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Representative image|Photo credit: AFP
Write-In

Mea Culpa Syndrome

The trouble with India is that we do not call a spade a spade when it comes to China

TP Sreenivasan

TP Sreenivasan

The tradition in India formed through the teachings of ancient wisdom is to face situations boldly and act according to your conscience and perform your duty.

The consequences of such actions, good or bad, will remain with you in determining your future and even your reincarnation.

The Gita has taught us that there is no place in our tradition for unending soul searching before action and repentance afterwards to seek forgiveness and salvation.

But in the case of China, every aggressive step that it takes prompts us to do more soul searching on our part to see where we went wrong rather than put the blame squarely on China.

The trouble with India is that we do not call a spade a spade when it comes to China. We prefer to call it many other names in the expectation that China will understand our restraint and change its behavior.

We blame ourselves for every act of Chinese perfidy, find a sacrificial scapegoat and read Confucius to get to know the Chinese mind better. The fault is ours that we do not know China enough and the answer is to have more summits in exotic places, more border meetings, more encounters with the wolf warriors and maintain peace and tranquility on the border even when our land is in the dragon’s belly.

Self-flagellation appears to be a national sport.

Pandit Nehru and Krishna Menon are the villains of the Chinese aggression in 1962. Didn’t they insist that the McMahon line should be the international border? Didn’t they persuade the Dalai Lama to seek refuge in India? Did they not fail to see the signals from China that it would go to any extent to grab land? Did they not visualise a powerful India leading Asia and the world, thereby dashing the hopes of Chinese imperialism? Why did they not build up military power and improve infrastructure on the borders even when we were feeding ourselves with PL 480 wheat?

These are questions that India is asking itself while China continues to occupy our land and preaches “Panchsheel” and pledges peace and prosperity for all. We lap up books like ‘India’s China War’ and take the blame on ourselves for the disaster of 1962.

The story continued as we faced Depsang, Chumar and Doklam. Instead of outright condemnation of the violations of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) by the Chinese, we began soul searching and criticising our own government for not revealing our strategy and tactics to meet the aggression.

As one of our experts, with hands-on experience, Shivshankar Menon stated, China took two steps each time, we negotiated their withdrawal of one step by them, leaving them in occupation of their first step. No details were given as to how we withdrew reciprocally if we had not stepped forward.

This is particularly relevant in Doklam as it is known that China has not really withdrawn from the area and it has fortified its position substantially.

The net result is that we have lost territory we consider ours each time even if not a blade of grass grows in these lands, as Pandit Nehru observed.

The interminable border talks are patently a Chinese ploy to keep the border undetermined and un-demarcated to leave the LAC open to incursions at will.

We know nothing beyond the innumerable meetings of the Special Representatives and we proclaim to the world that not a shot has been fired for forty years. Tensions and incursions on the border are as dangerous as firing because our forces deployed along the LAC remain on tenterhooks without the option of fighting.

Maintaining the myth of peace and tranquility on LAC is playing into the hands of China. This has been demonstrated very clearly during the latest stand-off.

When the news of the latest incursion in the Galwan River Valley and other areas came, the country should have condemned the action, regardless of the justification that China offered through the ‘Global Times’.

Instead, we began blaming each other for not knowing Chinese sensitivities and concerns. The clamour was more for transparency in the Indian position rather than to expose the Chinese tactics.

A China expert accused India of not reading the Chinese signals properly!

There is no doubt that there has been a qualitative change in the Chinese action in multiple locations on the LAC, which has serious implications for India-China relations. Only when both sides said that they were willing to solve the problem by peaceful military and diplomatic discussions that we knew that there was a problem.

When the Indian Army Chief said that the situation on the border was under control, we should infer that it was not under control till recently. If disengagement had taken place, there must have been engagement before. At a time when Photoshop can generate dinosaurs, video clippings could not be trusted. It seemed that they were not shy of being seen as projecting its power, but we seemed to play down the incident till the loss of lives happened on June 15.

Breaching the LAC in new places and occupying 40 to 60 sq km of Indian land were not meant to be secret.

The tragic loss of lives of more than twenty Indian soldiers came as a great shock to India because we believed that the Chinese would play by the rules of the game. When they agreed to withdraw, we presumed that they would leave peacefully and our team went there only to oversee the withdrawal.

The unkindest cut of all was that the Chinese soldiers came with lethal weapons to “disengage”. By the time our forces arrived, the damage was done and the death of the Chinese soldiers was an inadequate retribution. It was only after the incident that India stated for the first time that India was the first to violate the LAC.

The logic may have been that there was no point in making any accusation if disengagement was agreed to. Such faith in the Chinese was totally misplaced and it came as a revelation to us even after centuries of interaction and most intensive dialogue.

Mercifully, the tragedy of June 15 and 16 led to the withdrawal of the two sides to the original positions and the present episode virtually ended.

What remains is a post-mortem of the events and learning of lessons.

History will repeat itself after another round of unending border talks and even a summit meeting, while our China experts pore over Confucius and find that all the fault is in us and declare “Mea Culpa!”

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