Even if it is accepted that “discretion is the better part of valour” and “only the foolhardy pick fights” there is a surprising element to the silence of the external affairs ministry on the “heated situation” with China near the Doklam plateau at the tri-junction with Bhutan.
That there has been a reaction from the small Himalayan kingdom only amplifies the disinclination of the otherwise voluble spokesmen of the MInistry of External Affairs to spell out New Delhi’s position on the confrontationist developments.
It would be self-deception to try and pass off the impasse as another “varying perception” of the Line of Actual Control. Chinese personnel have damaged Indian bunkers in Sikkim in retaliation for alleged impediments to construction of a road in what they contend is their territory; strong statements, actually “warnings” have been issued in Beijing.
And an extreme step has been taken in preventing Indian pilgrims from using the route via Nathu La to Kailash-Mansarovar.
No effort appears to have been initiated by the MEA to lower tensions; on the contrary the Army Chief is visiting the affected area — and General Bipin Rawat has a poor track-record when it comes to being “diplomatic.”
It is true that despite a series of stand-offs “no shot has been fired in anger” on that frontier for over half-a-century, but does that mean that India will have to always back off?
Though the difficulties arose in early June, there is significance to the fact that the “story broke” only when the Prime Minister was basking in the sunshine at the Rose Garden in the White House. Clearly the aim was to deflate Indian egos after Narendra Modi’s satisfactory interaction with President Trump.
Beijing is advising India against getting sucked into Washington’s plans to contain the increasing Chinese influence in the entire region, the South China Sea included. Apart from pushing its economic corridor that runs through POK, the Chinese have declared Pakistan a victim of terrorism — which counters India’s effort to project it as a “sponsor” of the scourge. That tie-up is ominous.
Dealing with that emerging situation is going to be one of the MEA’s most challenging situations in the months ahead. And since the Prime Minister now plays the lead role in the prosecution of foreign policy that translates into a challenge for Mr Narendra Modi.
He will have to develop a policy vastly different to what he follows when dealing with other neighbouring countries — China is the “big brother” in every sense of the term. Thus far it has been India’s policy to underplay difficulties with Beijing, has that only “encouraged” more aggressive postures? Getting a saffron outfit to call for a boycott of Chinese goods to protest the closure of Nathu La is hardly a response.