India and China are locked in a stand-off situation in Eastern Ladakh, with both sides bringing in troops and heavy weapons including artillery guns and infantry combat vehicles. Parallels are being drawn with the Doklam stand-off in 2017, amidst heightened tensions between the two Asian giants.
Such stand-off like situations have increased under Prime Minister Modi’s tenure, but what has taken a backseat is the Chinese land grab of the kind that happened in 2013 when People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops came in as deep as 18-19 kilometres into Indian territory. Though the Centre never admitted it, but the Shyam Saran report made the chilling revelation that India had lost 640 sq km of land due to “area denial” set by PLA patrolling.
The PLA soldiers prevented Indian soldiers from accessing Rakinala near Daulat Beg-Olde (DBO), where India reactivated world’s highest airstrips in the year 2008. Former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran then visited the region and informed the Manmohan Singh government that PLA had set a new LAC, occupying 640 sq km of Indian territory.
The Congress governments and later the UPA government carried a defeatist China strategy, and never asserted India’s claims, thus avoiding the possibility of a tense stand-off situation. The discussions also revolved around India’s humiliation during the 1962 Sino-India war and not building solid road infrastructure for it would give Chinese troops an easy path in case of another 1962 war-like event.
When the successive Congress regimes themselves played into the hands of Beijing, why would the PLA have upped the ante?
But Prime Minister Modi doesn’t believe in such defeatist mentality, and therefore he has given a major push to strategic roads and solid road infrastructure along the LAC, sending a loud message to China. One of the factors behind the ongoing stand-off in Ladakh is also a road project.
With the Indian troops finding easy access to the LAC, the frequency of India’s border patrols has increased and it has led to the Indian Army and PLA troops facing off each other more often. The differing perceptions of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) particularly in Ladakh further contribute to such face-offs and scuffles.
There are border mechanisms and protocols between India and China to defuse such situations, but when both sides stand their ground, face-offs and scuffles assume the shape of stand-offs.
Under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership, India doesn’t give in to Chinese demands and asseverates its claims every time the troops from the two countries come face-to-face. This is in sharp contrast with the defeatist strategy of the UPA era. During the 21-day Depsang stand-off in 2013, for example, the Manmohan Singh government caved into Beijing’s demand to destroy live in bunkers in the Chumar sector.
On the other hand, the Modi government did not relent during the Doklam stand-off when the Indian Army objected to the Chinese troops entering Bhutan’s territory to build a road. For 73 days, China kept threatening India, but the Modi government didn’t cave in and ultimately the PLA troops had to retreat with a bloody nose.
This time around also, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is believed to have asked the top military brass that there is no need to review key projects along the sensitive areas of the LAC.
China, which already smarting from its Doklam embarrassment hasn’t come to terms with the assertive Indian soldier, and more importantly an assertive New Delhi. What Beijing resorts to is stand-offs, show of strength and empty threats about repeating 1962.
Under the Modi government, the India-China standoffs have increased because land-grabbing and unilateral changes imposed by China have ceased. India asserts its claims strongly and all that China can do is engage the Indian Army in face-offs and stand-offs.