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Nehru and Modi: Appeasing China only makes it greedier

It has been 58 years today since China launched a well-planned attack on an unprepared friendly India in 1962 and handed out a crushing defeat. This despite the fact the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, before the war, had gone out of his way to support a communist China which was but a global pariah.

The Prime Minister now is Narendra Modi who also went out of his way to have cordial relations with China, a result of which was India becoming a vast market for poor-quality Chinese goods. Once again, the communist country executed a meticulous plan, entered the Indian border and now threatens to go to war and throws barbs through its media spokespersons.

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While India has learnt many a lesson, it does not seem too willing to learn a crucial one: that nourishing an expansionist Beijing only whets its hunger. It covets more territory. It undermines India at international forums and makes alliances with hostile states to pin down the latter. It supports terrorist organizations and shields UN-designated terrorists. The Indian political leadership still misses the point and can’t distinguish between friend and foe.

However, the similarities between the India of 1962 and that of 2020 end here. Despite the PLA soldier staring us down on the Ladakh border, with an array of devastating weapons, China is wondering if it made a mistake by entering into Indian territory. In the Galwan Valley assault that China launched on Indian soldiers on June 15, it lost many more soldiers than India did. As it mulls war, it also realizes that India is no longer the <em>Hindi-Chini bhai bhai</em> pushover it once was.

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Col D.P.K. Pillay, research fellow, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MPIDSA), and recipient of Shaurya Chakra award, says: “2020 is different from 1962 as we have actually stood up to China. We have been able to counter-mobilize our troops quickly. We began making alliances with friendly nations on time and have not shied of announcing these alliances publicly. We also have better military capabilities than the Chinese PLA.”

It seems India has learnt from many previous mistakes. It has already activated its air bases, which it did not use in the 1962 war. Various air force jets have been thundering over the Himalayas, close to the Chinese border. The decision to not activate the Indian Air Force in 1962 was also why we lost the war. It is believed that the then American ambassador advised Nehru to not use the Air Force. Not just the Americans, even a British advisor to Nehru gave the same ill-advice.

Pillay says that currently our border forces are well-clothed, well-entrenched in higher positions and also are well-stocked, adding that India is no longer a poor nation anymore as was in the 1960s. He says: “Though we lost, there was a positive fallout of the 1962 war. It led to the 1971 victory against Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. We began understanding China better. We also came to know that placating China does not help as its appetite for usurping boundary does not end.”

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Reading the signs is important. Understanding China and how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) works are vital. A similarity between the situation in 1962 and now is that China is clearly showing aggressive behavior. At that time, the communist country had annexed Tibet. It had also said that it did not recognize the McMahon line. It was raising boundary disputes with the Indian political leadership. Two different assessments by the Indian Army had said that China plans to attack India. But the Indian political leadership consistently ignored the dark clouds gathering on the horizon, including warning signs from the army, reposing more faith in China than its own people.

The Indian response which included the Forward Policy—to create small posts to defend the border—against China did not work. The entire operation to defend the Indian border was executed from Delhi. India had no workable or reliable maps for most part of the border.

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Much water has flown since then. The global attitude towards China—owing to the spread of coronavirus from Wuhan, the aggression against India, the crackdown on pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, the violation of the exclusive economic zones in the South China Sea, the threats to Taiwan, and the trade war with the US—has changed perceptibly in just one year.

Compared to 1962, India is in a far better position to handle China on the border. It has to sit down patiently for many more rounds of diplomatic talks, keep a constant vigil on its borders, match Chinese troop deployment—and also act smart. The country has to remain alert to Chinese deception, the use of dummy sites as well as their smart bombs.

While India has moved on considerably since 1962, the Chinese PLA is once again standing on the icy Indian border making war cries and twiddling its thumbs, wondering if the long march to Ladakh was any good..