting to 9,000 square km. ‘It has been continuing for a long time…I have written to the government of India and raised the issue in the Parliament. The government of India is not accepting the incursion openly,’ said Rijiju.
Over the past 65 years, the Indian policy on China has been quite weak. Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was the only one who advocated a tough stand on China. During the 1967 Nathu La flare-up, she even sanctioned the use of artillery, at the request of the then brigade commander, MMS Bakshi.
Differences between the Chogyal of Sikkim and those seeking a union with India finally led to the total collapse of the administration, and the government that came in subsequently decided to become the 22nd state of India on 16 May 1975.
Some assertive steps taken in the recent past are the replacement of MiGs in Tezpur (Assam), with Sukhoi multi-role jet aircraft,
re-activating about 40 airstrips, raising two more mountain divisions and some battalions of Arunachal Scouts as a signal to the Chinese to stay off Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as its own. India also reportedly raised the budget to the Dalai Lama from Rs 10 million to Rs 100 million.
The booming trade touching an annual $75.5 billion from $3 billion a decade ago, is considered to be much in China’s favour. Visits and talks may well be pursued but must not allow New Delhi being lulled into complacency as the Chinese threat against India is very real and all-encompassing.
Anil Bhat is a defence and strategic analyst.