How Indian prime minister Narendra Modi would wish that before he leaves office, he casts India-China border in stone and defuses what could make us humans the dinosaurs of an extinct world.
He would have looked at maps, the prickly western and eastern borders, and wondered if this is all what is holding the two Asian giants from making it Asia’s Century, and not just pawns in the hands of West, our plunderers for over two centuries.
He would be practical to realize that India could no longer drive China out of Aksai Chin (western borders) nor the latter could do the same to us in Arunachal Pradesh (eastern borders), so why not have a quid pro quo and settle the matter once for all. As a bonus, Pakistan would be kept on leash by China who holds it by ear.
India in such a course would’ve to recognize China owning Aksai Chin and the latter would’ve to tone down its shrill on Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh which is a monastery of significance to Tibetan pilgrims. One other option, to share the land in half as was done in Sino-Russia border pact in 2008, is out of question. It would lose India most of Arunachal Pradesh. But surely a solution could be found.
Modi, that hard-nosed realist, would’ve realized that peace comes at a cost. In this case, ceding Aksai Chin formally would be a political suicide. He would be history’s villain. Millions who swoon over him would bay for his blood. Besides, how does he build consensus in a fractious society.
Suppose Modi is able to carry the nation along. That he is able to convey the entire labyrinth of this dispute to the last man. That it all began after China occupied Tibet in 1959. Till then Tibet was a buffer zone between the two and there was no border conflict. China subsequently refused to accept the border deals Tibet had with kingdom of Ladakh and the British. Now that Tibet was theirs, the sanctity of those deals was zilch. There is no line which runs over ridges, valleys and mountains to clearly define Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the western sector.
Let’s presume Modi is also able to own the missteps of India’s political class of the last 60 years. That China had offered a solution to Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru which the latter rebuffed and brought the 1962 war on India’s door. China had then forwarded the same offer of reason: Give up Aksai Chin in return to have Arunachal Pradesh all to yourself. China was even willing to recognize India’s claim over Jammu and Kashmir. We lost that moment.
The ties went into a freeze till 1979 when India resumed bilateral relations with China. The border talks were revived in 1980 and for next five years China made the same proposal they had in 1960: i.e. concede Aksai Chin for your control of Arunachal Pradesh (McMahon Line). Aksai Chin was important for China to connect its Xinjiang province with Tibet. We again lost that moment. Thereafter, China had grown strong enough to discard that concessional tone. There was no give-and-take, only take, and India could do little.
Under the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, border talks were resumed in earnest in 2003. Since then 22 such parleys have been held. Solution has remained elusive. Even when the two nations had their strongest leaders in decades in Modi and Xi.
Who knows if Modi and Xi Jinping haven’t discussed the matter in two informal summits? Or that in nearly two-dozen parleys between the two nations, every option has not been explored. Or that ex-foreign minister Sushma Swaraj possibly had worked out the maths in the “out-of-box solution” she suggested in Beijing in 2015. What really could explain the border dispute which kills soldiers, hurts trade and casts a long existential shadow on the two populations which make up 40 per cent of all humanity?
The only plausible reason is: India has missed the bus. China is now a bully and would play on India’s nerves. For them not just India but also Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal etc are all pawns in their game of world hegemony. It’s nobody’s friend. They gain nothing to quieten the Indian borders. Plus-trade is small-change in a bigger game. They could use the Galwan Valley prototype to shake the foundation of India’s ruling class. On the date and time of their choosing. They could send India on a defence-buying spree to throw its budget for a toss. They have also gauged how far the world would react.
So, rule out an early border solution. Keep a lid on your fantasy. Or hope that Modi’s sagacity could override China’s evil game. It’s fire-fighting now. And would erupt time and again. China’s game is now out in open. China wants Modi out. It’s for India—and Modi—to up the ante. And leave the enemy with a bloody nose.