The nation was shocked by the news of 20 soldiers, including Colonel Santosh Babu, becoming martyrs in clashes between Indo-China troops that had been in a stand-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Galwan valley in Ladakh. There are also reports about 40 casualties on the Chinese side. The news of unexpected clashes came amidst officially expressed optimism that diplomatic and military level talks were going on with positive outcome for ending the bilateral disputes.
An urgent meeting was held and chaired by defence minister Rajnath Singh, with external affairs minister, chief of defence staff and the three military chiefs, to review the matter in its seriousness and to face expeditiously any challenges to the safety and integrity of the country. The ministry of external affairs also issued a statement condemning China's action. The situation assumes significance from the fact that no deaths of Indian jawans have been reported from the Indo-Chinese border ever since 1975.
At the same time, there had been reports even earlier that Chinese forces had crossed over to Indian territory on this side of LAC that divided India and China. This was following Indian troops being engaged in the construction of a strategic road within the area which India is convinced of being its own. It was only recently that defence minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a so constructed track recently. When China blamed India for this construction, alleging that India built the road breaching the LAC, India denied it unambiguously.
At the same time, India also drew attention to the Chinese military act of conducting construction activity by encroaching into the Indian side of LAC. Following this, top level military officials on both sides held talks, as a result of which both troops withdrew from the stand-off positions and moved back 2.3 kilometers from the line of positions, as was officially disclosed. But the nascent events give the inkling that the bilateral discussions have not been instrumental in solving the issues.
The question that would arise is what the real intention and goal of China would be. It is a fact that China has been peeved by India's opposition to its building a corridor through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, with Pakistan's co-operation. But more than that, and contrary to earlier times, China now views with suspicion India's construction acvitity along the whole LAC. This is coupled with the neighbour's assessment that India is leaning more to Donald Trump's US camp.
It is true that the productive discussions between Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping in Beijing and New Delhi about re-establishing friendly ties and strengthening trade relations, did result in a thawing of relations. But Trump's moves to ally itself with India - the second largest power in Asia - against China, were naturally viewed by China with a frown. And China does not dismiss as insignificant India's stand in support of Trump's putting of China on the defensive even in the matter of the global pandemic of Covid-19, and also Trump's demand that India should be made a partner in the G-7 alliance.
Even earlier, India has been in the G-7 configuration together with America, Japan and Australia. And the group is per se perceived as an allilance against China. Only recently did the Chinese English language newspaper 'Global Times, write an editorial about the nexus between Delhi and Washington. It is an undeniable fact too that India has reversed its stand of non-alignment, which used to define its foreign policy during the Nehru era, and made close relations with countries like US and Israel.
To be read together with these developments is the recent change in policies of Nepal, India's next-door neighbour and long-time friend. Nepal, currently ruled by a pro-Chinese Communist party government, not only claimed the Indian bordering regions including Kalapani as its own, but even made it part of the map of Nepal and got it officially approved by parliament. The general perception is that China is behind this utterly provocative action. All put together, the developments in the borders are enough to put the diplomatic prowess of Modi government to severe test.
Even given the fact that compared to 1962, India's military is much more robust and the country that much safer, the Modi government may also be realising that military confrontation is not solution for anything. When the world is trembling before a pandemic like Covid-19, the hope is that our government will not lose sight of the consequence of risking adventures. What is needed is to talk louder about peace and to work for it, even without forgetting the Chinese proverb 'Talk of peace, but keep your gun powder dry'.