In an interview to the Los Angeles Review of Books well known author and poet, Ranjit Hoskote, says “As writers we must continue to draw attention to the abyss over which we are dancing.” Given the situation we find ourselves, with the pandemic having completely run amok, it would probably be more accurate to say that our dancing days are over and we have plunged headlong into the abyss.
This present crisis, a manmade disaster by all accounts, if nothing else, has brought one of our hidden talents to the fore,our proclivity to slam stable doors well after the horses have bolted.The awakening from deep self- induced slumber of our politicians, bureaucrats and even the Hon’ble Courts is palpable as the crisis seems to have finally caught their attention. As some would still say, better late than never!
However, despite the lamentable response of the Indian Government, it would be best to leave this issue alone as this is the time for action, not words.It goes without saying that in due course, once the facts are in and the situation is under control, those responsible for having pushed us under the bus, so to say, must be brought to account for dereliction of duty.Hoist by their own petard, their earlier optimistic and plainly nonsensical utterances having now come back to haunt them. That is the least that citizens expect from their government, both central and state levels.
By no means is this a reprieve for anyone for there are other issues of national importance where the Government needs to come clean. The fact of the matter is that the government’s response to the other big “C”, that of a rampaging China and the turn of events in Eastern Ladakh, has been just as troubling for a variety of reasons, not the least being its unforgiveable lack of transparency. This absence of hard information has resulted in deprecating speculation as to the situation on the ground and what are we doing to get the PLA to withdraw from territory that while disputed is claimed by us.
Moreover, we have yet to understand our Government’s motive for linking the withdrawal of forces from the Kailash Range with the PLA vacating territory in the Pangong Tso Sub-Sector, as by doing so we lost the only leverage that we had acquired to ensure that the Chinese viewed the ongoing military- to- military negotiations with some degree of seriousness. As was to be expected from the lack of progress in the ongoing talks it now seems fairly clear that our worst fears have been realized and the PLA has no intention of withdrawing from either the Gogra-Hot Springs or the Depsang-DBO Sub-Sectors.
In abrutally frank, forthright and hard-hitting article in the public domain, a former Army Commander Northern Command has attempted to throw some light on these very issues. Not without controversy, it must be admitted, as many within the military veteran community have taken it amiss. They are of the view that discussion of such sensitive issues have no place in the public domain, because it propagates a defeatist mindset. One cannot help but disagree with this view, because in a democracy such as ours, the government can only be held to account when discerning and knowledgeable citizens force reluctant governments to respond to questions they are loathed to answer.
In brief, he has concluded that the PLA has no intention of withdrawing from the DBO-Depsang and Gogra-Hot Springs Sub- Sectors because they have achieved their limited strategic aims. They have now occupied, and in some cases forced their way well beyond, their 1959 Claim Line, which, as it stands, we had/have never accepted. By doing so also it has added to the vulnerability of our positions in these Sub- Sectors, which in any case were already quite precariously placed due to terrain configuration and lack of infrastructure.
He further goes on to suggest that the motivation for our withdrawal from the Kailash Ranges was because of a direct threat from the PLA to capture DBO, and in all probability,they had never made any commitments to withdraw from the Northern Sub-Sectors even if we withdrew from our tactically advantageous positions on the Kailash Ranges. He concludes by suggesting that the Indian Government had no intention of launching offensive action to regain lost territory and has now come to accept its occupation by the PLA. Moreover, it refuses to come out with the truth, but is instead now engaged in duplicitous behaviour, downplaying this loss of territory by pushing an alternative narrative through the top military hierarchy.
While the General’s hypothesis seems accurate to a great extent, one could for example, still question the likelihood of our having succumbed to blackmail over the threat of the PLA to capture DBO, as that seems a bit far-fetched. If history has any lessons, we may wish to recall the manner in which the Government acted following the Doklam confrontation. On conclusion of the Wuhan Summit, the PLA, leaving aside a face- saving gesture, occupied most of the Doklam plateau even though it is Bhutanese territory. Their actions being met with complete silence on our part, as it was ensured that Chinese actions were not covered by the media as the country got engrossed in the General Elections due in the coming months. Even in the present situation it is not inconceivable that we withdrew from the Kailash Heights because, given the proximity of the State Elections, the Government must have known that tensions could only be reduced if we vacated the Kailash Ranges.
It also raises the question that if the Northern Sub-Sectors are so vulnerable to Chinese actions at this time, then what have the earlier Army Commanders and top brass being doing to strengthen our positions there? If the General believes we have conceded defeat without a fight then they collectively have much to answer for! Indeed, they may also be able to throw some more light on the subject having directly dealt with the subject.
Obviously, given the state that our military had been reduced to in the past decade and a half, thanks to the moronic depredations of the politico-bureaucrat lobby, it may well have been the only pragmatic solution available to avoid total humiliation, especially given the huge force differential between both the armies.One however has to also disagree with the General’s suggestion that this acceptance of Chinese hegemony and “unequal peace”may well allow us to negotiate a more equitable and stable peace, which could in turn help us climb out of the pit we are presently in.Instead, what is more likely is that we may be following in the footsteps of Neville Chamberlain’s infamous attempt in Munich to appease the Germans, in an attempt to buy time. By betraying Czechoslovakia and handing the Sudetenland to Hitler and returning home with the empty slogan “Peace for our time” that only led to war the very next year.
Notwithstanding all of this,indeed, the General’s hypothesis puts each and every citizen in an excruciatingly difficult position of having to come to terms with this very real possibility having conceded defeat without a fight, something that we did not do even in the darkest days of 1962 and that goes against ethos of what every true soldier stands for and believes in.
Clearly, the present Government and the military brass have much to answer for. As Moliere once wrote “It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.”While, understandably, it does put the military brass in an extremely difficult position, they would do well to recall their oath to our Constitution and answer the questions being raised with complete honesty. If what the General suggests has even a modicum of truth then the politico- bureaucrat nexus must be held to account for having let our military fall into such disarray. The fact of the matter is this Government has its priorities mixed up, our defence certainly deserves more emphasis and money than the construction of a either a new Parliament or a fancy residence for the Prime Minister.