The postponement of the traditional visit by Indian Army chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag to Bhutan as his first official engagement abroad has fueled speculation that it was due to the tensions on the border with
China. If so, it is a silver lining on the horizon.
The only time I met the general was last year on the hallowed grounds of the Army War College in Mhow, Madhya
Pradesh, where I had gone to lecture as a guest speaker, at
the commandant’s residence in the evening at a splendid
dinner. (When dusk falls on an old British-era cantonment,
strange inchoate emotions well up.)
The general was the Eastern Corps commander at that
time and we naturally drifted into a conversation regarding
What struck me was the general’s profound knowledge of
the multi-faceted ‘China challenge’ that India faces and his
remarkable intellectual depth to discuss it calmly, rationally and with a long-term perspective.
In fact, except for a handful of ‘ex-faujis’ in Delhi who
after retirement took to the pleasures of geopolitics and
diplomacy (like gardening or fishing), my experience in the
foreign service from the Pakistan desk for over a decade has
been that most senior minds in the Indian military establishment are not given to impetuous, vacuous saber-rat-tling and would regard war as serious business and consider it their professional task, in fact, to avoid causing wars.
Indeed, wars cost human lives and plunge whole families
into unspeakable sorrows and results in a wastage of the
country’s latent talents and resources.
I say this, because there is so much irresponsible talk on
our television channels today about an impending war that
China is allegedly planning against India. Alas, even former
diplomats gleefully contributed to the misinterpretation of
the reported remarks by Chinese President Xi Jinping to
fight ‘regional wars’ as if it were holding out a direct threat
A refreshingly candid article appeared in Business
Standard last week, written by a usually well-informed
columnist, that put on the table the actual state of play —
‘Indian commanders in the Leh-headquartered 14 Corps,
however, are sanguine that this confrontation, like every
other in the last four decades, will be resolved through dis-
cussions…. “The Chinese are making the point that this
area remains disputed,” says one general. “They absolutely
don’t want a shooting war.”’
I wish the author hadn’t stopped short of entering into an
insightful discussion as to what actually led to “this con-
There are reports to the effect that it all began when the
Indian side began dispatching ‘civilians’ under the
(in)famous Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment
Guarantee Act program to dig irrigation canals in that
tense disputed region where face-offs with the People’s
Liberation Army usually happen.
People in informal conversations in Delhi’s social circuit
say India may have provoked ‘this confrontation’. Is it real-
ly so? The country has a right to know. Don’t throw us to
the wolves in the television studios.
I wonder, wasn’t it downright stupid not to have deferred
that noble mission to create purchasing power through the
NREGA, unemployed (and unemployable) Indians who
may be living in those parts until at least Xi’s visit got over?
After all, it was in our interests that we made use of Xi’s
visit optimally. It’s improbable that Xi would visit India
during his 10-year term again. It’s also plain commonsense
that China, which outstrips India by almost a half century
in development, is a neighbor we need to learn to live with
in peace and cordiality.
What troubles me really in all this is something else: Who
ordered this stupid NREGA initiative on those vacant
spaces where India and China are struggling to create a
border where none existed in all of our two ancient histories? What was the chain of command like?
Was it a stupid decision taken at a local level to provoke
the Chinese PLA commanders on the border or to test their
reflexes when their president was due to visit India? Or,
was it with the knowledge and approval of the Indian Army
headquarters? I shudder to think the latter was the case.
Besides, where does the Indian leadership come in here?
After all, it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is being
caricatured today by the opposition Congress party as
spineless and cowardly in squaring up to Chinese ‘
Specifically, was National Security Adviser Ajit Doval
who prepared Modi’s approach paper on Xi’s visit in the
loop? I fervently hope that wasn’t the case and Doval was
completely taken aback by our NREGA initiative.
But then, that would also cast him in poor light as someone who doesn’t see the weeds growing beneath his feet
and is perennially doomed to stumble in his handling of
foreign and security policies.
To be sure, someone at a responsible level needs to take
the nation into confidence. (I don’t mean the Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh.) The dangerous misperceptions and
alarmist rumors that swirl around the India-China rela-
tionship will only make it that much harder for Modi to sta-
bilize that relationship and put it on a stable, predictable
long-term trajectory, leave alone to pitch for a ‘fair and
just’border settlement with China, which is no doubt in the
country’s ‘enlightened interest’.
General Suhag should, perhaps, speak up and clear this
fog of war so that sunlight penetrates the national discourse.
Preparing for war with China
Sections of the Indian media are spreading panic that a
war is imminent between India and China. The thesis is
entirely based on the reported exhortation by Chinese
President Xi Jinping September 22 that the PLA should
sharpen combat readiness and ‘win a regional war in the
age of information technology’.
The cub reporters of English-language television channels in Delhi have gone berserk. They’ve begun war games
to prepare the Indian Army to meet the Chinese attack.
Let me quote Xi: ‘PLA must push forward preparations
for military struggle by insisting on using the criteria of
actual combat… We must emphasize the idea that soldiers
join the PLA to fight, and that the call of duty of officers is
to lead soldiers in combat and to train them for real warfare. We (China) must train our troops with tough and
strict criteria based on the needs of actual combat. The core
of the PLA’s military task is to win regional wars in the age
of information technology… We must ensure that our
troops are ready when called upon, that they are fully capable of fighting, and that they must win every war.’
Oh, I am being very mischievous. I did not alert you
beforehand. Actually, these were remarks made by Xi in
January 2013. Yes, 21 months ago. Indeed, no regional wars
The point I am making is that Xi said nothing to excite
our cub reporters. Now, digging further, I also stumbled
upon the stunning fact that all Chinese leaders from Jiang
Zemin to Hu Jintao have made similar statements while
the fog of war
in Ladakh Sections of the Indian media are spreading panic that a war is imminent between India and China, says M K Bhadrakumar
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi with China’s President Xi Jinping in Ahmedabad, September 17. AMI T DAVE/REU TERS