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India needs to realise the danger of taking the current row with China too lightly

With all the brouhaha about GST and the Aadhar card and the plunder of human life by gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes), there is not much seriousness being attached to the spike in China’s hostility to India.

It would be at our peril if we continue to blithely assume China will belch a few flames and then docilely return to her cave. One cannot be so sure.

Besides creating tension on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and playing a dangerous game of footsies in the Sikkim region, Beijing is clearly sending out some sort of aggressive message in the aftermath of the Donald Trump-Narendra Modi cosying-up. Exactly what the Chinese have found so offensive as to start exchanging fire is not clear. Things have been edgy ever since Prime Minister Modi opened India’s longest bridge Bhupen Hazarika Setu, linking Assam with Arunachal Pradesh, an area the Chinese call South Tibet.

Not that it did not know the bridge was in the making for five years but by lodging a protest, it has become an issue.

Again, the presence of an inordinately large number of troops on the northern side of Sikkim and a fairly impressive Indian presence on the south makes it the largest confrontational impasse in the past 30 years.

And the statement by the People’s Liberation Army spokesperson Col Wu Qian about India being advised to recall ‘historical lessons’ with reference to the 1962 war is ominous.

It was ostensibly made in response to Indian army chief General Bipin Rawat’s statement that India is ready to go to war with Pakistan and China and also maintain internal security (the two-and-a-half front stance) if necessary. This is scarcely provocative enough to warrant this fierce a reply. All chiefs of armies say they are ready. They would hardly be worth their salt if they said otherwise.

So, what is the problem besides what we have just mentioned? Keeping in mind India’s annoyance over the China-Pakistan corridor and China’s irritation over the Indo-Afghan trade corridor bypassing Pakistan and the current tension between us in the Dolam sector on the Bhutan border, we need to place the issues with this giant neighbour on the front burner and start waking up to reality.

Granted that 1962 was a different ball game. We had rusty .303 rifles and our soldiers were ill-equipped, besides which this was supposed to be a ‘gentle’ choreographed war until the Indians pushed a bridge too far in misplaced enthusiasm.

Historians often overlook the element of it being an arrangement between Nehru, Lt Gen BM Kaul, General Thapar, Krishna Menon and Chinese premier Chou En Lai in which India would gain a moral victory and this would lift the armed forces to a fresh eminence. When we blundered, we paid a huge price for that adventurism.

China’s slap back still smarts and we have had a certain psychological reservation since then. Even today, despite knowing that we are pretty much on the cutting edge of military technology on this inhospitable border and taking us on will be costly, the disturbing part is the ostrich-in-the-sand attitude we seem to be showing to an intensifying threatening commentary from Beijing.

This is hugely short-sighted on our part as a nation, even as we reluctantly recognise the pressure tactics being used on us. It is as if we have developed a sort of insouciance about China in that she will cock the rifle but not fire the gun.

That could well be fatal because there is a certain difference to the texture of the Chinese threat. Between its hassles in the South China Sea, its cantankerous relationship with the US, its wobbly nexus with North Korea, a lukewarm affection with the Far East bloc, its foreign relations are suspect. Add to that its internal problems of water shortage, an ageing population, pollution, corruption, public health bottlenecks and it has got its back against the wall.

If it is looking for a diversion, we don’t really want to be that and it is in our interests to stop with the braggadocio and let China know that even though we can stand up to them in battle, we would rather sit and talk. Not from fear but because this is not 1962 but from a place of common sense. There would be no winners. Which side would feed a billion prisoners?

Our risk at this moment is our preoccupation with relative trivia. Let’s not be unready again.

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