StratPost asked the Honorable Member Of Parliament from Arunachal (West) about the attitude of the Government of India towards security concerns in Arunachal Pradesh and the shortcomings of India’s approach in its interaction with China.
“There is a historical shift with regard to the perception towards our frontiers with China. This perception has changed in that I have made the Government of India understand the significance of the dangers.”
Rijiju thinks India is overcautious in its approach to its eastern neighbor. “We as a country believe ourselves to be at a lower level when dealing with China. We are not dealing with them on equal terms. There is an inferiority complex on our part. I’m not saying we have to be aggressive in our dealings with them, but we have to be firm. I’m an advocate of perfectly cordial relations with China,” he offers.
But the MP thinks both countries need to do a lot more to build trust towards each other. He also thinks India has been falling short in understanding China. “Firstly, there needs to be an increase in trust. There needs to be better understanding of each others’ problems. I’m afraid China understands India better than India understands China. Barring very few Indians, we do not have a proper understanding of China. While people in Bombay might not be too concerned about China, it is for the Government of India to understand these issues,” he says.
He also encourages to inter-mixing of the citizens of the two countries and commerce, advocating a confident approach on the part of India. “Secondly, there needs to be increased people-to-people contact. Cross border trade between the two countries is almost nil. The problem is we have no infrastructure in our border areas in Arunachal Pradesh, while just across the border, the Chinese have built highways. We are afraid of them flooding our markets with their cheap products. We need to exude confidence in our dealings with China. At least 3-4 border points must be opened for trade on the Arunachal border. Once that happens, there will be trade and customs officials manning the border crossings and somewhere down the line, even China will have to admit it to be a de facto border.”
Rijiju is emphatic about the need for India to recognize the significance of China and thinks too often India is distracted by other issues. “Our citizens need to get over their obsession with Pakistan and the US. It will be a disaster if they don’t. India cannot see the future. The future is not complete without China. If something happens in New Lahore or New York or Los Angeles people are very concerned but they take no notice if a bomb explodes in Guwahati. The people of Arunachal Pradesh are very patriotic and nationalistic but having seen the kinds of amenities available in the rest of India without development reaching them, they will get disillusioned in the long term. Militarily this will be telling in adverse times.”
The MP has a ready answer to a question about the reasons behind the lack of development. “The reason for this steady neglect of Arunachal Pradesh has been the obsolete thinking of the Government of India due to their total ignorance. We have already ceded so much land to China by not being able to monitor our border effectively due to lack of infrastructure.”
There has been a mindset that infrastructure in the border areas will aid the enemy in case of an invasion. “But if we are such a weak country that we can only guard our country by refusing development to our border areas, only God can help us! We are unable to build an all-weather road at a height of some 13,000 feet, while the Chinese have built their railway to Lhasa at a much higher altitude,” he counters.
Rijiju goes on to outline plans to bring up the region. “We need a trans-Himalayan highway. Already the trans-Arunachal highway has been proposed. But the border areas to the north need to be connected too. We cannot think only in terms of economic feasibility when it is a question of national security and the supreme interest of the nation. Arunachal Pradesh has been the most neglected but is the richest state in the north east. Even then, the Government of India has not been able to connect Arunachal by rail in 60 years since independence.”
Rijiju feels Arunachal Pradesh is treated unfairly even in terms of security concerns. “There has been movement on national security after the 26/11 attacks but I wish the Taj Hotel and the Oberoi Hotel were in Arunachal Pradesh. Then maybe the people and the government would take notice of us.”
Beginnings of Concern
But he does think he has managed to make a beginning in getting government recognition of the issues that concern Arunachal Pradesh. “At the end of my tenure in this Parliament I take satisfaction in forcing the government to change its perception towards Arunachal Pradesh. Arunachal sends only two MPs to the Lok Sabha. So the rulers in Delhi are not concerned about us because we do not constitute a political threat. The government has been forced to change its perception due to my persistence in bringing up the issue at every level – perhaps due to my vocal power.”
“The major satisfaction is the huge economic package that the Prime Minister has announced for the development of Arunachal Pradesh and that now a big chunk of the people of India know about Arunachal Pradesh.”
China’s veto of ADB loan for Arunachal Pradesh
Recently, the Asian Development Bank loan that was proposed for Arunachal was blocked by China, which claimed it was disputed territory. “See China plays diplomacy much better than India. When I was to go to China they initially denied my visa, but the don’t have a problem when a common man from Arunachal applies for a visa. These are all diplomatic tactics to pressure India. My question is why do we need a loan from an international institution for the development of Arunachal Pradesh? We’re a rich country. Loans can always be taken for the development of other states. So why can’t the Government of India fund the development of Arunachal Pradesh?” he asks.
Rijiju reveals the Chinese have been intermittently intruding and taking over Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh, even abducting Indian citizens. “On a particular date it is difficult to say that China has made incursions into Arunachal Pradesh. They practice what I call ‘Creeping Incursions’. Over a period of time, they slowly and gradually shift the flag posts. The Indian Army is deployed in only a few pockets where it is peaceful and calm. The problem is that the lack of infrastructure and roads on our side makes it difficult for the army to monitor the border in all areas. The culprit here is not the army. It is the Government of India. In fact, our people and even security personnel are captured and tortured by the Chinese.”
Study of China
He prescribes the setting up of an institution dedicated to the study of China. “The major concern here should be about how to build a relationship with China. Surplus suspicion and trust deficit. We need to properly formulate a China policy. We need to build a special institution to study and research China and then led them advise and handle our relationship with China. We need to take this forward on two fronts.”
“Firstly, soft diplomacy which would include trade and people-to-people contacts. Secondly, we need to be strong and robust from our defense point of view and this would include sorting out our infrastructural issues.”
“I have proposed the setting up of such an institution, but lets see. I have been let down by the Government of India when I should have been their blue-eyed boy. The media, the papers; our resources are being wasted on incessant talk about Pakistan and the US. We should be looking at the north east not as the eastern end of India, but the beginning of East Asia and Southeast Asia. A bridge to East Asia and Southeast Asia.”