In a deft, stab-in-the-back move, a complete violation of earlier mutually agreed positions, China used the pretext of annual summer exercises to divert troops for multiple, meticulously planned intrusions beyond the Line of Actual Control (LAC) mostly in Eastern Ladakh. This went hand in hand with permanent infrastructure installations and unprecedented force levels with additional warplanes deployed not far from Galwan and Leh. To add insult to injury, the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) descecrated Hindu and Buddhist sites around Mansarovar, replacing them with military infrastructure. The most significant intrusions were at Despang, Pangong Tso and Galwan, the latter the scene of bitter hand-to-hand clashes. As in 1962 when conflict was initiated to coincide with the Cuban crisis, the world more concerned with the threat of nuclear war, China used the present preoccupation with the pandemic, for ‘salami slicing’ Indian territory.
Mostly due to Chinese sponsored propaganda,explanations have been put forward ranging from ‘part of a general effort to secure its borders’, India’s closeness with the US and the strategic anti-Chinese dimension of the Quad, the abrogation of Article 370 and Indian claims to Aksai Chin to Indian infrastructure development particularly the 244 km strategic Darbuk, Shyok, Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) road which,ostensibly, India’s renewed claim of POJK&L threatensthe China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The PLA follows a policy of ‘intimidate and dominate’, an attempt to subdue the enemy without battle- with over a hundred yearly transgressions of the LAC. In the past China has achieved its objectives by stealth- first occupying territory, thenfollowing up with coercive diplomacy allowing it to keep most of its gains- a two–step forward, one–step backwards approach. Between 1993-2006, appeasing governments have acquiesced to China’s territory grab of 645 square kilometres.President Xi Jinping (2012+) has modernized the military, elevated its capabilities and rationalized itsstructure. Not long ago, President Xi asked PLA commanders to sharpen their ability ‘to win a regional war’.
China subverts our democracy and polity, encouraging Maoists, Naxalites, ULFA and other seditious movements against the Indian state. Recently it brought up ‘Kashmir’ at the Security Council.On Indian territory occupied in Kashmir, it has built the Karakorum Highway part of the CPEC, going down to the port of Gwadar in the Arabian sea which it has developed. The massive investment in the CPEC and the cheap supply of both military and nuclear hardware and technology,has reduced a vengeful Pakistan, to the status of a satellite, part of the ‘string of pearls’ to encircle Indiaby land and sea. Supported by a powerful navy, it now has a naval presence in both Yangon and Sri Lanka.Itrecently persuaded Nepal’s PM to amend the Constitution to include ‘Indian enroached territories’, presenting these demands to the United Nations. China has used its financial clout to reduce India’s influenceelsewhere too. Iran is now in China’s economic orbit with a promised investment of $400 billion over 25 years. Strategically placed Djibouti will soon have a full-fledged Chinese military base with a promised investment of $8 billion.
It is said that dealing with China is like trying to wake someone pretending to be asleep. An unsettled border supports expansionism. Resources used elsewhere for building a stronger navy to counter it, are wasted in our northern areas.China’s actions are inimical to our economic interests, our soverignty and our pride. We are in a conflict which will last a long time. Aware of China’s predilections, PM Modi made a herculian effort to win over President Xi Jinping but this naturallyproved futile. The gloves were off when he refused to bow down at Doklam. In these circumstances, how should India protect its water resources, its economy and integrity and deal with a bully of such epic proportions, a persistent thorn on our side?
China’s objectives in the north are evidently paramount, being prepared to risk the wrath of 1.3 billion Indians and jeapordise what to them is the last great market in the world and key investment destination.A nuanced economic decoupling from China is eminently useful if only to remove/reduce the yearly trade deficit of US$50-60 billion, the amount spent by China on the CPEC. But neither economic disengagement nor indeed an enlarged economic association is likely to remove this deeply antagonistic relationship. Could we put pressure on China through our old friend Russia? Sadly, the sanctions that followed Obama’s actions in Ukraineand the Russian reaction, has pushed it into China’s economic and political orbit, losing us a staunch and dependable ally. PM Modi, sensing this and anyway, has spectacularly forged a strategic friendship with the US on all levels increasing our strength quotient. Thisrelationship has enabled closer linkups with Japan and Australia, resulting in the strategic grouping of the Quad.
