Dissembling on Doklam must stop

DH News Service, Bengaluru, Mar 10 2018, 01:16 IST

One would think that on matters of national security and border management, India's ministries concerned would be on the same page or, at least, basing their decisions and strategies on the same facts and understanding of the situation on the ground. However, this does not seem to be the case. Two days after Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman informed Rajya Sabha in writing that China's People's Liberation Army is constructing "some infrastructure, including sentry posts, trenches and helipads" at Doklam, the Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh told the Lok Sabha that "there have been no new developments at the face-off site and its vicinity...The status quo prevails in this area." The two statements are completely at odds with each other and cannot both be true at the same time. It is worrying that the location they are referring to is Doklam, where five months ago Indian and Chinese soldiers were locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation for 73 days. What are their differing perceptions based on, and why are they different?

It is time that the Narendra Modi government came out with a statement clarifying what is happening at Doklam. Throughout the crisis last year, the government was silent. That was understandable to some extent as revealing India's strategies, plans and weaknesses during the crisis would have undermined the army's defence of our position. However, this secrecy continued even after India and China reached an agreement on "expeditious disengagement" of the troops from the area. The media reported then that China had withdrawn its troops, contributing to some satisfaction in India that we had stood our ground. However, reports in the months since reveal that Chinese activity in the area continues. Satellite images in the public domain confirmed this in January. At that time, too, the government spoke in two voices; while the MEA insisted that the status quo at the face-off site remained unchanged, Indian Army chief Bipin Rawat admitted that the Chinese were building infrastructure at Doklam, albeit of a temporary nature.

It is hard to dispel the feeling that the Modi government is dissembling on the situation at Doklam. It is time it came clean on the issue. If it cannot go public on the matter, it should, at least, take the opposition parties into confidence. Defending the border with China is not easy. It will be all the more challenging if our strategy is based on fudged facts. The MEA is, no doubt, keen to mend fences with China; hence the soft-pedalling on the matter. But if its officials are not armed with facts and figures about the ground situation, their engagement of their Chinese counterparts would be weak.

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