A year of internal and external challenges
This week marks a year since India and China began formal military talks to resolve the standoff in eastern Ladakh. It has also been a year since the Centre promulgated three ordinances on agriculture. This means that it has been a year since India has been grappling with its most serious external security challenge in over two decades (since Kargil), and the most serious internal political mobilisation against the Centre in a decade (since the India Against Corruption movement, though the farm protests have much deeper social roots). In both cases, a resolution remains elusive and India’s capacity has come under the scanner.
Take the Ladakh situation first. After many rounds of political, diplomatic, and military talks, there was a breakthrough with both sides disengaging in the Pangong Tso area. It was a testament to the Indian Army’s ability to stand up to the People’s Liberation Army, occupy strategic heights in the Kailash range, and the ability of diplomats to leverage it to push back China. But using the leverage has meant that India’s ability to now force, or persuade, China to restore status quo ante in other areas — Hot Springs, Gogra, Depsang — is limited. Status quo is extracting a military and strategic cost, but breaking the status quo won’t be easy. The farm protests are a product of the Centre’s unilateral push on a sensitive issue, and then a maximalist position adopted by farm leaders — which, then, resulted in protests during a pandemic, refusal to negotiate with a spirit of give-and-take, and unacceptable violence on January 26. Irrespective of the reasons, the images of China in Ladakh and farmers at Delhi’s borders have tested the State’s strength and democratic credibility.