THE OPPOSITION is unlikely to adopt a “very aggressive” position on the border stand-off with China in Parliament, after arriving at a broad understanding with the government ahead of the monsoon session starting Monday to maintain a measured tone in line with India’s diplomatic position on the issue, sources told The Indian Express. During a briefing on Friday at Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s residence, the Opposition parties asked the central ministers present to make efforts to de-escalate the tension with Beijing and keep diplomatic channels open to resolve the crisis, said sources.
The Government informed the Opposition that it was confident of resolving the issue through diplomatic channels and discussions, they added. Apart from Singh, the Centre was represented at the meeting by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, and senior officials, including National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar. The Opposition leaders included Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge and Anand Sharma, SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav, NCP’s Sharad Pawar and CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury. Using maps and a power-point presentation, Jaishankar told Opposition leaders that although the dispute is between China and Bhutan, the Chinese are constructing roads near the international border, which affects India’s strategic interests, said sources. They added that Doval, who is visiting China for a BRICS NSAs meeting on July 26-27, did not speak during the briefing.
Jaishankar’s presentation traced the genesis of the dispute, with the Opposition being informed about how Chinese troops entered Indian territory in May and June, and destroyed an old post, said sources. They were told that there is another post that China wants to remove to build the road, said sources. The leaders were also informed that there was at least one instance of a “face-off” in which troops from both sides lined up against each other. The presentation also indicated that China did not have territorial claims in the area surrounding the stand-off, said sources.
While all parties asked the Government to find a diplomatic solution, sources said that Mulayam, a former defence minister, wanted India to “teach a lesson” to China so that situations, such as the current stand-off in Doklam, would not arise in future. The SP was in favour of “strong action”, said sources. Sources that Mulayam and Pawar, also a former defence minister, would separately meet with Jaitley during the Parliament session on this issue. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said that while he supported the Government’s efforts to resolve the standoff through diplomatic channels, India should let Bhutan take the lead in negotiating with China. “Let us see what the results are… if it is not in our interests, then intervene,” sources quoted him as saying. Yechury also pointed out that China has been having border discussions with Bhutan since 1984.
Congress’s Sharma said that the standoff should not be allowed to affect the “settled part” of the Sikkim sector and expressed concern that India “may be running the risk of unravelling that”.
Asked after the briefing whether the Congress was satisfied, Sharma told The Indian Express, “We were informed. We cannot say that we are satisfied. We were informed about the sequence of events, the background as to how this situation has aggravated into a tense standoff between the two armies. They said they will continue with diplomatic efforts. We told them that diplomatic channels must remain fully active and conflict cannot be the best option. It should be de-escalated and resolved.” Stressing that the Congress will raise the issue in Parliament, Sharma said that his party told the Government that India’s concerns have to be fully met and there should not be any compromise on national security.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Yechury said that there will have to be a discussion in Parliament on this issue. “Why such a standoff after all these years? We need to introspect. Several things have to be borne in mind, India’s strategic alliance with the US, the defence partnership with the US, naval exercises with Japan in the South China Sea, allowing the Dalai Lama to hoist the Tibetan flag in Arunachal Pradesh. All these things are behind this. Ties with all our neighbours are deteriorating, be it Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. These are larger issues, which need to be discussed in Parliament,” he said.
In its presentation, sources said, the Government spoke about the meeting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had with Chinese President Xi Jingping on the sidelines of the BRICS meeting in Hamburg last week. Sharma, however, pointed out that the Chinese side has categorically denied the meeting. “I asked them to tell us what was discussed. They parried it. We are not satisfied on that response,” he said. The AIADMK backed the Government to the hilt, with its leader A Navaneethakrishnan also pointing out that China’s influence is on the rise in Sri Lanka, which is “a matter of concern”.
JD(U)’s Yadav said that the growing bonhomie between China and Pakistan would be a problem for India, and New Delhi must be on good terms with “at least one of them”.
Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien said that his party raised “some serious questions”. “Mamatadi (West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee) has been talking about China in the context of the flare-up in the hills. Today, Siliguri was mentioned five times in the presentation; naturally, it is the chicken neck,” he said. Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Gopal Baglay said that all parties appreciated the “detailed briefing” by the Government and that “all participants expressed strong support for India’s approach and also for the need for national unity”.