It is pay-back time for Modi-2 which is celebrating its first anniversary. This time platitudes to reassure our security will not do. The public wants straightforward answers why the Chinese incursions were allowed to happen despite having such a top heavy security set up with a cabinet rank National Security Adviser and a four star general as Chief of Defense Staff.

After days of obfuscation we need to be grateful to Lt General S.L. Narasimhan, member National Security Advisory Board who confirmed the public apprehension on May 28 that “compared to the Doklam standoff of 2017, the Chinese side appears to be more aggressive this time”. However he assured the media that back room parleys were going on to defuse the tension which, according to him was because “we don’t have an agreed boundary”.

This may be perhaps the first official admission of the seriousness of the situation. NSAB is not the authorized forum to release such news. Why were the NSA, Defence Ministry or PMO silent?

The Doklam standoff lasted 2 months, 1 week and 5 days from16 June to 28 August 2017. Our media did not inform us what Washington Post ( August 28) had conveyed that Chinese official publication “China Daily” had warned us, even while they were pulling out, that “India stood to face retribution over the incident, arguing that New Delhi was complacent if it thought China was not prepared for military conflict if necessary”. Was this censored by the Modi government at that time to show that India had won?

Washington Post also felt that the dispute was resolved because China was hosting the “Brics” Summit (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) from 3 to 5 September, 2017at Xiamen, China. Possibly that might have been the reason for lessening the tension at that time. Mao Siwei, then Chinese Consul General had frankly admitted to WP that both sides decided to issue vague statements “Because of the sensitivity of the issue and the reluctance of either side to show weakness”. In his interpretation China agreed to stop road building and India to withdraw troops. He claimed that India would withdraw first and China later.

Thus practically all such situations on the Chinese border were patchwork agreements without any lasting solution because the respective border claims were not demarcated. That has enabled the Chinese to decide when and where they should do the incursion and catch us by surprise.

Fortunately what is missing in 2020 compared to 2017 is jingoism. In 2020 the fabled propaganda prowess of NDA has not unleashed the “Chest thumping” patriotism on a sober realization that foreign policy problems cannot be solved through excessive nationalism.

In 2017 the only sober voice was that of the late Sushma Swaraj who followed a Nehruvian line in facing Doklam crisis. She told the Rajya Sabha on August 2, 2017 that “dialogue is the only way out of the Doklam standoff” with China. She ruled out war as an option and added that “China has contributed to our economic strength”. She also advised patience and restraint “and also restraint in statements”.

Till then the nation was fed with different shades of combat readiness against China, whether it was during the Malabar Naval exercise or through the late Defence minister Manohar Parrikar’s “Brahmos” statement on February 14, 2017 or by the former Army Chief‘s (Now CDS) claim on June 8, 2017 that the “Indian Army is fully ready for a two and a half front war”.

The public could not be faulted for carrying these impressions after RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat’s complaint on October 13, 2013 that UPA’s weak policies had emboldened China and Pakistan to make incursions into India.

This was followed by Prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi who lambasted UPA government’s weak policy towards China on October 23, 2013. This was ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to China. Modi referred to the tensions with China on India’s border and said: “We remained weak when we needed to be strong". He was referring to the April 2013 Chinese border incursion and 3 week escalation.

Most surprisingly a prominent academic and China specialist in JNU speculated at that time: “A BJP prime minister would be stronger on China in terms of sovereignty and territorial issues…They will build up military assets and increase infrastructure on the border. The Chinese won’t like that, and there could be an initial dip in relations."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at that time

“India and China have historical issues and there are areas of concern," Singh said. “The two governments are addressing them with sincerity and maturity, without letting them affect the overall atmosphere of friendship and cooperation." Have Modi government realized this after 6 years in office?

If we rewind to 1959, we will find that the BJP”s founding father and ideological inspiration had made savage attacks on Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. On October 21, 1959 Chinese patrols ambushed an Indian police party in Ladakh and killed 10 of our men. The nation was deeply upset at this perfidy after the “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai” era. Attack on Nehru’s China policy was made by all opposition leaders including Bharatiya Jan Sangh founder the late Deendayal Upadhyaya.

Eminent historian Ramachandra Guha had said in his “Harvard Yenching Institute Working Paper Series” that Upadhyaya compared Nehru to Wajid Ali Shah, the 19th Century ruler of Awadh: “Only he (Nehru) knows when a crisis is not a crisis”. Guha says: “Week after week Upadhyaya excoriated Nehru and his China policy in the pages of RSS journal ‘Organizer’: ‘As usual Prime Minister has exhibited his temperamental weakness in dealing with the issue of Chinese aggression’. The Prime Minister’s attitude to China, concluded Upadhyaya, was ‘characteristic of his weak and timid nature’”.

The question then arises why the BJP, which has been continuously running our security policy since 2014 with an avowed “muscular” security policy, is fighting shy of implementing the late Upadhyaya’s desire by throwing out the intruders?

Vappala Balachandran is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat

Cover: Representational image