22 May 2024 08:51 PM


Kuldip Nayar | 3 OCTOBER, 2014

Confused Signals

Warm or cold?

My hunch is that Gujarat’s map of India showing Arunachal Pradesh with dotted lines, suggesting a disputed territory, was at the instance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Gujarat is his backyard and he can have anything done there. Even the contradiction was half-hearted and left to further “investigation.”

What Modi probably tried to convey to the visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping was that he was willing to keep Arunachal Pradesh as a disputed territory provided there was an indication by Beijing that it was willing to settle the border dispute keeping New Delhi’s sensibility as well as sensitivity in view. The standoff in Ladakh holds no such hope.

President Xi’s response was not helpful and he sustained the incursions in the Indian territories during his entire visit. And after returning to Beijing, the Chinese President has reportedly told his top military officials that they should be ready for regional wars which he contended must be won. It was all directed towards New Delhi which, for reasons best known to it, did not say a word to register its annoyance. It was a stance which the subject nations take against their masters.

What surprised me was why we invited the Chinese President when Beijing has made no amends for the betrayal in 1962 when it attacked the unprepared India. Nor has it vacated the territory which it forcibly captured since then. The Ministry of External Affairs should have tested waters before Xi’s visit.

The various steps China has taken since, from the stapling of visa on passport to amassing PLA soldiers in Gilgit-Baltistan, should make things clear for New Delhi—a plethora of irritations. However, it would be naïve to play into the hands of China as India did in 1962. A sense of growing strength has given Beijing a measure of superiority. It is crudely exhibiting it, particularly when India looks disorderly and divided.

More of concern for New Delhi is that Beijing is an emerging power in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal, the countries surrounding India. New Delhi should also reach out to Taiwan, Vietnam and other south Asian countries which are feeling the assertiveness of China. And Beijing should be made to realize that India has accepted China’s suzerainty over Tibet but not the demographic change or the ruthless repression in that territory. The Dalai Lama is already feeling restive and edgy.

Jawaharlal Nehru warned India as back as in 1962 thus: “It is a little naïve to think that the trouble with China was essentially due to a dispute over some territory. It had deeper reasons. Two of the largest countries in Asia confronted each other over a vast border. They differed in many ways. And the test was as to whether anyone of them would have a more dominating position than the other on the border and in Asia itself.”

I mean no disrespect to the Chinese President. But his visit was doomed to be a failure. Investment is at best palliative to the hurt caused on the border. I have not been able to understand, much less appreciate, the purpose of the visit from our point of view.

In fact, China’s incursions in Ladakh when the President and Prime Minister were talking in Delhi, underlined the intractable stance on the border. That China would invest $20 billion (the initial figure was $100 billion) in India suits Beijing because it wants to increase trade with New Delhi which offers a vast market and other opportunities. But what about the basic requirement: trust. Nehru introduced to Chinese leader Zhou Enlai to the world. He looked up to Nehru but that was till he got known in the international arena. Zhou Enlai betrayed Nehru when China took advantage of our trust—and unpreparedness.

I do not think that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would ever have as much equation with the Chinese President as Nehru had with Zhou Enlai. Still, the latter carried out the task he had in mind, capturing in Ladakh the area which China claimed to be its own. In fact, the incursions in our territory that took place during the talks between Modi and Jinping underlined that China does not want to accommodate India on the border issue.

I do not find the determination at the highest level. There is a lot of wishful thinking. What purpose does it serve in discussing whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi had the better of China or President Jinping on the border issue when the reality of our society is the caste and class? The dalits are still treated as untouchable as our forefathers did. Today’s youth is indifferent to everything else but not to the feeling of superiority which he seems to feel as his birthright.

Eleven children, all cousins belonging to a dalit family, were ousted from a government primary school in a village in Bikaner, Rajasthan, after two of them drank water from an earthen pot meant for an upper caste teacher. He reportedly humiliated the two students and even beat them up. True, the teacher, Mangal Singh, was arrested after the family lodged a police complaint against him. But the society on the whole remains unreceptive. Prime Minister Modi talks about development. What kind of development does he have in mind where the caste bias is sustained? To some extent, the class and caste seem to coincide.

Coming back to the disputed part of India-China border, the matter has got more complicated after the visit of President Jinping. For example, the Chinese troops which entered the Indian territory not only stayed there but also increased their strength. They have reportedly now withdrawn from the place. But Beijing has made it loud and clear that India should stay from the disputed territory.