China-India War: How Will it Impact the Northeast?
By Dr. K. Hoshi | EMN
The current standoff between the Indian and Chinese troops’ near India-China-Bhutan tri-junction started in mid-June 2017 but it was not until June end when media published a confusing ground report. Doka La is in Sikkim sector where India (Sikkim) has direct territorial border with China. India has no direct territorial border with China over the Doklam plateau. Doklam is an unresolved dispute between China and Bhutan. India has no direct claim over the territory in question. According to official sources, on June 6, 2017, China bulldozed an old bunker of India in Doka La region after the Indian side refused to accede to China’s request. The current standoff started on June 16, 2017 in Doklam plateau when the Indian troops stopped a road construction by China. China claims that the construction of road (possibly widening of road that had been in existence for over a decade) was in Chinese territory (Donglang region) and not at the tri-junction point. Indian troops moved into Doklam plateau claiming it was on the request of Bhutan. Bhutan has diplomatic ties with India but not with China. The dispute is between China and Bhutan. It is not a tri-nation (India-China-Bhutan) dispute. China alleges that India is averse to China-Bhutan direct dealing on the dispute and thus, India’s undue interference. China and Bhutan had over twenty rounds of inconclusive talks to resolve the dispute. To open up diplomatic channels to end the standoff, China says India should pull back her troops first but India says both have to withdraw simultaneously. So, the standoff continues. For how long, it is unpredictable. Sources said the current standoff has been the longest, post-1962 China-India war. This is in nutshell, the introduction of the persisting problem as gathered from media sources. Thus, without repeating the details of what experts had already narrated and expounded, I wish to deal directly, on the headline given above.
General apprehension is that, the current standoff may finally escalate into another border war that has the potential to progress to full-fledged China-India war. In such eventuality, how will the war impact the northeast? The anxiety of India vis-à-vis the Doklam standoff is palpably, the weak connect with the northeast, both physically and emotionally. Physically, northeast connects with mainland India by the so-called Chicken’s Neck or Siliguri corridor in northern part of West Bengal. India is apprehensive that Chinese troops’ move forward into the Doklam plateau that overlooks Chicken’s Neck poses threat to her mainland connect with an already turbulent northeast. India’s fear stemmed from varied reasons. Firstly, an existing Naga independence movement that pre-dated even India’s independence persists. Besides, there is anti-India stir for secession in most other northeastern states. Secondly, Indian govt.’s policy on restive northeast region over the past seven decades has been the most confused in that; Indian leaders are still not sure whether to treat northeast as foreign territory or Indian Territory. In the case of Nagaland, this confused policy is more conspicuous because of irrefutable history. India’s overall northeast policy had its origin in turbulent Nagaland of 1950s. Thirdly, on economic and development fronts, India has isolated and neglected the northeast for too long. India not only failed to take up systematic development initiatives seriously but also denied northeast of hassle-free foreign investments. This is because of her colonial mindset over the northeast, especially Nagaland.
The major policy fault line has built up the pressure within that is waiting to explode. It has the potential to drive or encourage many northeast rebel groups and Nagas to exploit for alternative out of China-India war. After her independence, India had kept northeast States under her grip by adopting colonial style approach of bullying on one side and causing division on the other side. By buying loyalty of one section of people, India keeps her ‘divide and rule’ policy in northeast active. To India, northeast is her territory but the people are just ‘northeast people’ and not even ‘northeast Indians’. These things proved that northeast is nothing more than Indian colony. The Home Minister of India Rajnath Singh on August 21, 2017 claimed that; “India had never cast an evil eye on any country, had never attacked a nation nor did it harbor any expansionist attitude”. India’s aggression of Nagaland since 1954 and her troops’ attacks Nags are classic examples to refute that deceptive claim. Indo-Naga war stirred up anti-India sentiment in other parts of northeast. For that reason, Indian experts called Nagas’ self-defense war against India’s naked aggression as the mother of all insurgencies in northeast.
