India

Expansionist, incorrigible China continues to push the envelope (BEHIND THE NEWS)

New Delhi, June 16 (IANS) Myth-making can be very seductive, like a coquettish whisper in your ear, beckoning you to make a tryst with yet another urban legend. Remember that every legend is a myth whispered at a campfire. And this acquires a life form of its own once it finds a way into an echo chamber.

There are voices in the head, which squabble, challenge and harangue, but the chrysalis nature of the myth prevails, trumping all else. So, while Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh becomes the big story and the quantum of naked Chinese aggression is viewed as a force majeure, the reality of the past cannot be ignored.

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The relentless nature of Chinese intrusions is much like the tedious inevitability of an unloved season creeping up on you just when you least expect it to. They are invasive and constantly trespassing, gauging our strength and resolve levels. The India-China relationship is beyond counter-proliferation responses, it is the conventional war which is a more likely scenario.

To contextualise what is happening on the ground, the Chinese protested if you please and this was “mentioned” during a meeting with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui, Indian Ambassador in Beijing Vikram Misri said.

“There was a meeting at the (Chinese) foreign ministry” during which what happened at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on Monday was discussed, Misri said. When asked if China has lodged the protest, Misri said, “Yes, it was mentioned in the meeting,” but clarified that he was not summoned.

Pot calling the kettle black as China is repeatedly talking of Indian provocation, lies and prevarication taking centre stage. Since there is no defined border but an LAC, it is always easy to push the envelope, but the prism through which the Chinese view this is most often different from the way we view it in New Delhi.

The resultant savagery from the Chinese side cannot be condoned. It is an abomination. And this comes immediately after Indian and Chinese soldiers brawling at Pangong lake in Ladakh earlier in May, leading to a bust up which left many in hospital. Transgressions have been reported in at least three spots: the confluence of the Galwan and Shyok rivers; the Hot Springs area; and the northern bank of Pangong lake. Clearly the tension was building up.

Rewind

On January 11, 1966, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri died in Tashkent, a feisty young Indira Gandhi took charge in a faction-ridden Congress party where the Kamaraj-led Syndicate called the shots. The Syndicate was all-powerful — K. Kamaraj, the former chief minister of Madras; Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, an Andhra leader; S. Nijalingappa, chief minister of Mysore state; and Atulya Ghosh, the president of the Bengal Congress Committee, along with Maharashtra leader S.K. Patil.

Against this backdrop comes one of India's finest military victories in a distant place called Nathu La and Cho La. The Chinese, who revel in their military might, have received a bloody nose twice in recent memory — a disaster called Nathu La in 1967 followed years later with the Sino-Vietnam war, where the unceasing waves were taught a lesson in 1979.

Nathu La can be described as a largish skirmish, but it resulted in the deaths of 300 to 400 Chinese soldiers. More than 80 Indian soldiers were killed. In many ways, like the 73-day-long Doklam standoff and now Galwan Valley, what began in Nathu La are mirror images.

Nathu La also began with pushing, jostling and shoving. As has Galwan Valley, although the pushing and shoving has got out of hand with Chinese troops encircling our men and resorting to serious hand-to-hand combat. Nathu La was a result of the Chinese being irked over the Indian military presence in Sikkim, then a protectorate of India, while Doklam is at the tri-junction of Bhutan, India and China, where India has the heights and the Chinese the valley below.

The aggressive mien being displayed by a muscular China has been ceaselessly pushed repeatedly with as many as 326 incursions in 2018, 426 border transgressions in 2017, on the back of 273 in 2016. Many of these have resulted in actual physical contact between the two sides with the Indian Army keeping the PLA at bay.

The new Chinese mindset is a result of anger over India's infrastructure buildup across the undefined border running for over 4,057 km from Ladakh to Arunachal. With no commonly delineated Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China and there are areas where both sides have differing perceptions about it.

In January this year, the Indian Army conducted its biggest airborne exercise called the ‘Winged Raider' comprising more than 500 special forces troops in the North-Eastern theatre.

The exercise conducted on January 10 had over 500 soldiers of the Special Forces parachuting from C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force, besides Dhruv helicopters during the day and night.

Previously in October last year, the army carried out Exercise ‘Him Vijay' to test its new war-fighting concept of Integrated Battle Groups (IBG) in mountain warfare under the 17 Corps in Arunachal Pradesh.

An IBG, which has a varying mix of infantry, tanks, artillery, air defence, signals and logistics, is part of the army's plan to restructure itself to meet emerging challenges. A capacity building strategy, which includes building roads to forward areas, habitats, storage for ammunition and moving advanced weapons systems to the eastern side is what worries an expansionist China.

It must be added here that for the first time in years due to lower levels of insurgency, the Army did pull out two battalions amounting to approximately 1,500 troops from the north east earlier this year. But bulking up remains at the core of its north eastern plans viz China.

Ground Zero reports say that four infantry mountain divisions (each with over 15,000 combat troops and 8,000 support elements) under the 3 Corps (Dimapur) and 4 Corps (Tezpur), with two more divisions in reserve, are for example tasked for the defence of Arunachal Pradesh alone.

The troop density at Tawang, which China claims to be part of south Tibet, is particularly high to thwart any nefarious designs. Then, of course, the new 17 Mountain Strike Corps and associated units, with a total of 90,274 soldiers for “quick-reaction ground offensive capabilities”, will be fully raised by 2021-2022. After the 59 Infantry Division of 17 Corps became fully operational at Panagarh (West Bengal), the 72 Infantry Division, to be headquartered in Dehradun, is now taking shape, with its first brigade to be raised at Roorkee.

Despite a depleting squadron strength, two full Sukhoi-30 squadrons armed with the Brahmos have been readied at Tezpur. Further, an Akash SAM squadron has been deployed at the airbase. China has three airbases just 350 km from Tezpur. Similarly, more Sukhoi-30s are parked at Chabua, also in Assam.

The controversial Rafales, when they arrive, will be stationed at Hasimara airbase in West Bengal to replace the ageing MiG-27s. The second Rafale squadron is expected to be stationed at Sarsawa base in Uttar Pradesh.

The IAF has already activated the advance landing ground (ALG) at Tuting, in Arunachal's Upper Siang district. It is the sixth such ALG to be made operational in Arunachal apart from the ones in eastern Ladakh, all with China in their crosshairs. The Panagarh base in West Bengal is also set to get its six C-130J Super Hercules aircraft. Panagarh, of course, is also going to be the headquarters of the Army's new 17 Mountain Strike Corps being raised with two high-altitude infantry divisions, apart from other armoured, artillery, air defence and engineer brigades spread from Ladakh to Arunachal.

China has to understand that in this constant territorial standoff India has the sovereign right to protect its territory. The border infra buildup is obviously being viewed by China with great trepidation, but India will not succumb to these ruthless pressure tactics by the Chinese.

–IANS

/kr

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