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Vajpayee took journalists, analysts to Kargil frontlines. In 2020, Modi can’t even say ‘China’

In 1999, the government allowed the world to see Pakistan’s Kargil invasion and the Indian army's resolve. But Narendra Modi has reversed gears on transparency.

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The Cheetah looked like a dragonfly as it approached the helipad, mid-day thermals giving it a wobble in the air. The helipad in Drass was busy, extremely active, because heavy brass flew in just days after Tololing had been retaken on 11/12 June 1999. This was so soon after the breakthrough at Tololing that fatigue was still visible in the eyes of the victorious soldiers who occupied the heights. Chief of Army Staff Gen V.P. Malik, had already landed, as had his Director General of Military Operations, Lt Gen N.C. Vij, later to become COAS. So, it was strange to see another Cheetah approaching the Drass helipad when the biggest names in the Army were already on ground.

I asked a young Captain, possibly the helipad security officer, whose arrival it could be? “Oh, it’s a US Senator coming to see for himself and prepare a report about Pakistan Army’s intrusions,” the Captain explained. That would have been a significant scoop, so local enquiries began in order to get the name correct before any information was shared. It wasn’t a US Senator after all, but someone undoubtedly significant, and deeply reflective of how the Government of India at the time handled information in the face of large scale intrusions.

The passenger being ferried to Drass was the doughty Yossef Bodansky, Director of the US Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. He had earlier been a senior consultant for the U.S. Department of Defence and Department of State, and was also a World Terrorism Analyst with the Freeman Centre for Strategic Studies, Houston. In that tough decade of the 1990s for Indian policymakers, he was one of the few US analysts with an explicitly anti-Pakistan, ISI and jihad agenda. His article in the middle of the 1995 Al-Faran kidnapping of western trekkers from Kashmir was the first that exposed the new group to be a cover for already-existing Pakistan-based terror groups. He was a known favourite in Army Headquarters and the Ministry of External Affairs.

Also read: ‘Words need to turn into action’ — soldiers not impressed by China peace talk with Jaishankar

A more transparent time

In 1999, it made perfect sense to fly in Bodansky to show him the Pakistan Army’s Kargil intrusions, India’s resolve, and the Army’s spirit in evicting the intruders. Scores of Indian journalists were already in the battle zone, many cutting their teeth on defence reporting for the first time. There may have been other visitors like Yossef Bodansky, as the Government of India had the confidence to open the combat area, in a policy of information overkill.

The climate during Bodansky’s visit is a far cry from the largest intrusions confronting India since then, because China has now occupied roughly 1,000 sq km of Indian territory in the summer of 2020. Even though resources were fewer in 1999, and operational challenges just as severe as in 2020, Indian institutions had responded in a remarkably contrasting manner. Transparency was the order of the day in 1999, even when a relatively smaller neighbour had hoodwinked India. In 2020, as technology has opened up enormous resources for information dissemination, the Narendra Modi led government has reversed gears on straightforwardness, in the face of its biggest neighbour.

In 1999, Yossef Bodansky was, in essence, a lonesome cowboy following the anti-Pakistan trail. But in 2020, there is a whole posse of anti-China writers, analysts, politicos, and journalists worldwide. Each one would have completed a coronavirus quarantine many times over in the five months that the Ladakh crisis has been brewing. Before allowing foreign visitors, access should have been given to journalists in India, for there is no substitute to live coverage from a combat zone, even if the story is for print.

The Directorate General of Military Intelligence gave The Indian Express permission in 1995 to report on forward positions along the Line of Control (LoC). A photographer was also permitted with access everywhere except the Khamb Fort, which is one of the unique posts on the LoC. That series of stories was the first of its kind, especially given that the ceasefire on the LoC was almost a decade away. Insurgent encounters were a regular affair in Kashmir, just as they were in Nagaland. And yet, Army headquarters had no qualms in permitting and encouraging journalists from undertaking risky ventures, and the Ministry of External Affairs had no reservation in facilitating foreign visitors.

