Dear fellow countrymen, defence analysts and armchair strategists:
For long I have been holding myself from telling you that I am the mother, sister and daughter of every soldier, sailor and airman guarding that line between peaceable sanity and exploding madness; that red line that exhorts patriotic soldiers to stand firm and protect all that means ‘Nam, Namak and Nishan’; the boundaries and sovereign integrity of our nation.
Everyday, we read conflicting reports on the troop presence in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh. I am a well-trained Army child and a wife and a mother, so I ask no questions. But I am truly afraid. Fifty-eight winters have come and gone, but the thought of my father and his gallant comrades freezing on the high, desolate mountains of Arunachal Pradesh does not leave my heart. In 1962, men like the first Prime Minister of the country, Jawaharlal Nehru, who we all held in high esteem and had great faith in, sent our men to be butchered.
The Himalayas were impregnable, or so did Nehru and his coterie think. But those great mountains were not insurmountable after all. Unsuspecting and unprepared men with yaks and mules were launched forth to scale the frozen frontiers in 1962. Those men built bunkers, hauled machinery and mortars with bare hands and tired shoulders. My father, and his comrades, fought till the last man standing, till the last bullet untill they lay their heads down and went into eternal slumber. It is never enough to keep asking the question why.
Initially, in eastern Ladakh and the northeast, we saw an innocuous push here and a little nudge there and enemies crept stealthily into our land. Strangers moved into Barahoti and in eastern Ladakh where even the most learned men had little idea of the terrain. I know of troops, officers who lived in a forward area called Kyari, in just dug outs, wall papered by blank blankets provided by the Army and two similar blankets that served as doors to keep the warmth of bukharis in. Who had heard of Daulat Beg Oldi, Chushul or even Rezang La? Even at that point, looking into the mirror of time, the polity of those days read the tea leaves in a cup of arrogance. They felt China would never go in for a misadventure and cross the line. But they did, and then the sky fell and it rained tears of blood and sweat, and thousands of lives, like mine, became dark with clouds that would not lift for a long time.
And then, like I fear now, the attention was on Ladakh but the attacks came from the east. They came from Khenzemane, Kibithu and the unforgettable Namaka Chu battle of 2 Rajput, my father’s brave battalion. It was only a few years ago that India had gained independence. Victory and invincibility were keywords. But a new lexicon was formed -- defeat. Thousands of the bravest men were mowed down. Thousands of lives snuffed out. Today, too, China is baring its fangs through Nepal or eastern Bhutan. Tawang, at present, is out of focus. But it looks like the Chinese may just sneak from the eastern flank of Bhutan. We will be shocked yet again by fearsome and more hi-tech aggression from the east. China will transgress without a warning. There will be tremendous casualties. China is worried about reprisal from its people. Mike Pompeo posted that the Chinese take “incredibly aggressive action”. Our neighbours’ actions are more in concert and by design than default. It frightens the mother, the sister in me.
Yes, we are better prepared militarily and politically, and also on the international fora. We do see new Rafales and fighting equipment. But we are still under-prepared in terms of infrastructure. We are threatened by China’s aggressive stance on the road to DBO. The BRO works night and day. Yet we are far behind in our preparation, in case there is a full-blown war. I shudder to think about the encore of 1962. We lack equipment and rifles to take on a two-pronged war on the western and eastern front. Much of what our Army fights with is their willpower to not taste a face defeat and keep the ‘izzat’ of their unit, their nation and then their families intact. These are our men who have promised their lives to protect you, me, and us and every inch of our land.
It is easy to sing in unison “Ae meri Zamin, ae mere watan. Maine tere liye kayi dard sahe”, but as that young boy on the border stops breathing, his whole family is plunged into permanent darkness and doom and left to fend for themselves. If they risk their lives to defend our land, must they not have enough wherewithal to fight with? Must their families not be promised to be better looked after? When such families are better looked after, the promises fulfilled, only then will we be ready to send our boys to the battleground; only then will we be able to attract more motivated soldiers and officers.
We cannot and must not be dictatorial or autocratic like many of our neighbours. Every life matters. As a nation, we must ensure that if we expect a soldier to do his job successfully, he should be adequately equipped. The defence budget has sunk to an abysmal low of 1.2 per cent. A war cannot be fought and won by bravery alone. It will not be a battle of fisticuffs like Galwan. It will be a highly technical war, supported by thousands of troops on both sides. The Chinese have dug in and are not willing to move back. Indian soldiers have settled into their own territory, way behind the LAC. This is frightening. The terrain is so vicious and unfriendly that in an event of sudden aggression, our forces will be butchered without any help reaching them. The Pangong Tso will not be the surreal blue as it is now. It will forever be bloody with the blood of those, whose requirements and needs were pathetically neglected by us, as a nation.
Recently, the Defence Minister said that it is not possible to resolve border issues with talks. Don’t we think the soldiers hear this? Is he heartened by all this? He can see that in the vastness of the 800 km frontline in eastern Ladakh, he is spread thin. The force has been arbitrarily cut down and the basic intelligence gathering activities also are at cross purposes. The soldiers' “Fire and Fury” is intact, but of not much value. The Eastern Theatre also is threatened by unforeseen action. Chinese are slowly inching their way into eastern Bhutan and the day is not far off when our entire Defence preparedness will be out of barracks and spread thin, over the 3500 km NE territory.
China is struggling with its own problems— Covid, unemployment, Hong Kong unrest and being boxed in by the US and Russia. Its face saving is aggression and winning over a foreign territory. We must be prepared. We must not be ready to give our men as an offering for cheap political gains of another power. China is very far-sighted and devious in keeping India occupied with border skirmishes on all fronts, so as to thwart its multi-directional thrust in achieving global positioning. We must not be outwitted.
We, as a country, are only as strong as the hands that hold the reins. The stronger those hands are, the stronger we shall be. China has declared its intent. We are a nation threatened by aggression. I must make clear, I am absolutely against war as an option, for all the reasons mentioned. Defeat and accepting subservience to treachery, at this time, when India is aiming for superpower status and world leadership, is not an option, dear countrymen. Let us not nurture feet of clay. Instead, be sure-footed and strong. It is the need of the time.
(Views expressed are personal.)