To set the matter straight, the Prime Minister’s Office on Saturday, in a statement, said that the Prime Minister was crystal clear that “India would respond firmly to any attempts to transgress the Line of Actual Control (LAC)”. He specifically emphasised that in contrast to the past neglect of such challenges, Indian forces now decisively counter any violations of LAC, the statement further said.
As PM Modi said, because we have better infrastructure in place at LAC, we are to patrol more, and hence we tend to meet more and confront more. To put things in the right perspective, the increased strategic infrastructure has rattled China to no end as the Dragon is facing resounding Indian military might, not the relatively docile India it used to deal with, before 2014.
DECODING THE LAC CONFLICT
In the last few years, there have been frequent face-offs in certain sensitive areas in Eastern Ladakh. It has been a direct outcome of India’s ability of increased patrolling in the area due to vastly improved infrastructure readiness.
In fact, the more frequent face-offs are not necessarily a sign of weakness, or due to deteriorating relations, but indicate greater ability on the part of Indian Army to monitor, detect and respond to Chinese PLA patrolling.
As infrastructure keeps improving, these possibilities will only increase.
There is a long history of India’s dealings with China, and almost all of the reverses that India has suffered have been during the previous rule, particularly of Congress regimes. It all started with the Tibet’s annexation by China which India accepted quietly in 1959. In 1962, the loss of large chunk of territory, and the then Indian Prime Minister interpreting it by saying that “not a blade of grass grows there”, sums up the attitude towards border issues.
During the 1980s and 1990s, when China started taking lead over India economically, militarily, and in infrastructure construction, India was not able to respond and match up in equal measure. In the 1990s, boundary management agreements were signed that further limited India’s manoeuvring ability, particularly the 1993 Accord.
The United Progressive Alliance era (2004 to 2014) allowed multiple transgression of Indian land through deceptive salami-slicing methods of the Chinese, and even lost lands in Demjok areas of Ladakh during the period of 2008 to 2012.
AK Antony, the then defence minister, conceded in Parliament that we have lost the infrastructure race with China. It was in this era, that the serving army chiefs repeatedly pointed out how our armed forces were facing shortfall of critical ammunition and border infrastructure woes to counter enemies.
The policy paralysis was reversed following the regime change in 2014 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi changed decades of drift in India’s policy towards China by bridging the infrastructure gaps in border areas by constructing roads and bridges with faster pace.
It was PM Modi who dared China on several fronts and foiled its bids in Doklam, stopped RCEP, and strongly opposed Chinese dream project OBOR.
BIG INFRA PUSH WORRYING CHINA
The genesis of the building up of faster strategic infrastructure can be traced back to 2014, when the Modi government gave it a big push. One of the first decision of the government was to issue a general approval in July 2014 for the creation of road network by Border Roads Organisation (BRO) within 100km of aerial distance from LAC. This general approval ensured that requirement of prior central government and other bureaucratic process were done away with.
Subsequently, this exception has been extended to all border security related infrastructure such as border outposts, floodlights, fencing etc, and all projects executed by the Central paramilitary organisations of the ministry of Home Affairs.
This was in stark contrast to the approach taken by the UPA government where blocking of such sensitive infrastructure projects under various reasons was the norm. Often the delays were due to flip flops on environmental clearances.
Similarly, the Modi government delegated powers to DG, BRO, clearing the way for construction of 66 operationally critical Indo-China borders roads. Earlier, every approval came to the ministry of defence. These powers were subsequently delegated to officers up to chief engineer level in BRO.
The government also took crucial steps like the procurement of modern construction on a massive scale during 2017-2020. It also enhanced airlift of construction equipment and material from 2017 onwards, often using Chinhook helicopters.
The proactive shift in the policymaking resulted in massive infrastructure creation.
According to BRO statistics, between 2008 and 2017, the formation cutting of about 230km of roads were done annually, but this has now been increased to 470km per year between 2017 and 2020 along the India-China border. Similarly, between 2008 and 2017, the speed of surfacing of roads was 170km per year, but it has been increased to 380km per year between 2017 and 2020.
Only one tunnel was constructed between 2008 and 2014, while six tunnels have been made during 2014 to 2020. The construction of about 19 tunnels is also under progress.
During 2008 to 2014, 7270 metres long bridges were built, while 14,450 metres of bridges were built between 2014 and 2020. In the period between 2008 and 2014, roads of 3,610km were constructed on the border while 4,764kms of roads were built between 2014 and 2020.
For about five decades after 1962 war, the construction of these roads which were neglected has now been taken care of and it has been constructed in record period of time along the LAC. Undoubtedly, India’s push to build and upgrade infrastructure along the LAC is behind China’s aggression and recent border skirmishes.
(The writer is the former secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing. The views expressed are personal)