India’s economic growth has no real impact in northeast. Now, there is growing sense of realization that northeast will never fully progress under Indian rule. There is growing desire to explore for new order. The economic constraints built up over the years may warm up anti-India stir once again to new tempo. The entire northeast rebels are waiting for re-activation. China-India war will give the much-needed fillip. If China offers more attractive alternative for peace and progress in return for local support in China-India war, most northeast rebels may choose to fight China’s war. This is because; most ethnic people of the northeast looked up to China at one point of time or other, as their guardian power for various reasons, inherent (because of common root) as well as the trust built in China.
India’s fear of Chinese intrusion into Siliguri corridor appears logical because; without securing this corridor, it is a lost war in northeast, to say the least. However, in actuality, even if India secures the 17 miles wide Chicken’s Neck, the long porous northeastern corridor poses greater threat. Most northeastern states lay naked. With little co-operation from local people, China will have no problem getting foothold there. It is unlikely that China will have problem with Myanmar to get safe passage. Such situation may push India to despair and tempt her to use her stockpile of arsenals, including nuclear, in Assam against the internal hostile targets and make it appear like the cannons to have come from the east, not from the west. Corollary out of China-India war is another aspect that none can afford to overlook. Normally, almost all wars in the world had corollaries. In post-1962 China-India war, the Govt. of India interned Chinese people living in India for centuries on suspicion of aiding the mainland China in the war. In the height of Indo-Naga war from mid 1950s to early 1960s, the anger of Indian military, post-1962 war, fell on Chinese look alike Nagas defending their homeland. Chinese look alike northeastern people in mainland Indian cities may face situation akin to post-1962 war. Such foolish action will only add fuel to the fire.
The Indian leaders seem to believe that the atmosphere of hostility in northeast is its strategic interest to keep her military in the Border States on high alert. Such policy has proved counter-productive. The internal hostile environment has greatly harmed the region on growth and progress. In the event of war, even if India wins the battle, she will certainly lose the war in the sense that the economic loss will cause further constraint on northeast. In the past, the northeast’s ethnic people had built hope on China for political liberation. In recent times, due to long neglect by India, economic liberation has emerged as the other high-end goal. Either way (win or loss), China has an edge over India to meet such imaginations post-war. Territorial loss may be as great as the entire northeast going out of Indian map. India’s geographical position is precarious for surface connectivity. With hostile Pakistan in the northwest and China in the north, the only safe passage over land is the precarious northeast towards Southeast Asian countries. The Indian warmongers seems to care less if India loses passage too. If northeast falls, can Bhutan stand? This is a question that India can find the answer only in the northeast. Indian leaders like J. P. Narayan preferred Nagaland as friendly neighbor than hostile Nagaland in forced union. The external threat from northeast corridor will never end so long as hostile northeast exists. The hostility in northeast will never cease as long as forced union exists. Sadly, Indian leaders refuse to admit that. The Doklam standoff is a wake-up call for India to review her policy on northeast.
Territorially, India has nothing to gain from Doklam standoff. It is just that India feels threatened by her neighbour’s activities too close to the border, especially in the Chicken’s neck. India’s defense on diplomatic front looks weak. It will not make India weaker or smaller to pull back first because; diplomatic solution if arrived at also is unlikely to change beyond restoring and maintaining status-quo. The stiff posture that India maintains now is not in her best interest because it carries the risk of losing both northeast and Bhutan in a worst-case scenario. When the chance of winning the war is not even fifty-fifty, it makes no sense to cry hoarse for war. India seems afraid that, if she pulls out first, Bhutan may take it as abandonment. The fear of losing grip on Bhutan is needless. The risk of losing northeast is much greater. Even in 1962 war, India literally bid adieu to Assam. Mainland Indians does not know the hearts of the northeast people but the northeast people know the hearts of mainland Indians. If northeast rings any bell to Indian leaders’ ears, it makes sense for India to offer pull out first, then help restore status quo between China and Bhutan. India has to choose; and choose wisely, between war and status-quo. Losing war was humiliating. Losing proxy war will be more humiliating. As for northeast, particularly Nagaland, any new order out of present hopeless situation seems tempting.