The government of the day has tied itself up in intractable knots on the Indo-China situation, with clearly contradicting statements. The only pertinent question ought to be the official confirmation of the status quo ante on ground. Unfortunately the same is sought to be obfuscated by semantics, political rhetoric, whataboutery or deflective shenanigans like the thundering ‘breaking news’ on the arrival of five Rafale fighter planes.
Anything that can be milked and postured towards building a reassuring political narrative is invoked and uncomfortable details are rubbished as irrelevant, ‘demoralising our soldiers’ or even plain ‘anti-national’.
While politicians are entitled to their own opinions, they are not entitled to their own facts – the facts are what they are, and no amount of spin doctoring can salvage the reality.
The problem of ‘muscular politics’ as opposed to ‘moderate politics’ is that any acceptance of a misstep or poor handling of a situation delegitimises the foundational rationale of its purported purpose of ‘rebuilding of nation’, hence it is brazenly countered with untruths, bravado and thunder that does little to change the ground situation.
Nehru’s Era vs Present Scenario
The ground reality of demonetisation that crippled and stunted the economy also saw 99 per cent of the demonetised currency come back to the banks and the same levels of cash-in-circulation. However, post-fiasco, there was no much-needed introspection and corrections, but a grandiose one-year anniversary and frequent change of goalposts.
Unfortunately, you cannot change goal posts on matters pertaining to the borders, as sovereign cartography cannot be obfuscated with play of words like ‘intrusions’, ‘transgressions’, ‘disengagement’, ‘de-escalations’ etc., as the Northern Army Commander clarified bluntly, “What I can tell you in simple words is that we shall continue all efforts to restore status quo ante at the LAC”!
If Nehru had misread the Chinese and the nation had paid the consequences, history seems to have repeated itself and perhaps the only difference is in the passion, intensity and ability of the dispensation of the day to still project otherwise.
If Nehru had erred in diminishing the Armed Forces and ignoring security considerations, the harnessing and heeding to professional advice is not the strength of today’s dispensation, be it on demonetisation, GST, relationship with Nepal, or Galwan, to name a few.
Admittedly, the Chinese deciphered the governance culture and dominant instinct in India and then moved in aggressively and deceitfully, as they did in 1962. Both times India was ‘done-in’, politically.
Impact of Over-Politicisation of National Urgencies
The challenge with over-politicisation of each national urgency is that one eye is kept on galvanising the cadres, which essentially blurs professional focus and reaction.
Preparations for demonetisation was conducted by a select few, and it certainly did not include the former RBI Governor who had specifically advised against any such step – on the contrary, a loyal bureaucrat with a PhD in yoga (not an economist) was entrusted with the same as the then finance secretary.
Today, a retired bureaucrat with a major in History presides over the RBI.
Similarly, matters pertaining to diplomacy and security have not been subjected to the domain expertise, save when the situation goes belly-up e.g. asking the Generals to sort out de-escalation, post facto.
Such optics shield inefficient management, and lack of understanding and confidence, as it short-sells the complexity of the situation.
Firstly, Galwan was an unmitigated intelligence and political failure – the post-Galwan handling only reinforced and exposed the uncoordinated ‘cover-up’ efforts against a formidably aligned and coordinated Chinese system that runs seamlessly from Beijing to the Galwan Valley.
The much-empowered office of the NSA that usually occupies the centre-stage of ‘power decisions’ has been conspicuously silent.
The much bandied General-to-General talks on the borders can only be operational and tactical – to think that the Chinese intrusion took place without a CCP green-signal or that a regional General of PLA has the authority to withdraw from territory that the Chinese disputably (and wrongly) claim as theirs is convenient timeline drag for the Chinese as they go about buttressing their recent advances.
India Needs Talks at National Leadership Level
Why would the high church of realpolitik i.e. China, squander its territorial gains to restore status quo ante without eliciting some advantageous bargain?
India needs to hold talks at the national leadership level, as it is a sovereign concern and not just a simple border dispute – fear of potential stalemate in any political negotiations cannot be parried by hosting General-to-General engagements.
The visible discomfort of the political leadership in even naming the aggressor tells a story of the prevailing ground-reality and the realistic chances of restoring the status quo ante in the interim.
The military generals cannot be set up for non-success in the ongoing dialogues.
The nation must revert to professionals calling the shots in their respective realms, albeit with the necessary political oversight that ‘humanises’ executive decisions.
What we seem to have, on the contrary, are decisions emanating from a select few ‘non-professionals’, without the necessary rigour, vetting and clearance from independent institutions and empowered professionals in the Ministry of External Affairs or those in the ‘uniformed’ fraternity.
Questions On The Meetings of Indo-Sino Political Leaderships
It is important to question, in the last 18 personal meetings of the current Indo-Sino political leaderships, how intense was the element of serious ‘security’ inputs, strategies and considerations on the Indian side. Or was it only post-facto, once the situation spiralled out of hand?
If the NSA’s office is insufficient to handle the current impasse, it cannot substitute for adequate levels of professional military advice hereafter. Clearly, the relevant ministries, professionals and stakeholders need to be able to ‘voice’ contrarian views, even if it jars the unity of echo-chambers.
Just like how India must question the quantum of black money recovered from foreign accounts, repatriation of wilful absconders, end of terrorism or even the end of ‘black money’ in terms of hard facts and figures for demonetisation, in the same way, we must honestly question the contributors to the latest border lead-up.
Matters of security cannot degenerate to political mud-slinging, deflective nationalism or even electoral considerations, as the consequences of the same would be disastrously similar to those in the '60s.
(Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is a Former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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