MEA letting the military carry the can for the Chinese-occupation of Indian territory on LAC

ANI on Twitter: "EAM S. Jaishankar, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman,  Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, Army Chief General Manoj Mukund  Naravane, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh & Indian
[Jaishankar and CDS, Gen. Rawat]

It was a very clever political move that foreign minister S Jaishankar pulled yesterday by instructing the MEA spokesperson publicly to differ with the Chief of the Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and the military on the worrisome matter of “dual use” Chinese habitations that have sprung up on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Based, presumably, on photo imagery correlated with digitised terrain mapping data available to the US government, the Pentagon in its 2021 annual report to the US Congress on Chinese military power stated categorically that several of these modern hamlets have recently been put up by the PLA on the Indian side of the claim line.

Instead of waiting for the MEA to pronounce on these “villages” — which issue was bound to be raised Rawat, prompted by the media, rose to the bait and, fell in with the line he thinks is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s position voiced last summer that no Chinese intrusion has taken place anywhere along the LAC. The simple minded General conceded that such buildings had indeed come up. But he suggested these were on the Chinese side of the LAC and were for the purpose of “billeting” the civilians and PLA soldiers posted to the Indian front. The little space he left himself to maneuver out of possible trouble was his qualifying his reference to the LAC with the Indian army’s and government’s “perception” of it. This sort anbiguity has allowed the army and the government to escape accountability for the Indian territory absorbed by China. Except, Modi’s ill-considered remark exonerating China was so laughably wrong he has not repeated it for fear of further damaging his credibility, which fact Rawat had not noted before reacting in the same vein.

But Jaishankar had. With his antennae picking up signals that this issue could become the proverbial political hot potato should the opposition go to town about the Modi regime accepting the Chinese land grab without as much as a squeak, the foreign minister sought deftly to distance himself and his Ministry from Rawat and the military. At his behest, the MEA — assuming it is speaking for Modi and the BJP goverment, not Rawat — immediately contradicted the CDS. Stating that the Chinese had, in fact, violated the LAC and constructed these villages on illegally occupied Indian land, it disclosed it had made a “strong protest against such activities”, as if such protests by a meek and timid India ever register on Beijing. But it left Rawat dangling in the wind.

Such a preemptively defensive MEA statement was considered necessary by Jaishankar because the Pentagon report had also put him in an embarrassing situation by declaring baldly that “these infrastructure development efforts” had occasioned “consternation” in the Modi government, which makes it plain that the GOI, MEA and the Indian army were all aware of the Chinese ingress well inside Indian territory for quite some time. It also reveals that they did not want to publicly complain, convinced that what the Indian people don’t know won’t hurt them, and that making a brouhaha over lost territory would only pressure the Modi government to try futilely to recover the said parcels of land — something the Indian army is not capable of, and hence that it was sensible to say and do nothing! And then Modi’s best friend power, the US, had to go and spoil it.

This was also the logic behind Modi’s original statement in 2020 summer about “koi andar ghus ke NAHI aya hai” and the army’s attempt to misdirect by referring yesterday to a biggish encampment that has emerged in Longju on territory lost in 1959 which does not address the issue of the many other such pucca villages built by the PLA on the Indian side of the LAC since.

What’s not a surprise are the Chinese villages on Indian territory — a result, I said in my 2018 book, of Beijing’s policy of creeping territorial aggrandizement that requires the local PLA and Communist Tibetan authorities to build on newer pieces of Indian land before periodically presenting what’s built and the real estate so annexed as faits accompli that a passive-reactive Indian government and armed forces feel compelled to reconcile to because, well, they can’t do much about it.

What’s more interesting, is the larger game that’s on where the institutional rift opened up between the MEA and the military doesn’t matter all that much. The military by itself being a light weight in intra-governmental politics and power games, Jaishankar’s showing up Rawat on this issue is really to get at the CDS’ patron, his fellow Pauri-Garhwali, the National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval. If Rawat is made to look like a political liability, it will reflect poorly on Doval and proportionately strengthen, Jaishankar hopes, his hand and relative power positioning in Modi’s court.

