Contrary to public perception that the border standoff between India and China at Doklam involved a small number of troops, the Chinese had posted more than 12,000 soldiers, 150 tanks and artillery guns opposite Sikkim at Phari Dzong in Chumbi Valley during the 73-day standoff, a new book has revealed.
The book, Securing India The Modi Way: Pathankot, Surgical Strikes and More (Bloomsbury), written by Nitin A Gokhale, also contains Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) images of the site, which show that the standoff had actually started in the third week of May — it was made public by the Chinese on June 26.
Apart from a blow-by-blow account of the standoff, the book includes extensive quotes from National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, military chiefs and other senior Indian officials on Modi government’s approach to security issues. A chapter of the book, which will be released by Vice President Venkaiah Naidu in Delhi on Friday, was exclusively accessed by The Indian Express.
The book reveals that when tensions rose between the two sides, the Chinese had built up their presence to a size that exceeded a division opposite Sikkim. The Indian Army had also matched the build-up but did not feel the need to get troops close to the border due to the shorter distance, it says.
At the faceoff site, the book says, the Chinese used loud-hailers, or portable loudspeakers, to issue threats that referred to a repeat of the 1962 war. The Chinese also started construction of temporary defences along the Sikkim border in the form of stone-and-mud emplacements and undertook blasting to improve road infrastructure in their territory.
The UAV images in the book show the cheek-by-jowl stationing of soldiers and visible signs of the Chinese presence at Dolam plateau in third week of May. On May 21, the local Chinese commander informed his Indian counterpart that they were going to undertake “infrastructure activities in the area”, says the book. The Indian officer, aware of earlier instances of the Chinese repairing and starting annual maintenance of the existing road, noted the input but did not feel alarmed, it says.
The Chinese returned on May 24 in what was their first patrol of this summer to the area, says the book. They came up to the parking area, which marks the end of the existing road from Yatung to Doklam Plateau via Sinchela, and interacted with personnel of the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) as Indian Army troops watched from their post at Doka La, 200 metres away.
An Indian Army UAV captured the encounter between the two sides, which ended quickly with the Chinese and Bhutanese soldiers returning to their posts. The book says that the next encounter between the two sides took place on June 5, when another Chinese patrol came to the parking area. This time, the Chinese soldiers jostled with Bhutanese soldiers and forcibly “escorted” them to the RBA posts after threatening them, it says.
The Indians later learnt from their Bhutanese counterparts that the Chinese had warned the RBA to not interfere with the road construction they were about to undertake, the book says. The Indian officer on the ground duly reported the matter up the chain. And, according to the book, the Army Headquarters in Delhi decided to deal with the situation as it evolved but increased the vigil on ground. Then, at 7.30 am on June 16, a PLA light vehicle and nine heavy vehicles, including road construction equipment, reached the parking area.
An interaction between Indian and Chinese personnel took place at Contact Point from 7.50 to 10.10 am, says the book. Between 12.51 and 1.31 pm, a patrol of eight Bhutanese soldiers, which had come from Chela Post on the Jampheri Ridge, interacted with the Chinese in the parking area. The Chinese accompanied the Bhutanese patrol along the alignment of an under-construction track up to Jampheri Ridge, which was meant to be an extension of the existing road from Yatung to Dolam Plateau. The Chinese had taken four years to construct this road starting 1999.
At 1.50 pm, the book says, Indian troops delivered a message through a loud-hailer from Doka La to stop construction but the Chinese did not pay heed. According to the book, a temporary construction camp was also established by the Chinese in the parking area. The next morning, JCBs commenced construction work following which the Indian troops interacted twice with the Chinese, repeatedly asking them to stop but in vain.
The Chinese commenced work again on the morning of June 18, south of the parking area, says the book. The Indian officers on location carried out four interactions with the Chinese, and asked them to stop the construction activity. The matter was reported up the military hierarchy, the book reveals, and orders were issued from Delhi to stop the Chinese. At 7.52 am, the book says, a “human chain’ was formed by Indian troops to effectively block the Chinese. In response, by noon, another human chain was formed by 150 PLA troops opposite the Indian formation — this was effectively overwhelmed by more Indian troops.
Two days later, the highest Military Commander-Level flag meeting between two Major Generals was held at Nathu La with both sides stating their stance. The book says cordial interactions subsequently took place at Doka La on a daily basis between the Commanding Officers of both sides. A thaw started taking place from August 14 as diplomatic activity picked up pace, eventually leading to a disengagement on August 28. On September 7, as first reported by The Indian Express, both sides moved away by 150 metres from the faceoff site as the first major step in the disengagement.