In 1972, geophysicist Bjorne Geirr Harsson discovered that Mt. Halti, the highest mountain in Finland, was actually in Norway, a mere 35 meters from Finland’s borders. He ran a campaign in Norway to ‘gift’ Mt. Halti to Finland. Harrson wanted the 1361-meter-high peak to be gifted by December 2017 to coincide with the centenary year of Finland’s independence. Unfortunately, for all of Harrson’s efforts to ‘move mountains’, Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg declined the lofty gift proposal in October 2016, citing Article 1 of Norway’s constitution, which binds the country as an “indivisible and inalienable” geographic entity.
Let’s fast forward to India in June 2020. For two months now, there have been confirmed reports of progressively increasing Chinese incursions on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Galwan Valley and Depsang plains of Ladakh. On the night of June 15-16, primitive clashes between the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Indian Army ended with the martyrdom of Colonel Santosh Babu, commanding officer of the Bihar Regiment, and 19 other Indian Army personnel. While the entire nation followed this news in complete shock, on June 19 our Prime Minister declared that there was no incursion on Indian Territory. Was this a lesson for Norway from India on gifting a country’s territory to another?
The news cycles in India have, for the past fortnight, been dominated by reports of Chinese incursions and the worsening India-China standoff in Ladakh. The seriousness of the matter aside, the stalemate has also triggered some strange behaviour. Take the case of Associated News of India (ANI); the news agency which has been upping its game on real-time basis. When early reports came in about three 3 Indian Army men being killed in Galwan, ANI promptly pulled out unnamed sources to ‘kill’ five PLA men. When the final tally of the martyrdom of 20 Indian Army personnel arrived, ANI’s ‘retaliatory firing’ claimed 50 PLA lives. Then, as some news platforms reported about a few Indian soldiers missing since the clashes, ANI again retorted to its unnamed sources, saying the reports are false. But the Chinese refused to play ball and released 10 Indian soldiers, including four officers. Perhaps realising there was no further spin-doctoring possible, ANI retreated from combat.
Our channels also made us aware that while serving Indian Army personnel have risked their lives on the border; those who have long retired aren’t out of harm’s way too. Major (retired) Gaurav Arya threatened Lt. General (retired) H.S. Panag and Brigadier (retired) Sandy Thapar with a ‘public thrashing’ for calling out our government’s misinformation campaign on the Ladakh crisis.
Sundry other TV news anchors have been victims of forces beyond their control – Chinese sponsors who pump in big bucks to keep the newsreels rolling. How else would you explain Republic TV breathing fire and calling for a boycott of Chinese products with the logo of Chinese mobile company Vivo on the corner of the channel’s screen nearly edging out one of Republic’s panelists? On Times Now too, its anchors were struggling for screen time with Haier, the Chinese white goods manufacturer. Anchors on some Hindi news channels were at their thespian best while they called to ‘Boycott China’ one minute while the channel announced the very next that ‘this segment was sponsored’ by a Chinese company.
A leading Hindi news anchor, most famous for her scuba-diving adventure in search for Lord Krishna in the waters off the Gujarat coast, went to the extent of holding the Indian Army responsible for their failure in patrolling the Galwan Valley, while exonerating the government completely for the Chinese intrusions. These media celebrities, however, pale in comparison to the insightful editor of a Hindi news channel who, prior to the June 15 clashes, explained to the nation how and why Chinese soldiers could not face the Indian Army since they were ‘the only child of their parents and China’s one-child policy would make parents and children in the neighbourhood sentimental about losing their loved ones’. Damn, I felt so sad realising we never use such great thought leaders as our national security experts; the Aksai Chin would have decisively been integrated back into India, as promised by our Home Minister, if only we relied upon the inputs of our clairvoyant editors.
Of course, our political brass won’t be so easily outdone by the media. And so, one BJP MP made an emotional pitch on social media saying ‘I cannot fire a gun but I know how to be a martyr’. I requested him, via Twitter, to donate his kidney and part of his liver to any army personnel in need but got blocked in return. He was, I believe, offended that I asked only for an organ while he volunteered to be a martyr; sacrifice his whole body.
The chief of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) was so angered by the Chinese deceit that he launched a media blitz requesting boycott of Chinese goods. Curiously, his patriotic war cry coincided with the launch of Chinese phone OnePlus 8 Pro on Amazon. The phone was sold out on Amazon within minutes of its India launch, making me dread the consequences if the CAIT chief, with his public affiliation to the BJP, had called for boycotting paracetamol – the widely used drug, after all, has salts from China.
The BCCI may have politicians – or at least their kin – in its key positions but our apex management body got one thing clear – don’t mix sport and politics, at least when money is concerned. The BCCI categorically said Vivo will remain its main sponsor, come war or bonhomie between India and China.
I leave with one final observation – our Prime Minister has met the Chinese President 18 times and even the earlier Doklam crisis was no deterrent for what now transpires to be a one-sided bonhomie. Chanakya (the original; not our current license-holder for masterstrokes) had advised: “Learn from the mistakes of others… You cannot live long enough to make them yourselves.” A lesson for Modi?
(The author is a national spokesperson of AAP, a former Lok Sabha MP and an ex-IPS officer. Views expressed are personal.)