And that’s the game that’s afoot, Dr Watson!

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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23 Responses to MEA letting the military carry the can for the Chinese-occupation of Indian territory on LAC

  1. Shekhar says:

    Thank you very much Prof Karnad Warm regards

  2. Raj says:

    Rawat is a coward, he was specifically chosen for such purposes.

  3. Tony says:

    Nukes need to be parked in arunachal with one facing three gorges dam , the fight between two is inevitable and preparation in every aspect should be on war footing , the Chinese Han citizenry should be put on course with pakistanis as enemy in terms of indian psyche, but 5.6 inch is mini dictator and will make another trip to char dham in case another incursion takes place so worry not citizens , atleast in Punjab my beloved state there is mass exodus to Canada , see you all there.

  4. Sankar says:

    This goes beyond salami slicing of Indian sovereign territory by the Chinese. There is a provision in the UN charter, that in case of a sovereignty dispute in the border area of two nation-states, the UN can call for a plebiscite of the locals inhabiting that area to decide whose loyalty is there. And depending on the result, the UN will declare which nation the area belongs to – fait accompli for China!

    China has been steadily settling Han Chinese on the Indian border territory as has been pointed out by Claude Arpi for several years now. So the fate is sealed for India in Arunachal. This is brazen land grabbing and invasion by stealth. In a decade India will be retreating its footprint there.

    This column brings out the stark reality of India’s political leadership (Modi et al), armed forces (CDS- Army) as well as the diplomats at the highest levels in Delhi. None of them can escape their responsibility and obligation to the nation in the matter – total moral bankruptcy and cowardice at play.

    Professor Karnad deserves great admiration for this column.

  5. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    @Professor Karnad- There was a lot of hue and cry about the civilian nuclear deal signed between India and USA in 2008.

    Can you please let me know how many civilian nuclear reactors have become operational since then for producing electricity in India?

  6. ABHINAV SRIVASTAVA says:

    By saying that Jaishankar has consolidated his position vis-a-vis Doval & Co through the series of statements of CDS and MoEA, you have attempted to show India in poor light. You have made it appear like a palace intrigue in the portals of Communist Party of China.
    You should have rather seen this as India getting out of self created corner of last years Modi’s statement.

  7. whatsinitanyway says:

    I didn’t know the strategic establiahment is so good at quantum mechanics, such a brilliant lesson they have learnt from Schrodinger’s cat experiment and applied it in realPolitics.

  8. andy says:

    CDS Rawat has this knack of getting his foot in his mouth in public, remember him calling the IAF ‘support arm of the army’ and publicly nixing IAC 3 (65000 ton aircraft carrier) with a rejoinder by the Indian Navy calling the 3rd aircraft carrier a ‘critical operational necessity’.

    Its best that the CDS forgets his army background and brings a holistic and unbiased view to this post, that places him at the helm of all three armed forces. It would also help if he stops trying to please the politicians and concentrates on leaving behind a legacy all three forces would be proud to own.

    • Sankar says:

      @andy:
      CDS Rawat is just echoing ‘His Master’s Voice (HMV)’ – make no mistake here. If my understanding is correct, Rawat was promoted to the CDS position by HM (you know who) superseding other senior generals, no wonder he will toe the line.

      HM’s big bold statement “koi andar ghus ke NAHI aya hai” meant for the consumption of own citizenry as rightly picked in this context, and reverberated elsewhere in the news, has not only damaged India’s credibility on the world stage, it has also backfired badly on HM. It is going to haunt him in the future dealing with China.

  9. Sankar says:

    @Professor Karnad:
    https://chellaney.net/2021/11/12/the-steadily-increasing-risk-of-war-between-china-and-india/

    What will be your assessment on this judgment by Chellaney in the above link:
    ” … its Himalayan aggression has run into armed resistance. India has not only more than matched Chinese military deployments, but in recent days, it test-fired a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile as a warning shot to China and conducted daring border paratrooper exercises simulating territory capture behind enemy lines.” –

    Was there really an “armed resistance” in Galwan, or simply a fistfight?
    A propos the ballistic missile of range 5000km, was there an experimental test of firing, and in that case where did the fired missile land – any proof of the claim made? The landing would be beyond Australia or in the Pacific in my estimate, a very inflated claim unless verified.

