Reimagining the frontier

Published on Jun 29, 2021 08:16 PM IST

An inclusive vision, which sees border regions and people as central rather than peripheral, and focuses on improving their lives through better connectivity, is ethically right and politically wise. And it is also a smart security strategy. Don’t let Beijing’s hypocrisy come in the way

Defence minister Rajnath Singh interacts with soldiers during his visit to Karu, Ladakh (PTI)
Defence minister Rajnath Singh interacts with soldiers during his visit to Karu, Ladakh (PTI)
ByHT Editorial

In keeping with the government’s focus on infrastructure upgradation and modernisation in border areas, especially with China, defence minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated 63 bridges across eight states and Union Territories on Monday. He was present in Leh in person, and was joined virtually by chief ministers and top officials of all states which border China. Earlier this month, Mr Singh inaugurated 12 other bridges constructed by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). In his remarks, the minister emphasised both the developmental and strategic value of these bridges, and lauded BRO — an unsung pillar of India’s security apparatus — for its work.

It is now clear that India’s defence establishment will not let China’s sensitivities deter it from proceeding with its border plans, and rightly so. Some analysts believe that India’s efforts to upgrade its infrastructure led to increased Chinese incursions across the Line of Actual Control over the past decade. Irrespective of whether this is a dominant or minor factor in China’s calculations, the simple fact is that Beijing’s position is hypocritical. It has, over a much longer period than India, ramped up border infra and accrued tactical benefits. Misguided by an insecure strategic mindset that saw border roads and bridges as somehow enabling enemy troop mobilisation, and constrained by resources, India left its border areas under-developed and isolated for way too long. Delhi has been correcting this approach in recent decades, especially under the Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi-led governments, and must continue to do so.

But as much as this is aimed to boost India’s defences against Chinese aggression, Delhi must also use it to reimagine its conception of frontier areas. A colonial legacy that has lasted in independent India is a framework which views these border regions as mere frontiers, peripheral and only relevant in the security matrix. But this is flawed. Citizens living in these areas deserve as much access to developmental and welfare benefits as citizens elsewhere. They deserve a greater political voice. And their inputs on China policy are invaluable for they deal with the presence of an overbearing northern neighbour right at the doorstep and are the most affected stakeholders. An inclusive vision, which sees border regions and people as central rather than peripheral, and focuses on improving their lives through better connectivity, is ethically right and politically wise. And it is also a smart security strategy.

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