China’s Ladakh-Arunachal Fetish Is At Best A Two-Word Story: ‘Nothing Mutual’

by Nishi Daas - Oct 31, 2020 07:06 PM +05:30 IST
China’s Ladakh-Arunachal Fetish Is At Best A Two-Word Story: ‘Nothing Mutual’Children from the Monpa tribe in Arunachal Pradesh (BIJU BORO/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Clearly, China is missing two crucial aspects. First, it is attempting to yank two cubs away from their established tiger mom.

    The situation is distinctly different from Hong Kong and Tibet, where the territories have been fighting for their independence and autonomy.

On a cold winter evening at Dirang, Arunachal Pradesh, I couldn’t resist plonking myself in the midst of a group of Monpa tribals who were chatting merrily around a bonfire, munching dried corn in between glassfuls of freshly brewed rice beer.

The tempo rose as topics moved from the recent kiwi harvest through the Citizenship Amendment Bill to the Chinese incursion in the eastern sector.

When everyone had expounded his bit on the aggression, Sange Tsering, a youngsters in his mid-20s narrated an experience of an old man he met at a village near Tawang who had witnessed the events of 1962.

As we listened rapt, he recalled the codger say, “We heard that the Jaamis (local slang for the Chinese) were fast advancing. Many villages near Tawang were emptying out with villagers fleeing downhill to safer habitats. A handful of us chose to stay back to look after our property and belongings. The Chinese soldiers arrived, coolly settled into the empty hutments, and began feeding off the granaries and livestock. Surprisingly though, they showed no signs of hostility, and even insisted on cooking for us. At the call of retreat, the unit packed off without demonstrating any withdrawal symptoms.”

Sensing a tinge of fondness in the old man for the invaders, Sange asked him if he would have preferred them to remain permanently or ever considered moving to the other side.

“After all, one keeps hearing about China’s affluence, infrastructure and better quality of life,” he added by way of provocation.

The reply couldn’t have been more emphatic. “Never. They were good to us only because we were harmless, and they wanted our cooperation in navigating through the hills. Haven’t you heard of their brutality towards young kids? Can we ever have a discussion like this in their country? And you know what is clearly their worst? Their food. Yuck! Never tasted anything as awful, and the stupid jaamis refused to take the hint."

The raucous jeering and back-slapping that followed summed up the attitude of every Arunachali towards the Chinese and their advances.

China has cast its lustful eyes on Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh for decades. It seems to draw inspiration from Kashmir, where a section of the local population either wants independence or merger with Pakistan.

Its leaders believe that the promise of modern infrastructure and affluence similar to that in mainland China would be lure enough for locals to accept an annexation from India.

And, if this carrot doesn’t work, it can always replicate the stick of subjugation in Hong Kong and Tibet.

Clearly, China is missing two crucial aspects. First, it is attempting to yank two cubs away from their established tiger mom. The situation is distinctly different from Hong Kong and Tibet, where the territories have been fighting for their independence and autonomy.

Second, it reflects either China’s ignorance of its unpopularity in Ladakh and Arunachal or a supreme disdain of it.

The Ladakhis are a peace-loving people who have steadfastly reiterated their Indian citizenship. The recent split from Kashmir has only amplified their loyalty, since it has helped the region come out of the shadow of the erstwhile capital region. A surge in tourism, especially after a few Bollywood blockbusters, has brought it into the consciousness of mainstream India.

Today, Ladakh is no more a remote, unfamiliar region, since Khardungla, Nubra and Tso Moriri are some of the most popular destinations in the country.

And Pangong Tso holds such reverence that even civilians would take up arms to defend it.

Arunachal is essentially different on two counts. Its mountains are more luxuriant, and it is home to a multitude of ethnic tribes, each with its own culture and tradition.

Unlike Ladakh, it unfortunately remains an enigma for many Indians.

Questions to locals about their nationalistic preference are usually met with an edge of frustration, and a resounding ‘Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani’.

The ties that bind the state to the rest of the country are consistent across the various tribes spread over this geographically massive state, as I have learnt over my numerous visits. A sampler:

The British handed over the governance of the region to India, and hence its citizens are indubitably Indian.

  • The citizens are now a part of the Indian system in all respects — education, administration, commerce, culture…even corruption, and a realignment with any other system at this stage is unimaginable.
  • Hindi binds the state to the rest of the country. In fact, it is also the most common tool of communication among the different tribes, each with its own language or dialect.
  • The earlier isolation of the region has been bridged by the spread of internet.
  • The long-held grievance against pathetic infrastructure is making way for measured optimism. Gone are the days when travel between Teju in Arunachal and Dibrugarh in Assam, less than 200km apart, involved 3-4 days of hitching rides on trucks and boats. Today, it takes less than 4 hours thanks to newly built roads and bridges, a couple of which Prime Minister Modi has himself inaugurated in the last few years.
  • There is great appreciation for freedom to practice local tradition, lifestyle and customary laws. Many share with pride that the Indian civic and judicial authorities in many districts defer to the fair rulings of local village council, something which would be unthinkable in a Chinese environment.
  • Finally, there is the grim example of Tibet under Chinese rule.

Having said this, Arunachalis do have some legitimate grouses. There are instances, they lament, when Indian authorities behave like their Chinese counterparts — brutally ignoring ecological concerns to build infrastructure that would destroy more than it would bestow.

The proposed dam at the Dibang Valley is the most recent example of the callousness. Yet, there is hope in the mainstream avenues of redressal mechanisms.

But alas! Since when has unpopularity among masses ever deterred China from pursuing its territorial misadventures! The more the resistance, the greater has been the lust to grab and subjugate.

China should understand that, unlike Hong Kong and Tibet which are fighting for their autonomy, Ladakh and Arunachal are perfectly at home in India.

Vaulting ambition would only bring out the fiercest response from both the tiger and cubs alike.

Nishi Daas is Founder Director, Anvayins.
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