However, neither ‘world opinion’ nor an over extended USA (and the Quad), distracted by the pandemic, in an adversarial relationship with both China and Russia, isof help either in an extended conflict or a future situation of intimidation. This is worrying as China’s arsenal and capabilities are a real cause for concern. Whilst India has been promised advanced military equipment it can only develop into a ‘geo-political counterbalance’ following ‘Fifth Generation’ weapons and military technology transfer, raising India to a level of ‘Defence Partner.’ This should be the main thrust of India’s foreign policy–to give us security through deterrence capability and enable a focus on the less problematic conventional threat. Given the lay of the land, this requirement is vital and immediate and the US election gives us the opportunity to persuadePresident Trump of it?!
In the long run, for India’s survival as a democracy and for the realization of its defence and foreign policy goals, a fast growing and vibrant economy with a growth rate of 7-9 % over the next few decades, is critical. The present crisis presents a once in a life time opportunity to correct the mistakes of the past, taking bold decisions to reinvent ourselves and usher in reforms in areas of most challenge- Agriculture and Labour policy for example and to make India the most desired destination for investment. It is the right time tosmoothenthe path to the very real alignment to of our economy with the US, Quad, the EU and some fast-developing countries. However, key to our future strength is an increase in the defence budget from the woefully inadequate 1.65% to 5% of an increasing GDP.
In the very short term, the PLA, smug in its entrenched positions, conducts prolonged talks at the Corps Commander level to lull India into a dangerous complacency. During these months, we have seen a further build-up of PLA troops together with attempts atenroachments! Coincidentally, on 15 July 1962, after the PLA moved into Galwan, it promised withdrawal. Aggression followed weeks later! It is probable that the PLA will use force to usurp territory in the very near future. The question really is – if we do not take an aggressive military stand, are we prepared to be tormented and coerced for decades to come, losing territory from time to time and, at best, ending up as a second–rate power? But can we win such an engagement which experts believe would be a conventional war? To our advantage is the ratio of troops required to impede an assault-1:9 for mountain warfare (1:3 in the ‘plains’ areas of the mountains). ‘Victory’ in such an engagement only requires a stalemate following a robust defence and/or opening other fronts. The Indian army’s superiority in mountain warfare was revealed in a successful encounter with the PLA by Lt. General Sagat Singh. And it was evidentsubsequently in both Saichen and Kargil, the latter providing experience and confidence for mountain sortees to the Indian Air Force which is easily a match for the PLAAF. I am not an expert in matters military but I have been informed by those I believe to be reliable, that our top brass is quietly confident of a successful defence, if necessary, on two fronts! Whilst military strategy is the realm of the armed forces, it appears that the time has come to follow Guru GobindSingh who exhorted the Khalsa ‘When all else has failed, it is time to draw the sword.’
These critical initiatives and actions become meaningless unless we have the heart and mind to fight and the will to win, the ‘will to prepare’(Jumo Ikangaa) being eminently useful! This idea is reflected in Napoleon’s comment that there are ‘two powers in the world-the sword and the mind. In the long run the sword is always beaten by the mind.’ Whilst the resolve and spirit of the Indian soldier is quite evident, there has been a‘softness’ prevalent in India’s polity, a mentality conditioned by long subjugation. The 1962 defeat reinforced a feeling of inferiority causing disproportionate awe. A colonial mindset resulting in (an endearing aspect of our character) of appreciating the others interests and viewpoint before our own, adds further passivity. The political class has shunneddifficult decisions requiring risk and action – they are content and adept at squabbling on every domestic issue. We have suffered from the ‘not a blade of grass grows there’ syndrome,a reluctance to build border infrastructure, a focus on a less worrisome Pakistan, an undue concentration on diplomacy and an ostrich like hope that the LAC could be the base for a final settlement. The result has been an appeasingly paralysed political establishment believing defeat or catastrophe as inevitable.In the past, the PLA wereaware that, after initial protests, the government would inevitably climb down. Between 1993 and 2006, India lost 645 sq. km. of territory in this way. This fright and fearfulness is reflected in some sections of our media. It is not always what newscasters say but in the way they do so that suggests a defeated psyche. Declaring that the LAC as not ‘permanent’ plays into China’s narrative and objectives. It is time to realize that the raison d’étre of our China policy cannot simply be one of accommodation- governed by our concerns not to give offence! This makes for a bolder and contemptuous adversary prone to even greater aggression on all fronts.
