Road to Hell?

The 6th round of Commander-level talk between India and China, over the disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh was over on September 21, without sending any clear message that they would be able to clinch a deal, even partially, anytime soon. The British colonialists can not escape the blame for India's continuing border face-off in Ladakh, says Kyle J Gardner, author of his forthcoming book, 'The Frontier Complex, Geopolitics and the Making of India-China Border , 1846-1962'. As per Kyle's assertion and observation, the territorial claims of both India and China rest on faulty maps prepared by the British colonial officers. In truth Indian rulers didn't inherit a demarcated border in the north, thanks to inefficiency of British cartographers. In reality LAC is vague, undefined. Unless both sides agree to honour the 'LINE', peace can't return to the region. With China growing both militarily and economically, in leaps and bounds, they think it is their divine right to claim territories which were lost or remained disputed because of weakness of the old Chinese regimes. Even the Kuomintang government didn't accept India's version of boundary and the Shimla agreement. As for Aksai Chin, it was the fault of Henri McMahon, of McMahon Line fame, for the present day dispute. Kyle in his forthcoming book says, '…the series of proposed lines ( Johnson and Macartiney-Mac Donald Lines) and borderless maps India inherited from the British reflected limited, better to say negligible, surveying and a faulty belief that the edge of the Indus watershed aligned with a clear ring of mountains'. The tragic incident in which 20 Indian soldiers died is the manifestation of the absence of agreed maps. LAC is not bounding on them, it is liable to shift , depending of the military ability of each side to occupy 'no-man's land and control it'. It has been happening since 1962. If they don't agree to prepare agreeable maps basing on scientific methods, no amount of allegation and counter-allegation can resolve the impasse. There is a reason no one ever, permanently occupied it—Aksai Chin. So says Kyle J Gardner in his book. The sketchy maps rotting in British archives can hardly move the stone rolling.

Russia too had border disputes with China because of hazy maps, in places border lines were drawn by wood pencil, left by the Czarist empires. But Moscow and Beijing settled the matter amicably when Gorbachev accepted the midcourse of Usuri River as the permanent boundary. Before the settlement Beijing Radio used to describe Russia (former Soviet Union) as social imperialist. After Gorbachev's calculated benevolence, he became a 'comrade' in the Chinese media.

Meanwhile, people in the north eastern states of India are passing through tense moments due to recurring military stand-off all along the LAC. The situation is nowhere as grave as in Arunachal Pradesh. China never recognised India's sovereignty over Arunachal, albeit the state regularly sends elected members to parliament. Many think China may over- run Arunachal border any day if they so wish as India are in disadvantageous position in terms of logistics. Before 1962 Indian side didn't even patrol the area properly. Patrolling and vigilance started with all seriousness after the 1962 border war and India's acceptance of America's presence in defence matters to contain 'communist' China. Despite India's inclination towards Moscow, Washington agreed to restrict Chinese 'communism' in the region. At that time China was billed as a potential communist threat to the so-called free world. Today, however, Chinese capitalism is a bigger threat to the so-called free world! And in India communists were divided over how to 'theorise' the Chinese adventure or misadventure.

While CPI, Dangeites to be precise, lost no time to describe China as aggressor, CPM, otherwise too clever by half, managed to retain its semi-revolutionary status by remaining non-committal because 'they were unable to state anything clearly because it was happening in the Himalayan wilderness at high altitudes.' India's north-east is an ethnic cauldron. Once Christian Missionaries tried to exploit the grievances of ethnic people. Then China began to support ethnic insurgencies overtly as well as covertly, particularly after the 1962 border war, to keep India on toes. India has so far failed to tame dozens of insurgent groups roaming across the difficult hilly terrain.

One of the oldest insurgencies in NORTH EAST is NAGA INSURGENCY, presently represented by NSCN (IM). This powerful outfit has recently outlined their separate flag and constitution and want to be part of final pact with the Centre, under the 'Framework Agreement' signed between the Centre and Naga insurgents in the presence of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in New Delhi in 2015.. It remains to be seen how the Sultans in Delhi react to the idea of Naga Republic's separate flag and constitution. In other words it means one country, two constitutions!

For one thing India-China friendship culture, rather people to people relationship, never took roots, despite euphoria over sideline diplomacy. If a cordial atmosphere, conducive to building mutual trust is not created, jingoists will laugh the last laugh, only to compound the agony of ordinary people.

Vol. 53, No. 15, Oct 11 - 17, 2020