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Borders Political Parties War and Conflict

Confused and Confusing: The PM’s Official Statements About 15 June

The Indian government has a near perfect ground game in terms of messaging domestically on matters related to Pakistan and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. And yet, ever since the standoffs with China began in early May, the government’s communications have been limited, confused, and confusing.

This is not to say that India’s military responses to either Pakistani or Chinese provocations – based on such information as is available in the open domain – has been wanting. In the case of the former, one could argue that even such an incident as Balakot where India attacked Pakistani territory, was calibrated well given that it did not lead to escalation. In the case of the Galwan Valley incident of 15 June, too, the official statement on the Prime Minister’s remarks at the All Party Meeting on 19 June quotes him saying, “that twenty of our brave soldiers made the supreme sacrifice for the nation in Ladakh but also taught a lesson to those who had dared to look towards our motherland”.[1] This suggests that the Indians at least gave as good as they got. The Chinese, too, seemed to acknowledge casualties on their side.[2] In dealing with a power like China with its superior military capabilities, that is as good as one can expect, and even something of a victory for India.

However, the question here for the Indian government is of communicating its position and version of events accurately both at home and abroad. The 19 June statement shows the Prime Minister prefacing his reference to the deaths of the soldiers by saying “that neither is anyone inside our territory nor is any of our post captured”.[3] In reality, this obscured more than it clarified. While the present tense suggested that he could technically be accurate insofar as the situation at the moment of his speaking was concerned, the Hindi version – ““न तो किसी ने हमारी सीमा में प्रवेश किया है, न ही किसी भी पोस्ट पर कब्जा किया गया है” na to kisi ne hamari seema main pravesh kiya hain, na hi kisi bhi post par kabza kiya gaya hain[4] – appeared to make a somewhat larger claim covering the entire period since confrontations started in May that neither had anyone entered Indian territory nor capturedany Indian posts.

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Borders Comparative Politics Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Reorienting India’s China Policy Towards Greater Transparency

The first Indian casualties on the disputed India-China boundary since 1975 should be occasion to reconsider several long-held beliefs and methods of dealing with the relationship that successive governments in New Delhi have adopted over the years.

This essay will deal with just one trope – that foreign policymaking in India cannot be an open, public or democratic exercise and that ‘quiet diplomacy’ is the way to go in dealing with China. There are two central problems with such a position – both of which have been on view during the ongoing crisis on the LAC and which have severely constrained the Indian government’s ability to assess the situation as well as to find options to deal with it.

First, the desire to keep decision-making on China within the strict confines of the government has much to do with the run-up to the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. The lesson learned following India’s defeat seemed to be that discussing matters openly in Parliament or with the general public tended to limit the freedom of manoeuvre for the Indian government to engage in negotiations with the Chinese side that would require compromises by New Delhi in order to have a realistic chance of a resolution that at least broadly met India’s interests.

If this tendency has continued within the Indian government, it has to do with a second reality valid until quite recently, which was that expertise on the border areas or on what went on there was limited to the Army and various paramilitaries – the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and previously, also the Assam Rifles, both under the Ministry of Home Affairs – that had manned the borders and/or with the diplomats and other civilian officials who held administrative charge of these areas.

There are good reasons why neither position is tenable any longer.

For the rest of the article originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Reorienting India’s China policy towards greater transparency’, Raisina Debates, Observer Research Foundation, 17 June 2020 see here.