Fifty years ago, a series of violent incidents initiated a chain of events that led to India’s humiliating defeat by China in 1962. Today the incidents at Longju (in the then North East Frontier Agency) and at Kongka Pass (in Jammu and Kashmir) are only a faint memory. They would have remained so but for Chinese incursions into Indian territory in recent months. A number of border incidents have been reported since June and, if recent reports are to be believed, paramilitary personnel in Sikkim have been fired upon and injured from the Chinese side.
Then, as now, the attitude of the Union government has been to deny that anything is amiss. In the late 1950s India launched an aggressive “forward” policy along a disputed frontier, something that led to the clashes in 1959. At that time, the government of the day would not accept its mistake and tried to push the problem under the carpet. Today, when China is pushing into territory that is held by India, the prevailing attitude is once again that of denial and a refusal to accept reality.
Chinese motives need not detain us: what is important is what should be our response. If there was a diplomatic solution that would stop the incursions, either that has not been tried hard enough or it has not worked. The least that can be done is ward off incursions by answering them with force. That will require letting the army freely patrol the frontier and giving it the space to decide on the specifics of the response.
That, however, is only the immediate problem. The bigger problem is that of overcoming the fear and anxiety that lies behind bending to Chinese “sensitivities”. If India can be aggressive with Pakistan, there is no reason why this should not be the case with China. The only reason for not responding adequately to China is the fear that has continued to envelop the mind of our policymakers since 1962.
There is no reason to persist with that mindset. It is nobody’s argument that we go to war with China. But there is a world of difference between responding to hostility and going to war. If China is to be deterred from any misadventure, an immediate and measured response to these incursions is essential.
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