What is required is that as soon as or indeed before the PLA enters what is perceived to be Indian territory, we grasp the opportunity and show our mettle. It is time to bite the tiger on its teeth. Sadly, I have heard few voices for strong, all-out military action. In a conventional war, victory is not about the strength of the economy or indeed about a higher per capita income or the size of the armed forces-1962 is an apt example when China, at the same level of economic development, had simply planned and prepared better. It is a more to do with how and where force is concentrated and the morale and quality of the forces. Given this existential problem with a relentless foe and a protracted conflict that willfollow, leadership of an altogether different dimension is vital- which creates and conveysan appreciation of the country’s destiny and rallies our countrymen.As Clauswitz describes this quality. ‘… as the moral forces in one individual after another become prostrated, the whole inertia of the mass rests on the Will of the Commander, by the spark in his breast, by the light of his spirit, the spark of purpose, the light of hope, must be kindled afresh in others’ (Barnett).
Happily, there is a fine example of awe–inspiring grit and resoluteness from our own history that may profitably be emulated. Inspired by Guru Gobind Singh, the charismatic Jassa Singh Ahluwalia (1718-1783) rallied the people of Punjab when a fatalistic pessimism, not unlike the present times, became the order of the day. Fighting against insurmountable odds, he combined a self–belief with a sound military organization, a bold and unconventional strategy and quick–witted opportunism, to defeat Abdali, the greatest conqueror of his time. In doing so he won freedom and soverignty for Punjab after centuries of subjugation. In the process, the Sikhs conquered Lahore, Sirhind and Delhi. What are the lessons for India? Jassa Singh Ahluwalia’s life teaches us the importance of removing any psychological barriers that weaken us. We learn that success comes from a clear vision, focus on key goal(s), equanimity in the face of crisis, dogged and determined action and a ruthless will. We also learn not to take short cuts. Ahmad Shah Abdali had offered Jassa Singh the rulership of Punjab in his name. Jassa Singh unhesitatingly refused and defeated him subsequently. Finally, we learn that for grand success a deep love for the motherland, any pain inflicted on which is dealt with in the severest possible manner.
It is heartening to see the beginnings of a changed mindset. The deployment of a formidable force along the LAC fully equipped for battle together with all our frontline fighter jets and attack helicopters indicatesgrand resolve. Recently the Indian Army took the initiativeoccupying the heights south of Pangong Tsooverlooking Rechin La, one of the key ingress routes into Ladakh. Playing the Chinese game, the PLA wasurged to ‘discipline and control’ their troops!
Taking advantage of the post pandemic mood, PM has galvanized International opinion against our foe. The bold actions/decisions taken at Doklam, Article 370/Kashmir, the raid on Balakot and the spirited defence at Galwan have created a respect and confidence among the USA and other potential allies. Aiming to increase our manufacturing base from 17% to 25% by 2030, the PM is making a heroic effort to revive the economy increasing the ‘made in India’ and atmanirbhar component. A long list of items ranging from radars, sonars, artillery guns, missiles, destroyers, communication satellites etc. will now be manufactured in India. Defence projects are being fast tracked–precision guided munitions and ant-tank missiles, and arming our UAV’s with laser guided bombs for example. A slew of measures to reduce the trade deficit with China and to restrict Chinese companies show further intent and give the message that trade and investment cannot co-exist with aggression. There are also indications of an increasingly responsive administration. In a recent Whartr on webinar I heard Tarun Sawhney who spoke of the UP government’s overnight decisions to enable convert distillery capacities to sanitizer plants. Ashok Saighal (CII)too waxed eloquent on the government’s acceptance of suggestions to improve industry.
There is cause for optimismin the increased hostilityagainst an arrogant, overconfident country which has border/water issues with 18 of its neighbors andterritorial claims becoming increasingly bizzare, the latest being Vladivostok.But we all know that the trauma of military defeat can only be overcome by military victory over the same opponent. China is correctly admired for its strength, but incorrectlyfearedfor its invincibility. India has to fully prove to itself just as it has to prove to China and the rest of the world that it is capable of taking bold decisions and strong actions. It is time for PM to take his countrymen into confidence and prepare them for the conflict that will inevitably follow. It is time to get even for 1962,and to avenge Galwan and let the sheer grit and dogged resistance of the Bihar Regiment and the personal bravery of Gurtej Singh, inspire us to do so. It is also time to stop the blame game and give absolute support to the PM in this hour of crisis. A successful encounter with China is the final litmus test for Indians to feel whole and complete.Even if such a conflict results in stalemate, it will help overcome our trauma and leadIndia on the way to an invincible confidence reflected in chardi kala, an exuberant optimism and high spiritdtness and a belief in ourselves. Indeed, it was Deng Xiaoping who once said that ‘should China one day become a super power that bullies, invades and exploits people everywhere, then the world should expose it, oppose it and defeat it’.