Since early May, there have been numerous reports in media of troop build-up and transgressions by China’s People’s Liberation Army in India’s eastern Ladakh region. Reports have also mentioned physical clashes between Indian and Chinese soldiers, involving stones and sticks.
While some reports are alarming, there are others that have tried to project that all is well in eastern Ladakh.
It is every Indian’s right to know about the developments at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and so, it is important for the Narendra Modi government to tell the nation about the situation.
Shielding behind difference in perception
Defence minister Rajnath Singh, in a recent interview, cited the difference in perception between India and China on the LAC as the reason for the current stand-off. That’s the closest the Modi government has come to explaining the crisis.
Do watch this to get an official understanding of what the situation in Ladakh is. The RM has been cautious and has weighed every word that he speaks https://t.co/NV0tMSlLM9
— Snehesh Alex Philip (@sneheshphilip) June 2, 2020
True, it will be counter-productive to divulge complete information, considering India is trying to resolve the issue through both military and diplomatic talks, but at the same time, the real picture of the situation on the LAC also needs to be made public by the government.
PLA has orders from the top
Military experts have pointed out that the situation in eastern Ladakh is unlike any previous stand-offs witnessed in the region between the two countries.
The current stand-off is spread over a big area and involves a large troop build-up, which includes forward movement of artillery and mechanised columns. This clearly indicates that it is not the work of some tactical commander of the PLA or that of the Western Theatre Command chief.
Chinese President Xi Jinping ought to have given sanction for this large-scale operation, which involves a lot of planning, coordination, and of course, money.
There is Chinese troop build-up in Galwan Valley but the PLA has not crossed the Chinese Claim Line (CCL), which is also the mutually accepted Line of Actual Control.
However, transgressions have taken place in the larger Hot Spring area and the Finger area of Pangong Lake. For India, the LAC in Pangong Lake is Finger 8.
Any construction of bunkers or troop build-up in any area ahead of Finger 8 by the Chinese would be a transgression into territories that India considers is its own. The same also holds true for the larger Hot Springs area.
Those arguing that this is a grey zone and a disputed territory, and not Indian territory, should know that the CCL extends till the foothills of Arunachal Pradesh and to many other parts too. China considers them as disputed territory.
At no place have the Chinese crossed their CCL, but have crossed what we think is the LAC.
In India, the debate on border dispute with China may involve CCL, LAC or the Indian Claim Line, but for the Chinese, it is very clear: they consider the CCL as the LAC.
Someone very senior in the armed forces with years of experience in handling China told me: it is important not to use the term “claim lines” because claim lines are to do with the border, and not the LAC.
And hence, India has in the past always used “different perception of LAC” instead of claim line.
China specialises in salami slicing
Any attempt to project that the PLA is not in Indian territory, but on disputed soil or grey zones, is actually playing into the hands of the Chinese. China wants the world to believe that it is not in Indian territory.
China has, over the years, specialised in salami slicing. In September 2017, then Army chief and current Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat had cautioned that China was silently taking over territory and testing India’s threshold.
The remarks came just days after India and China had managed to disengage at Doklam, in Bhutan.
“Salami slicing, taking over territory in a very gradual manner, testing our limits of threshold is something we have to be wary about and remain prepared for situations emerging, which could gradually emerge into conflict…,” Rawat had said.
This is exactly what the fear is. With the Modi government silent and a push by many to portray that no transgressions have happened, the Chinese will get away with what they want.
So, it is important for the government to speak out and set the record straight.
Views are personal.