‘Contrary’ views by CDS, govt on Chinese incursion fan row
Seemingly contradictory views within the government on a village built by China in a disputed area in Arunachal Pradesh and the status of the land on which it sits, ignited a political controversy on Friday with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi accusing the Centre of compromising India’s security.
“Our national security is unpardonably compromised because GOI (Government of India) has no strategy and Mr 56” (a jibe at the PM) is scared,” Gandhi wrote on Twitter.
The Congress leader attacked the government a day after the ministry of external affairs, in its first response to a US report on the Chinese village, referred to China’s activities in areas it has illegally occupied over the years, and asserted that India will never accept such “illegal occupation” of its territory, even as the country’s senior-most military commander General Bipin Rawat said the Chinese constructions were on its side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
“My thoughts are with the soldiers risking their lives to guard our borders while GOI churns out lies,” Gandhi added. HT reached out to the defence ministry and the army but they didn’t react to Gandhi’s allegations.
Hitting back, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said: “Rahul Gandhi has no moral authority of commenting on National Security. Same Mr Rahul Gandhi had questioned the “Surgical Strike” and dubbed it “Farzical”, had demanded for evidence in case of Air Strike. Rahul Gandhi was caught with the wrong foot during the Doklam Standoff. Defence Minister Mr Antony had mentioned on the floor of parliament that “No Border Infrastructure” was the best policy as far as National Security is concerned. Rahul Should stop opposing just for the sake of Opposition. His hatred for Modi has transformed into hatred for India.”
The new Chinese village, which has emerged as a symbol of Beijing’s assertiveness in disputed border areas in the eastern sector, was built in an area held by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) since August 1959.
The Indian Army has been aware of the village’s existence for more than a year, but the 100-home village was thrust into the limelight after being mentioned in a US defence department report last week. It is located in disputed territory in Arunachal’s upper Subansiri district.
Responding to a question on the report submitted on November 3 by the US department of defence to the Congress, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi on Thursday told a regular news briefing that China has undertaken construction activities in the past several years along border areas, including in areas it has “illegally occupied over the decades.” “India has neither accepted such illegal occupation of our territory nor has it accepted the unjustified Chinese claims,” he said.
The US report said China constructed the village “inside disputed territory” between Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh.
Speaking at a conference organised by a TV channel, chief of defence staff General Rawat, however, said China was building infrastructure and the so-called villages on its side of LAC.
“They have not transgressed anywhere on our perception of LAC. There are differing perceptions (of LAC). We are very clear where the LAC lies because we have been told that this is your alignment of LAC and this is the territory you are expected to defend,” CDS said, adding that no Chinese village had come up on the Indian side of LAC.
There’s some debate on that, though.
China has built the village in an area occupied by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) after overrunning an Assam Rifles post in 1959 in the Longju area, as previously reported by HT. The Longju skirmish, which left two Indian soldiers dead, took place a few months after the 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet, crossed into India in March 1959 and was later granted political asylum by New Delhi.
“Although the Chinese are occupying this area since 1959, our clear position is that Longju is on our side of LAC. We follow the watershed principle for LAC in Arunachal and Longju lies south of the watershed,” said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd).
The watershed formed by the highest mountains is an established global principle or norm for border demarcation.
“Grey areas” along McMahon Line such as Asaphila, Longju and Khinzemane are places where the Chinese-claimed LAC goes beyond the watershed and is shown as the international border on Indian maps, historian Srinath Raghavan wrote on Twitter on Friday.
“PLA patrolling & presence in these areas is often reported by Indian media as an “incursion”… CDS Rawat’s response suggests that the Indian perception of the LAC in this area doesn’t go up to the watershed either. Longju may be an exception among the “grey areas” owing to the longstanding Chinese position,” he added.
Some experts, including General Hooda, view the setting up of the Chinese village in the context of a 2005 agreement between India and China on political parameters and guiding principles for the settlement of the India-China boundary question.
Article VII of that pact says, “In reaching a boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas.”
Eastern Army commander Lieutenant General Manoj Pande last month flagged concerns about the “dual use” of villages being set up by China in forward areas, and said the army was factoring in the development in its operational planning.
PLA has intensified patrolling in sensitive areas across LAC in Arunachal Pradesh after a lingering standoff with India began last year in the Ladakh sector. It has ramped up area domination patrols for surveillance and orientation of newly inducted troops with a noticeable increase in visits by senior PLA officers to forward areas to supervise the military activities in the eastern sector.
The sectors across which the Indian Army has detected increased PLA activities include Lungro La, Zimithang and Bum La --- areas of high historical significance in the context of Chinese aggression in the eastern sector --- and counter measures have been taken to boost India’s readiness to handle any contingency.