“Inch-by-inch” in far-away Demchok..
How many of you read this “news” on 27th? I am guessing most of you missed it. I did too…until I was alerted to it by a friend on fb.
…The government ban on construction in Demchok, one of the disputed points in eastern Ladakh, is riling residents, who claim that the Chinese side is speedily ramping up its infrastructure and the Centre is just ‘watching’
..Even the Leh administration cannot go ahead with any construction activity here without getting it approved from the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of External Affairs.
“When China is steadily building infrastructure on its side, there is no point in imposing restrictions on us,” says Gurmet Dorje, who hails from the area and is an elected councillor in the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council.
Demchok is not just any other town in Ladakh. It is on the “Line of Actual Control” between India and China. It also has a long history of “complaints” (and more recently, “warnings”) by the Chinese. More than 2 years back, in December 2009, China had apparently lodged its protest with India regarding construction of a road in Demchok. More recently, The Tribune newspaper claimed it had
…obtained pictures of Chinese soldiers holding red-coloured banners to warn local residents in the area. “This is the Line of Actual Control, you are on Chinese Territory,” read the banners.
The “history” of Chinese incursions in Demchok goes back to at least a few years...Writing in Jan ’08, Tarun Vijay cautioned us about taking this matter lightly:
Thupstan Chhewang, belonging to the Royals of Leh is a highly respected Ladakhi leader who was once president of Ladakh Congress party. His one member party in Parliament is supporting UPA… His unassuming soft spoken personality exudes confidence and a rare dedication for the cause of his people and the nation. If he has raised an alarm on the Chinese incursions in Ladakh it must be taken seriously.
Of late Ladakh has been witnessing a continuous trespassing by Chinese shepherds and soldiers in Chushul area where we fought a famous war of Trishul mountains led by Major Shaitan Singh (who received Param Vir Chakra after his and his brave men’s bodies were discovered one year after their martyrdom) and in the vast grass lands near Demchok.
…Chinese are known to enter our region in a clandestine manner. In the initial stage they would do it through innocent passages into our territory using shepherds, soldiers and traders. If caught, they would say, oh nothing to worry we simply went wayward.
If not, it continues for years, the intruders would leave their marks, some properties and cattle too. Make some permanent bases. Later these small ‘marks’ would be used to claim that ‘since ages’ Chinese have been using that piece of land – see the ‘proofs’!
We were caught napping during Kargil intrusion. When patriotic Ladakhi shepherds told the Army about Pakistani intrusions initially, it was not taken seriously. In the same way alarms about the latest Chinese intrusion are being taken lightly and in some ‘strategic’ quarters its being suggested that such talks would hamper the growing trade between the two nations.
In Jan ’10, work was abandoned on a road construction project under veiled threats from Chinese:
…The letter (from a village in Ladakh) says that Chinese army officers have been threatening labourers who are making a road under the NREGA scheme.The threats are verbal, but they are enough for the workers to completely abandon the project.
LAHDC Chairman Chering Dorjay said, “People of Demochok were building a road under NREGA scheme, while doing they were threatened by Chinese army. It’s not true that Government had asked them to stop work, people stopped work after they were threatened and subsequently we reported the matter to Deputy Commissioner (DC), Leh.
…Ladakhi authorities say that last January (i.e. in 2009), Chinese army men went as far as to enter Indian territory and assault nomads camping on the winter pastures.Dorjay said, “They came in large numbers and verbally threatened our people and there are incidents when they physically assaulted our people. Last year they burnt one of the tents of our nomad Demchok winter pastures.” In the past, in Ladakh, Chinese helicopters have violated the airspace and their troops had walked way inside Indian territory and painted on the rocks, perhaps all these signs are enough for the Indian side to sit and take a strong note.
This was followed by another “warning” and halting of work in October last year (2010). Although some brave words were uttered by an ex-CM in response, nothing came out of it…
…Former Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah has threatened China of revenge in Leh during summer amid reports of “incursions” into Indian territory in J&K’s Ladakh region.
Farooq Abdullah told reporters in Jammu on Sunday that India will show its strength during summer as there is extreme cold this time in Leh.
The “Establishment” played down these incidents and put them on “perceptional differences about the Line of Actual Control“. But a crucial slip of tongue almost went unnoticed. While referring to Demchok, here is what Chief of Army General VK Singh said:
In this particular case, the so-called T Point… is an area (through which) the Chinese have, over a period of time, felt that the LAC passes through.
That sounded familiar. So I did some digging. Sure enough, this was part of a pattern. So how exactly did the Chinese stance evolve over a period of time? Thanks to Google, I stumbled on this news-report from Aug 2005. That report had “Brigadier Manvendra Singh…officer in charge of the area“, quoted as saying:
Not a single shot has been exchanged in the area (Demchok) and there is complete peace.
What happened between 2005 – 2011? And was this change from an environment of “complete peace” to incremental aggression a well-calibrated Chinese tactic? There are reasons to worry…A PTI report from Jan ’10 mentions how their is unanimity amongst officials that:
..we (India) are withdrawing from LAC and our area has shrunk over a period of time. Though this process (is) very slow but we have lost substantial amount of land in 20-25 years
Why does this matter? While I am hardly qualified to comment on the strategic importance (or otherwise) of Demchok, one thing is clear. It would be a mistake to ignore Demchok as just another sleepy town in the mountains…For one, it is bang on the border with India’s most dangerous strategic rival. It is also possibly the shortest (and easiest) route to Kailash Mansarovar.