There have been several rounds of talks between India and China but peace on the border continues to be more elusive. It is because we are trying to deal with the consequence of the conflict without trying to address its cause. It is intriguing why China suddenly turned so hostile despite Modi-Jinping unprecedented bonhomie.
The cause of 1962 war was public knowledge. India wanted the territory which belonged to it (according to the McMahon Line) vacated. China never recognised McMahon Line because it was an agreement between British India and Tibet bypassing China. In 1959, China was willing to give up her claim on Arunachal Pradesh in exchange for India giving up her claim on Aksai Chin, but Nehru rejected it and fought with China. Would any government dare accept what Nehru rejected?
Thus, independent India inherited the dispute from the British government without its military power, launched an attack on the Chinese occupying our territory according to McMahon line and was defeated.
The cause of the present aggression is still a mystery.
The government has not told the people the cause of the conflict. Strangely, the media has also not asked the crucial question. Modi’s docile stance is also intriguing. He lied when he told the leaders of the political parties that nobody had intruded in our territory nor occupied our post. He has not named China till date. What is frightening him?
Unless the real cause of the conflict is removed, there can be no peace on the border. The conflict would continue and may even escalate.
There has to be a reason for Modi to conceal the cause of the sudden collapse of his China policy and China turning a deadly foe from a friend. One guess may be some commitment made which is not possible for Modi to fulfil and too preposterous to mention. He is known for asking for undue favours for his cronies which he can’t admit in public. For example, asking Rafale to make the bankrupt Anil Ambani an offset partner. If he has done something like it, he would fear antagonising China lest China lets the cat out. That may explain his diffidence but may not be the cause of the conflict. Only Modi knows the cause, which is too difficult to remove and more difficult to tell the people.
There may be another cause, which Modi would not dare mention because it would turn his grand success at the election into a miserable failure causing his popularity to nosedive. The cause may be the abrogation of Art. 370. The abrogation was followed by making Ladakh a Union Territory.
Our claim that it is our internal affair has logic vis a vis Pakistan but not China. Just as we claim that China is in illegal occupation of 38000 Sq Km of our territory including Aksai Chin, China also claims territory in our occupation including part of Ladakh. The two countries have conflicting claims, which have not yet been settled. Thus, as our claim disputes Aksai Chin under China as China’s territory, China also disputes territory in Ladakh as Indian territory.
To stave off an armed conflict, the two countries have agreed to retain the territory under their occupation, but not to move further. In short , both sides have agreed to remain wherever they are till the dispute is settled. Thus, the two countries have no agreed border. They have the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which they had agreed not to cross. This has been respected before the present crisis.
It is very likely that Abrogation of Art. 370 and changing the status quo of Ladakh were viewed by Jinping as a breach of agreement by India and treachery by Modi. The personalised relation between the two might have looked to Jinping like a friend stabbing him in the back. The present conflict may be the consequence of the changes made in Ladakh following the abrogation of Art 370.
Modi is in a very difficult position. He cannot reverse the decision without a terrible backlash among his blind followers. He dares not tell the people that the present conflict is the consequence of his diplomatic failure and that the crisis is of his own making.
If the abrogation of Art. 370 is the cause of the present conflict, he has only one escape route: Losing the case in the Supreme Court and then negotiate with China.
However, if the mysterious cause is something different, no solution may be suggested.
Prabhakar Sinha is a political commentator