Also read: The ultimate goal of Rajnath Singh, Jaishankar’s Russia visit — move Moscow away from Beijing

Denial about China

Openness of information played a vital role then and could perform a similar function in 2020. But for that, the Modi government has to first have confidence in its institutions. When the Ministry of Defence uploads a routine summarising document and then removes it hours later, the message is obviously one of being at unease with reality.

Information suppression, or plain denial, like in a totalitarian State, doesn’t change facts on the ground. Even if Prime Minister Narendra Modi denies it, local BJP officials in Ladakh have confirmed Chinese intrusions. Modi could take a leaf from former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in terms of explicitness, who had no hesitation in naming and shaming Pakistan. Transparency begins when the incumbent is willing to say: China.

The author is a Congress leader and Editor-in-Chief of Defence & Security Alert. Views are personal.

Also read: Pakistan has made tremendous effort & sacrifices to fight terrorism, claims China


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  1. By same logic why did previously Indian government didn’t take foreign emissaries in 1948, 1962?
    Then in 2012, also China entered in Ladakh. The ruling party had tie up with Chinese communist party. Neither foreign emissaries were taken nor political help from partner party was sought.
    Now in 2020, suddenly Vajpayee doctrine is sought. That’s strange. By the way did Kargil battle ended due to visit by foreign emissaries? Did Pakistan army left Kargil hills in the aftermath of those visits? And the answer is big no. Indian military had to fight to regain occupied region.
    If someone thinks that China will be worried about foreign pressure like Pakistan then they are living in fool’s paradise. Pakistan is heavily dependent on foreign aid & so any adverse breach of laws could jeopardize this aid flow. So in this regard Vajpayee doctrine was perhaps right step though eventually it didn’t give expected success. But China it is least worried about foreign aid.

  2. The “open door” policy of the 1999 led to inexperienced and over-exhuberant journalists giving away precise locations where officer’s where hold up. This informed Pakistani artillery fire and high officer casualty. It is good that the defense establishment has learnt from their mistakes.

  3. Back then some of the jounalists were still practicing fair journalism, now all we see is the communist dogs in the mask of journalists singing china tunes and it won’t be surprising if some of these dogs will leak the strategic locations of the Indian army to Chinese . It is a good strategy by the Indian government to keep the media clowns away from the border.

  4. The problem is that Modi’s foreign policy is driven by his domestic policy. So admitting that ther Chinses have stolen our land will be like admitting that Xi made a Pappu out of him, and that the 56-inch chest was in fact all gas!!

  5. China is a much stronger power and Modi needs to deal with it differently. Its like comparing.. ..dumplings to karachi chai..

  6. Modi has handled this crises well,india has now uppar hand in many places in laddakh,Congress supporter can do the best thing for the country by bringing change in leadership of congresss instead of poking nose in matter of national security.

  7. It is so hilarious to take Congress leaders now looking upto Vajpayee who during yesteryears was a threat to Indian ethos and a Sanghi ! Ideologically deprived and logically crippled leaders should know how to present a far stronger argument rather than using the support of an opposition leader whom they used to wrongly criticise back then for a lot of things ! This fox like attitude is deplorable. Also, the author shoulf remember the opposition themselves didn’t question if Pakistan had come inside unlike now when they questioned everything from Balakot to surgical strikes and some even shamelessly questioned 26/11 ! Keep thy holiness unto thyself !

  8. Pray tell us what the Chinese Intrusions are? If they are in a disputed area that would not be intrusion. Let us make the distinction.

  9. Why should the govt. should allow journos there? To pass on Indian army’s tactics to Enemy like Mumbai attacks.They say most of the liberal press in the world are in collusion with CCP.

  10. With situation so dynamic is it possible to allow journalist to take at all these locations.
    We might ve lost ground on North but gained ground on south Pangong Tso. Writer conveniently forgets that. Unlike Kargil now there is unconventional close quarter combat at multiple fronts. It is the job of army to safe guard our borders not to take journalists to combat zones.

  11. Anything to degdra de or criticize India would immediately find place in your journal. There is no credit in sharing information with nosey media. India may be doing what all countries do in like circumstances. Disclosure for the sake of openness has never been recommended when you are fighting for your country.

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