    • India has matched the Chinese buildup in numbers. Other than the melee on the Galwa, don’t know of any armed resistance. And Agni-5 is more an IRBM than ICBM, which by definition is in the 5,500km-12,000 kms range. Most firings of longer range missiles from the Wheeler testrange in Orissa are towards the southern Indian Ocean with specially equipped ships placed in the path to monitor telemetry and splashdown downrange.

    • Amit says:

      We should use our mountain strike Corp and occupy Chinese lands, and then continue negotiations. Keep it at the sub conflict level, just like the Chinese did. Time has come for this.

  10. DEBANJAN BANERJEE says:

    Dear Readers I discuss in this article of how China outlook of contemporary India may have played a role in helping China form the recent borderland law.

    https://wonderfuldistractions.substack.com/p/understanding-the-current-scenario-6d8

  11. Sankar says:

    @ProfessorKarnad:
    https://www.dailypioneer.com/2021/trending-news/russia-starts-delivery-of-s-400-missile-systems-to-india–russian-official.html

    Once again, could you please comment on the implication of this news, is there some disagreement brewing between China and Russia that the latter has decided to bolster IAF?

    This news and Agni-5 development bring in mind NATO’s strategy of “force de frappe” to counter Soviet aggression in Western Europe in the late 1950s. To recall, the Europeans were not confident of the US military involvement to come to their side had the USSR then really decided to breach the boundary of Western Europe, in particular, to capture West Berlin. De Gaulle and others then decided to develop the nuclear-tipped missile military technology to strike Moscow which was the essence of “force de frappe” (strike-force). Their strategy was to annihilate Moscow if the Soviets made any move. With the prospect of getting blinded, the USSR never moved in the direction of Western Europe. I wonder now whether the Indian Defence strategy is taking such a position vis-a-vis China to strike Beijing if it came to an all-out war. What is your view?

    On an aside, the US intelligence community is giving a great service to India by openly alerting Delhi from time to time what China is undertaking in the Himalayas as pointed out in this column . The power of modern technology is so overwhelming that Modi and Co cannot hide from the public in India.

    • Sankar@– Do’t know about the piece. But Russia and China can never be close and theirs has always been a balancing relationship — using the other to balance the US, but not so close that Moscow will forsake having India preoccupy China on its southern periphery.

  12. Dipayan says:

    @prof karnad sir do u believe that india and China shouldn’t go in war but they should make a great east against the West because I think USA can never be anyone’s friend and reliable too …… Your opinion sir..

    • Refer my response to Sankar@

    • Dipayan@ — Too serious problems between them for India and China to have a concord.

      • DEBANJAN BANERJEE says:

        COP26 and climate change is one of the factors where India and China (as well as Pakistan and Bangladesh) have a common threat and opportunity to work with each other. For example in the pollution index most of the major cities of India, Pakistan, China and Bangladesh are some of the worst places to be in compared to the rest of the world.

        This is one of the areas where all can cooperate I believe. I would love the opinion of Mr Karnad and rest of the members of this forum on this

      • Debanjan@ — India merits inclusion in this list of countries facing a bleak environmental future. So, sure, there are common interests but will these outprioritize the basic problems between them?

  13. DEBANJAN BANERJEE says:

    Some recent events that came to my notice which probably needs to be discussed more.

    1. Bangladesh going on a shopping spree of Arms. The bigger question is why and who could be the potential enemy of Bangladesh in this case ?

    2. China delivering the latest model of warship to the Pakistani navy. What could be the potential implication for this in the India-China-Pakistan triangular geopolitical scenario ?

    3. A terrorist strike in the North-East that many security analysts are blaming China for supporting this attack. What could be the motivation for China on this ?

    Mr Karnad, I would love your analysis on these points.

    I would love other readers in this forum to also present their viewpoint.

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