The Continuing China-India Stand-off:
The stand-off between China and India continues despite consistent military talks to restore normalcy. Most recently, this stand-off took another negative turn when military tensions between the two countries escalated on the night of August 29-30th. Indian Army released a statement on August 31st alleging that the Chinese side had sought to escalate tensions on the southern bank of the Pangong Tso lake, but was effectively pre-empted from doing so by the Indian side.
There have been mixed reports of physical violence – with some claiming that there was no violence, while others claimed that there was some hand-to-hand combat. As per the Indian side, the Chinese movements were noticed closer to the southern bank of Pangong Tso. The Chinese, under the cover of night, had attempted to violate the status quo by altering the Chushul gap, in an attempt to push the LAC further towards India’s side. The Indian Army, in response, occupied the southern heights of the lake – a crucial strategic point. India also sent its special operations battalion – consisting of Tibetan Special Frontier Forces – to repulse the Chinese.
The heights were lying dormant and could give advantage to the side occupying them, in terms of controlling the southern bank of Pangong Tso and areas around it. While the Indian side claims that the area now occupied lies on the Indian side of the LAC, China claims the opposite. The result is that India has much greater advantage as of now than China. India has managed to catch China by surprise.
The Indian army has emphasized that there was no incursion into Chinese territory and that they had occupied only Chushul heights which fell within India’s perception of the LAC, since mountain warfare involves occupying dominating heights. After the current stand-off, there have been continuous talks between the military commanders to defuse tensions and restore status quo, but they have ended in a deadlock.
It is also interesting to note that the northern and not the southern bank of Pangong Tso has been under contention. India has always exercised sovereignty over the southern bank and Chinese activities indicate their attempt to open a new disputed front. In follow-up to the latest stand-off, Indian forces further moved swiftly to occupy the heights at Finger 4 of the northern bank of the Pangong Tso lake. The resulting configuration from the occupation of mountain heights has given India considerable advantage, enabling it to survey Chinese movements more effectively.
Chinese response has mirrored the Indian response in balance and moderation, but this time Chinese are on backfoot, releasing 8 statements within 12 hours. Immediately after the Indian Army statement, China merely said that its troops did not cross the LAC. It was only by evening that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) released an accusatory statement saying that Indians crossed the LAC and violated the consensus reached at military level talks. The Chinese Foreign Minister also said in a statement that India-China border is not demarcated and there will always be problems and that consensus reached between leaders should be implemented to prevent differences from becoming conflicts. The Chinese foreign ministry further released another statement saying that, “China never provoked any war or conflict and never occupied an inch of other country’s territory. China border troops never crossed the line. Perhaps there are some communication issues.”
In contrast, India has not issued many statements, apart from the Indian Army statement and one by Minister of External Affairs. However, India has undertaken yet another round of banning of Chinese social media apps. 118 apps were banned, which also included the world-famous game, PUBG, which has been like a drug for young children and teenagers and even adults. This too evoked a Chinese response, with China saying that it was concerned about India banning legal apps in this manner. Many critics of Modi government, as well as, Chinese state-owned media have wondered at the guts of the Indian government to defy the logic of economic consequences and go ahead with such app bans.
The Congress Rout
Dramatic events occurred within the Congress party in the last week of August. The leadership crisis and the conflict between the Rahul-Priyanka Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi camps intensified further. 23 senior leaders of the party, including former Congress Chief Ministers, wrote a scathing letter to Sonia Gandhi on the disarray within the Congress and its dissipating national relevance. Letter signatories included old Congress leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kapil Sibal, Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor and many others.
Rahul Gandhi also accused many of these senior leaders of working at the behest of the BJP. Kapil Sibal reacted strongly to these allegations, without hesitating to attack Rahul Gandhi.
In a subsequent Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting, it was expected that Sonia Gandhi would step down. Sonia Gandhi even indicated as much and communicated a letter saying that she had stepped down. However, this turned out to be a gimmick. In the meeting, leaders supposedly overwhelmingly requested her to continue. Hence, it was decided that she would continue as Congress President for 6 more months.
Despite these decisions and subsequent reaching out to the 23 signatories of the letter, things continue to be tense within the Congress. Ghulam Nabi Azad has since raised the issue many times that there ought to be elections within the Congress. Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi continue to be at loggerheads with the senior leaders.
In Uttar Pradesh, a fight has openly broken out within Congress ranks. Jitin Prasada, a senior UP Congress leader, who was a signatory to the letter, has seen protests staged against him by Congress workers, demands for his expulsion and silence of the UP Pradesh Congress Committee over the issue. Further, Congress members have even rounded up UP Congress chief with accusations of ignoring the upper castes at the cost of OBCs. Many have also demanded Ghulam Nabi Azad’s ouster from Congress.
