How naïve Nehru was! Soon after independence he asserted India needn’t have an army. He proclaimed there was no use for an army in India as the country had no enemies. This he stated even as the state and non-state actors from across the newly drawn borders were attacking in the North in strength to grab Kashmir. This happened merely two years after the cessation of hostilities in 1945 at the end of what is known as the World War II which had made people sick of war. Being basically a pacifist he could, perhaps, never imagine that after the loss of millions of lives across the world during the World War any country would be foolish enough to embark on a war. He never realised that right next door in the newly created Pakistan they were covetously looking at Kashmir which though opted to integrate with India, they thought, could be grabbed by waging war if not by its own free will.
While the conflict with Pakistani raiders was fought out with great aplomb by the Indian Army despite its unpreparedness, Nehru the pacifist did not allow it to be taken to its logical conclusion, that of throwing the raiders out of Jammu and Kashmir; instead he ill-advisedly took the matter as a dispute instead of plain aggression to the United Nations which was not able to solve the manufactured dispute for decades and has since closed the matter as “unresolved”. Nonetheless, the “Kashmir Problem” continues to fester within the Indian polity as a malign cancer till today.
Despite having been unable to solve the Kashmir imbroglio Nehru paid little attention to the immediate need of building up a strong army. In fact, the defense forces were thoroughly neglected and were not given the wherewithal to refurbish themselves with fresh arms and ammunition. In this predilection of his he was ably assisted by his defense minister Krishna Menon. When the Chinese started pushing into Indian territory in various sectors he threw the ill-equipped and ill-prepared army against the Chinese under his newly-devised “forward policy”. A crushing defeat ensued and the heart-broken Nehru couldn’t take the blow from a country which he considered all the time friendly but was proved to be an enemy. His naiveté brought his own demise and a defeat in war for a newly independent country.
He had always believed that China would never wage war against India. Not only Nehru, many at that time did not know the mettle Mao tse Tung was made of who even picked up a fight with the fellow-communist country, the then Soviet Union. China should thank its stars that the consequences of the conflict did not turn out to be serious.
To start with, India and China were more or less at the same developmental level. But China somehow was never comfortable with India; there was an element of competition. While India continued to be a lumbering elephant, China brought in economic reforms switching to capitalistic mode to build itself up into an economic giant. While earlier the trade balance with India was adverse but today it is positive for China. While Indian exports continue to stagnate at $10 billion – mostly because of unethical non-tariff barriers – China has mustered a trade surplus with India of $50 billion.
That China was inimical towards India became apparent when it started cozying up with Pakistan and progressively the relations became so close that Pakistan ended up becoming a client-state of China. The whole idea for both of them seemed to be to undermine India’s economic progress and international stature. Both of them are loath to see India as an Asian power. Hence, Nehru’s understanding of the dynamics of international politics in the country’s neighbourhood was utterly flawed.
Because of his weak policies and rather confused approach to matters of foreign policy he ceded Aksai Chin to China and is reported to have given the alibi “Not a single blade of grass grows there, why was the Parliament wasting its time” over it. He apparently had no concept of strategy. Finding India weak, China used it as a punch bag and continued to keep the Line of Actual Control (LAC) hot, the dividing line between the two countries over the Himalayas from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh. The incursions by China were mostly deliberate and were dealt with by India according to the military understanding of engagements between the two countries. Until the recent Doklam stand-off came about. Only two other cases of infiltration were of very serious nature. The first one was in 1967 when the Chinese used artillery fire to stop Indian soldiers from fencing the border at Nathu-La. The Indian retaliation with howitzers put paid the Chinese attempt to browbeat Indian soldiers. The action lasted for three days and the things quietened down. Again 1986-87 the Chinese crossed the LAC and set up a military camp by the side of a river in Tawang District in Arunachal Pradesh. This time it was the T-72 tanks and armoured personnel carriers which were used by the Indian Army. The stalemate lasted almost for nine years before the situation eased off.
As the reports suggest the Chinese have been brazenly intruding into Indian Territory in an effort to bully the Indian soldiers and border guards. Indians have maintained restraint but the intrusions have only been increasingly more frequent. During the two most serious incidents referred to earlier, unpleasant consequences were averted as the Indians had taken the bull by the horn and successfully repelled the intrusions. However, now the situation has changed. China has become big with a giant-sized economy and a giant-sized ego. Its prosperity seems to have gone to its head and has given it airs of superiority. It, therefore, does not care for sensibilities of others, more so of India.
Hence more such unilateral actions should be expected from it. It thinks that it could bully its neighbours. During the Doklam stand-off while the Chinese troops were slugging it out and exchanging fisticuffs with their Indian counterparts, the Chinese official media from Beijing was spewing fire. Apart from belligerence and anti-India propaganda that kept warning India of terrible consequences, it resorted to bluff and bluster claiming facts that were wholly untrue. But what gets highlighted out of the stand-off is that India is up against a new sinister and assertive bully which is conscious of its economic power and military might and wants its neighbours to be aware of it. The former Indian Foreign Secretary, Shyam Saran, gave the best prescription to counter the bully in a recent interview. He said “don’t get bullied” – a simple and straight-forward prescription where one does not succumb to bullying. A bully mostly backs down if he is stood up to and China, given the strategic environment, is seemingly no different. This is precisely what happened as India remained firmly on the borders without ever reciprocating the venom that was being sprayed from across the Himalayas. And, whatever might have been reasons, the Chines backed down
To be able to stand up to China, however, India needs to build up its military power to create a formidable border force, cut out the needless Chinese imports to reduce its trade deficit with China. A rapidly shrinking market as big as that of India would hit China where it hurts. Its economy is already on a downswing. The other aspect that needs to be taken care of is to weaken China’s nexus with its side-kick, Pakistan, which needs to be kept engaged in dealing with the brewing turmoil in Baluchistan, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, Sindh etc. For India these two constitute the axis of evil which has to be dealt with squarely.