The Tawang Trajectory

After Rahul Gandhi it was the turn of Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and Congress President to grill Modi and his government on China’s recent ‘provocation’ along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).The alleged incursion bid on December 9 triggered several face-offs. As per an official statement issued by a spokesperson from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) the Chinese have been coming increasingly deeper into Indian territory for quite some time with the aim of stalking claim to disputed areas. For India the ITBP is the first line of defence along the 3,488 km India-China border of which 1,346 km falls in the eastern sector where both sides are trying to define –or redefine–the contentious LAC according to their own perceptions. The very idea of creating ITBP was ostensibly to emphasise India’s historic relations with Tibet, not China. So long as it was Tibet there was no border problem, it all started when Tibet became fully integrated with communist China under Mao. The latest clash between PLA and Indian troops at 17,000 feet in Yangtsee, 35 km northeast of Tawang in western Arunachal Pradesh, injured 15 to 20 Indian soldiers. The ground reality is that China has not budged an inch from its stated 1962 position on the Himalayan boundary. Unless it gets its objective achieved through diplomatic means or otherwise LAC will remain volatile and supercharged for years to come. The Gandhis are wondering why Modi was not criticised in the media for his silence on Tawang. In truth Rahul Gandhi these days looks so jingoistic that he says war with China is imminent. Whether his jingoism can fetch votes in the coming parliamentary polls in 2024 is anybody’s guess. After the Galwan valley conflict of June 2020 that killed 20 Indian soldiers and at least 4 Chinese troopers the Tawang incident damaged India-China bilateral relations further at a time when military hysteria seems to have gripped Europe because of bloody war scenario in Ukraine. But the surrealistic aspect of ‘Tawang game’ is no less interesting: “The Chinese troops used loudspeakers to play songs of Mohammad Rafi and Lata Mangeskar to keep Indian soldiers in good humour and get them to leave Chinese posts”.

It is no secret that both sides have speeded up defence build-ups in their respective areas of occupation. And in this rat race China is far ahead of India because they have been doing it since the fifties even when Indian authorities were not aware of China’s logistics-related activities in the region. For India it is now too late to reclaim ‘lost’ territory though that territory was never administered by Indian officials. Indian Security establishment dubbed the Tawang episode as the ‘brazen provocation’ along LAC. ‘Provocation’ it was but India’s joint military drill with America near LAC might have tempted China to call spade a spade. This exercise close to LAC was deliberate, leading to escalation of tensions. The Government of India in the next five years will build a new highway in Arunachal Pradesh that will run near the India-Tibet-China-Myanmar border. At some locations the frontier highway will be as close as 20km from the international border. This is the longest national highway that the Centre has notified in one go in recent times.

India’s Tibet policy is anything but diabolical since the beginning. It is more like America’s Taiwan policy. Washington accepts one China policy while continually arming Taiwan militarily and economically and treating it as an independent entity. Not that India disputes China’s suzerainty over Tibet and yet the Dalai Lama government in exile is allowed to function from Shimla though they are not permitted to do anything anti-Chinese publicly. It is an attempt to legalise a legacy that doesn’t stand the test of international law.

The Tibetan tragedy has no parallel in history. Today, for all practical purposes it is an internal colony of China. The red mandarins in Beijing have allegedly changed the demographic pattern of Tibet in such a way that Tibetans are a minority community people in their own homeland–Han domination is everywhere. Despite China’s imperial control over Lasha, rather loose and limited control, the lamacacy of Tibet had all along maintained a kind of semi-independent status through ages. That status ended when Mao’s PLA entered Tibet and abolished the Lama authority. New Delhi wants a return to the pre-occupation state which is next to impossible unless Tibetans themselves rise in revolt.

For one thing communists who are so fond of quoting Lenin to substantiate Ukrainians’ right to self-determination fail to see reason in Tibetans’ demand of self-determination to the point of cessation. The so-called autonomy in the form of Tibetan autonomous region is sham. The international community that is so vocal about China’s violation of human rights, has nothing to say about the plight of Tibetans and Tibetan refugees living in different countries, like Palestinians. But the Palestinians are lucky in the sense that they get international audience and recognition.


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Vol 55, No. 27, Jan 1 - 7, 2023