Ram Madhav’s book on Indo-China relations fails to provide a viable national security roadmap
The recently published book, Uneasy Neighbours: India and China after 50 years of the war caught my attention because of its high profile author, Ram Madhav. He is party vice-president and general secretary of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in addition to being the director of India Foundation, a Delhi-based strategic studies and international relations think-tank, and a former member of the central executive of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). More to the point, he is close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Given the background and stature of the author, it was expected that the book would provide a national security road-map which would help balance if not tame China. Going over the past without a vision for future is frustrating and counter-productive.
How does it help to reiterate that India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru failed to articulate China as India’s biggest military threat? That he did not heed the advice of Sardar Patel, his military commanders and other luminaries on China. That he should not have signed the 1954 Panchsheel Agreement where India had formally called Tibet a part of China. That he should have supported Tibet’s independence cause or opposed China’s entry as permanent member of the Security Council at the United Nations.
That he weakened India with his idea of non-alignment. While many of these generalisations could be debated, the singular truth is that India was routed in the 1962 war. There were only two reasons for this: lack of understanding of both China and military power.
While I was searching for answers or clues in the book, what I discovered were fallacies with which Nehru had little to do. Madhav writes that the 1842 treaty of Chushul established the border between India and Ladakh along the Kun Loun range. This thinking is a creation of India’s external affairs ministry after Nehru. In the extensively documented book, India, China boundary problem by A.G. Noorani, there is cogent evidence to support that India’s border with Ladakh was and remains undefined. Until 1959, India’s position on the border oscillated between the Kun Loun and Karakoram ranges; if Karakoram is taken as India’s boundary then Aksai Chin would be a part of China.
Next, according to Madhav, the 1986-87 Sumdorong Chu conflict ‘showed the preparedness of the Indian Army to take on any eventuality to secure its borders, that option was never in consideration in Indian political scheme of things thereafter.’ The truth is quite the opposite. The then Indian Army chief, General K. Sundarji had recklessly opened two war fronts with Sumdorong Chu and Brass-Tacks with Pakistan. India was militarily prepared for neither. It was China’s far-sightedness that they backed-off to prepare for another day which came in April-May 2013 when they successfully coerced India in north Ladakh.
Sumdorong Chu also showed that China would not go to war with India over the disputed border. This was China’s position in the 1962 war and remains so today. Madhav, surprisingly, understands this. He has correctly argued that Tibet, and not the border dispute, was the central reason why China attacked India in 1962. Then, why mislead over Indian Army’s preparedness?
The book is disturbing over three issues. Madhav had completely omitted Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s contribution to relations with China. Chinese supreme leader Deng Xiaoping was impressed with Mrs Gandhi’s firm handling of the 1971 war, 1974 nuclear explosion and the merger of Sikkim with India. In a recent column, former foreign secretary, Shyam Saran has confirmed that China in 1983 had offered border resolution to India; this was the last time China did so.
Madhav has attempted to obfuscate Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s tenure. He believes that the 1998 nuclear tests and his letter the US President Bill Clinton giving China as the reason for the tests ‘brought back the question of Aksai Chin… by linking the issue of nuclearisation of India to the unresolved border dispute with China.’ How? He does not explain. This is not all. Madhav has underplayed India’s formal acceptance of Tibet being a part of China in return for nothing, and has not mentioned creation of the Special Representatives (SR) forum for border resolution during Vajpayee’s 2003 China visit. The SR forum has merely added another layer to the already complicated mechanism for border stability and settlement.
And, most importantly, according to Madhav, there are three contemporary challenges regarding China. In priority, these are border infrastructure, river waters, and unsettled border disputes. Now, if the writer as the BJP’s major thinker fails to comprehend that the border dispute for India is what Tibet is for China — core concern — then India under the present dispensation is unlikely to meet the Chinese challenge.
China has little reason to start a border war, and India cannot win this border war by any parameters that it may formulate. Madhav should have suggested a road-map to get over this dilemma. He instead supports a military build-up. He is pleased with the raising of the Indian Army’s 17 mountain corps and hopes for increased budgetary allocations for ‘new orders for aircraft, helicopters, tanks and armoured vehicles… Yet, the fact remains that China had a head-start and India needs to really hasten to catch up.’
Mr Madhav, doing so would be as futile as it was getting nuclear weapons out of the closet. They have nourished China-Pakistan nexus instead of deterring Beijing or even Pakistan that they were supposed to.