7 PM Editorial |The confusion on India’s stand on the LAC| 8th September 2020

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The confusion on India’s stand on the LAC

Overview – The response on the LAC intrusion question by India seems to stem from domestic political considerations.

Introduction:

Media reports have talked about the ongoing Chinese aggression at the Line of Actual Control, starting April this year. Yet, there is little clarity even today either in the country’s strategic community or the general public on the exact nature of developments on the China-India border. There are several questions to ponder.

The questions arising:
  1. Did the Chinese soldiers cross the LACand capture Indian territory?
  2. Is the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) currently in possessionof Indian territory?
  3. What exactly are the two sides talking about in their discussions pertaining to ‘disengagement’?
  4. How does New Delhi plan to retake lost territory?
Answers arising out of the government’s side:
  1. The Prime Minister claimed that no one had intrudedinto the Indian territory and captured military posts.
  2. The Minister of External Affairs claimed that the Chinese wanted to erect a structurein Galwan valley on Indian side of LAC.
  3. The Foreign Secretary wanted the status quoto be restored on the disputed border.

These are contradictions in the government’s position and thus basic questions continue to remain unanswered. Even the government’s approach seems to be of soft measures which is manifested in the fact that the External Affairs Minister sees a solution in the diplomatic realm. This means that the government is trying to negotiate Chinese withdrawal using diplomatic means and not military means as done by the Chinese.

What explains the government’s soft stand?

Domestic politics seems to play a huge hand in the government’s inability to take factual and unambiguous positions on the LAC. The factors include:

  1. Acknowledging Chinese possession of Indian territory is bad opticsfor a party whose hardcore supporters revel in the military bravado of the party.
  2. Also, what has mattered in the domestic political scenario is “feel good optics” and “high pitched rhetoric” about strong national leadership and not actual and factual positions.

More so, it’s rather bold policies in Kashmir and towards Pakistan over the years have created sufficient political cushion to absorb a few misadventures or pushbacks, even if they were to become public knowledge. Unclear position on the LAC seems to serve an important purpose.

There are other reasons also because of which there is a deliberate attempt not to disclose the actual position which includes:

1.The government also seems to have recognized the possibility of a “two and a half front” situation emerging which will be a formidable national security challenge. This can pave the way to China-Pakistan military and diplomatic coordination against Indian interests in the years ahead.

Two and a half front war: It pertains to the Indian armed forces preparing to simultaneously fight conventional wars to the North and West, while also battling any insurgency that might be ongoing at that time in the hinterland. This in current context would mean- a restive Kashmir, an aggressive China and a Pakistan that never misses an opportunity to get at India.

2.There is limited utility when it comes to Euro-American assistancein checking China in South Asia. In an international system that is preoccupied with the domestic political, economic and public health worries of COVID-19, there is little enthusiasm to resolutely stand by India in pushing back China. Also, an unpredictable US president adds to Indian woes.

3.A simple counting of the number of soldiers and military equipment on both sides may lead to believe that India is not much militarily inferior to China. However, China’s growing capabilities in domains such as cyber and spacemay offset this calculation. Growing Chinese naval capabilities and its increasing reach in the wider region around India are also likely to dampen India’s enthusiasm about the West’s focus on the Indo-Pacific and the Quad as tools to check China in the maritime space.

QUAD: Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which is an informal strategic dialogue between the U.S., India, Japan, and Australia
What makes things more complicated?
  1. India needs to check China’s maritime influence in the region. However the economic slowdown and COVID-19 impact will make defence expenditure take a backseat.
  2. The unclear standing as well as non-disclosure of facts by the ruling party has created elite dissonancewithin India’s strategic community on how to address and deal with the China threat. Also, it has created political divisions meaning it would be tough to put forward coordinated institutional responses to external challenges.
Conclusion:

In democracies, sometimes partisan interests trump national interests. A deeply divided political landscape accentuates such partisan considerations.  This could have lasting implications for the country on strategic challenges.

Source: The Hindu

Mains Question:
  1. How far do you think domestic politics plays a role in shaping the international responses of India. Comment in context of the Indo-China border conflict at Galwan.
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