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  Opinion   Edit  28 Apr 2023  AA Edit | Tough talk by Rajnath, but little action on the ground

AA Edit | Tough talk by Rajnath, but little action on the ground

THE ASIAN AGE.
Published : Apr 29, 2023, 12:15 am IST
Updated : Apr 29, 2023, 12:15 am IST

It’s clear he wished to appear brisk and businesslike, as he eschewed formal courtesies

Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in a meeting with Secretary General, SCO, Zhang Ming, on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Defence Ministers’ Meeting in New Delhi, Friday, April 28, 2023. (PTI Photo)
 Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in a meeting with Secretary General, SCO, Zhang Ming, on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Defence Ministers’ Meeting in New Delhi, Friday, April 28, 2023. (PTI Photo)

Defence minister Rajnath Singh declined to shake hands with his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Shangfu, on Thursday when the two met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s defence ministers’ conference in New Delhi. It’s clear he wished to appear brisk and businesslike, as he eschewed formal courtesies. He did not mince words either.

According to a defence ministry statement, Mr Singh “categorically” conveyed to the visitor that the “development of relations” between the two countries “is premised on prevalence of peace and tranquillity at the borders”. Mr Singh said that all issues at the Line of Actual Control needed to be resolved in accordance with existing bilateral agreements and commitments.

Evidently, China presented a proposal to re-start military-to-military cooperation but this was rejected by India pending the sorting out of issues at the LAC. In plain terms, this means the return of Chinese troops to their own side of the LAC.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi had told Opposition leaders with a straight face on June 19, 2020 — a few weeks after the Chinese incursions into the Indian side commenced — that China had not intruded, India’s official statements refrain from noting that China is in occupation of thousands of square kilometres  of Indian territory.

But the exertions of the government make just this point as they seek restoration of status quo ante. External affairs minister S. Jaishankar excels at this game, given his background in diplomacy, and now it is Mr Singh whose heroics are on display as the Assembly election in Karnataka looms as a prelude to several other state elections and the Lok Sabha poll next year. In July 2021, in Dushanbe, on the sidelines of the SCO foreign ministers’ meet, Mr Jaishankar had noted that China’s actions in eastern Ladakh were “visibly impacting the (bilateral) relationship in a negative manner”.

The whole point seems to be to impress voters that India is ready under its present leadership to square up to any aggressor. The defence minister rarely lets go an opportunity to say that no country “dare cast an evil eye” on Indian lands — a literal, if rather un-special, translation of words to the same effect uttered in the national language — his mother tongue — by the bullied party when a street fracas breaks out.

However, the reality on the ground interrogates India’s leadership. Mr Singh’s high-sounding words about “the development of relations” being contingent on China vacating its aggression of India’s territory cause merriment when we look at the trade data. In the period 2015-2022, the bilateral trade was up 190 per cent, galloping at the rate of 12.87 per cent annually on average. Of this, Chinese imports rose by around 120 per cent and Indian exports declined by 38 per cent. In value terms, trade stands at $136 billion. When, after the 2020 Chinese transgressions in eastern Ladakh, a cry rose in the country for cutting trade and economy ties with the northern neighbour, India banned a few Chinese apps!

Leaving trade aside, in the military field which should directly concern the defence minister, the government showed its amateurishness when it disengaged from the icy heights on the Kailash Range at Rezng La and Rechin La our special forces had captured on the night of August 29-30, 2020, with uncommon valour, catching the Chinese by surprise. The PLA suddenly became pro-active and showed a genuine spirit of negotiation. Once we gave up those positions of value, China has gone back to saying “nyet”. The 18th round of military commanders’ talk ended last Sunday with no result.

Tags: rajnath singh, shanghai cooperation organisation, line of actual control, chinese troops, gen. li shangfu