To war or not to war? That is the quandary India faces—one that every responsible democratic nation like India faces. For rogue nations, run by military dictators or fascist Communist regimes, it is hardly a question to ponder over. With their world vision still rooted in medieval times, they march into other people’s lands at will, causing death and destruction in the perceived enemy’s land.
We have seen it too often—with Pakistan and with China. The Indian people pay a heavy price for being in a rough neighborhood. Since May 5, the neighborhood has become rougher with strident war cries emanating from Beijing and the constant thud of boots on the border.
So, how does India deal with China? Or, more pertinently, can we do anything about China? Answers are not easy, and therein lies India’s dilemma.
Col D.P.K. Pillay, research fellow, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, and recipient of Shaurya Chakra award, says: “We have used all methods of appeasement with China. We need to stand up to them now. We can do it and we have done it earlier. We are dealing with a country which does not follow law or international conventions. All other countries clamber away from China and do not want a confrontation, but India has had a different experience with China.”
He says that neighborly relations do not matter to China as they do not really care for diplomatic niceties. They have their own ambitions and do not allow talks and negotiations to come in their way. “What matters to them is humiliation. By beating them at their own game, they will understand. We had developed strong economic and trade ties with them. There was a lot of goodwill for China but all that is lost now,” he says.
He adds that India has shown China its place many times and that has kept peace on the borders. It was done during Indira Gandhi’s time in 1967 when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) lost nearly 400 soldiers at Nathu La and Cho La. It happened again during Rajiv Gandhi’s time when India surprised the Chinese in Sumdorong Chu in Arunachal Pradesh in 1987 with swift and aggressive military manoeuvres.
Pillay adds that the Indian Army prowess was seen once again during the Doklam stand-off in 2017 when India interceded at the India-Bhutan-China trijunction and made the PLA agree to India’s stand. “Once again at Ladakh we have confronted the Chinese soldiers and shown that we are no pushovers. We are a better, more professional fighting force and as soldiers we do not deceive,” adds Col Pillay.
Col Anil Bhat, who has served in the infantry and the armored corps, agrees with this assessment: “All these agreements with the Chinese are meaningless. None has been followed in letter and spirit by the PLA. While the PLA is superior to Indian Army in numbers of men and machines/weapons, it is certainly does not have the kind of fighting experience that Indian Army has in all kinds of terrain—particularly in the mountains. We have been dealing effectively with insurgents and terrorists both in the northern and eastern Himalayas. PLA is not going to forget Indian Army’s very deadly dose of extreme close quarters combat without firearms on the night of 15-16 June 2020.”
Col Bhat adds that the Chinese are extremely unhappy about Indian Army’s progress over the last few years. “We have all arms of service including armored, artillery and air-defence as well as the very effective Indian Air Force in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.”
He adds that the Indian Army has had many a face-off with the Chinese over the past 53 years till June 16, 2020: “After one such face-off, we conducted an integrated military exercise within days. In September 2019 also we had held a fairly large military exercise on the border. With whatever we have in the mountains and particularly the fierce fighting spirit of our soldiers, no matter from which part of India, we are in a position to tell the Chinese to get lost.”
Pillay says that despite the economic disparity between the countries, India has proven itself in the past in many scientific and economic parameters. “As a nation we are capable of doing much more. We developed the super computer when it was denied to us. We made our own missile systems and the satellites, therefore, we need to keep developing ourselves.”
He adds that the arrogance of the empire will be its demise. “The Chinese have opened up too many fronts. They will collapse under their own weight. We just need to be patient and play our cards carefully.”
He also feels that with the neighborhood that we are in, India should always be prepared for war. “We as a nation have to be on our toes if we need to keep ourselves safe and the country self-reliant.”