Another state where ripples have been felt is Maharashtra, where a fourth of 44 Congress legislators are gearing up for a rebellion, accusing the Maharashtra government of doling out step-motherly treatment to their constituencies. There is rebellion against Maharashtra Congress chief, Balasaheb Thorat. Congress is also disgruntled that it is being ignored by both Shiv Sena and NCP and excluded from major policy decisions that are taken.Major posters and policy advertisements that are displayed, often exclude the Congress. There is also rebellion against 3 Maharashtra Congress signatories to the infamous letter viz. Prithviraj Chavan, Mukul Wasnik and Milind Deora.
All in all, it is a virulent atmosphere within the Congress with various factions attacking each other.
Ram Mandir Bhumi Pooja
The Ram Mandir Bhumi Pooja was conducted on August 5th – a day recharged with nationalistic fervour, since it also coincided with the first anniversary of the revocation of Article 370. In his speech, PM Modi mentioned that the temple will unite the entire nation, and guide and inspire humanity for years to come. He referred to various versions of Ramayana and forms of Lord Rama, not only across India, but in Indonesia, Malayasia, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and even Iran and China.
The day also had political significance. In the follow-up to August 5th, there was a grand display from Ramayana at New York’s Times Square. Further, the secular-Leftist elements had been attempting to put public pressure to ensure that the PM does not go to Ayodhya in his official capacity, as it would symbolize clearly that India is no longer a secular state. However, on the day of August 5th, reverberations were felt across the political spectrum.
Every major political party and leader across the country felicitated the construction of Ram Mandir, with the exception of some like Mamata Banerjee. In Uttar Pradesh – the seat of the temple and the state currently leading the Hindutva resurgence across the country –all ‘secular’ leaders made sure they fervently invoked Lord Rama, with Priyanka Gandhi writing a long message describing Lord Rama, and, Akhilesh Yadav invoking both Rama and Krishna. The current situation in UP – a state whose politics has usually been dominated by national issues rather than local ones – is that the politics has become decisively nationalist with a strong touch of Hindutva, so much so that the opposition is now following this very framework and attempting to outdo BJP in it.
Ironically, these were the same parties – SP and BSP – which during their 1990s alliance had won the election despite using the cheap slogan ‘Mile Mulayam Kanshiram, Hawa Men Ud Gaye Jai Shri Ram’. Today these parties cannot even dream of saying anything like that. An OBC leader of SP who recently said that he did not believe in Lord Rama was immediately removed from his post by a panicked SP leadership.
Today, Congress, SP and BSP are busy competing for Hindu votes in UP, with SP and BSP trying to outdo each other in promising grand statues of Parashuram, invoking Lord Krishna, etc. The irony of then and now exposes the bygone political reality and consciousness of India during the secular era – it also brings home the fact that we still have a long way to go before this nationalistic resurgence becomes stable and permanent in our surface collective consciousness.
Riots in Bangalore occurred on the night of August 11th, when a Muslim mob attacked and completely burnt down the house of a Dalit Congress MLA, Akhand Srinivasamurthy, whose nephew had posted an Internet content about Prophet Mohammed which was objected to by Muslims. Stones were pelted at police and the KJ Halli and DJ Halli police stations were also damaged, resulting in at least 3 deaths and several injuries, as a result of attacks on journalists and general public.
While police arrested more than 150 people and the government is also following the example of Uttar Pradesh in confiscating property of rioters, the police, at the outset, cleared that this was not a spontaneous mob violence but a pre-planned riot. The name of Islamic Fundamentalist outfit, Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) – an outfit belonging to Muslim extremist backed Popular Front of India (PFI) – has come to the fore. Both are Kerala-based outfits, with previous allegations of terrorism, conversion and Love Jihad against them.
The attack happened in a reserved constituency of Pulakesinagar with almost 50% Muslim population. The house of the Congress MLA which was burnt down was the very same person who had been elected with a resounding majority with major Muslim support.
Riots in Bangalore are not a new occurrence. Politically, the pre-planned attack indicates that SDPI is spreading its wings in Karnataka and especially in Bangalore, becoming the new voice of Muslims and snatching the traditional Muslim support base of Congress. The key accused arrested for these riots is an SDPI leader who had unsuccessfully tried to contest the local elections.
Some of the accused have links also to the terror group, Al Hind. Instead of treating it merely as a communal riot, the government has invoked anti-terror laws and charged the accused under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).