Can't Afford Darjeeling Unrest Amid China Stand-off: Indian Media

China is not willing to walk away easily from the current stand-off with India. But India has to immediately settle the internal political squabble in sensitive Darjeeling lest it complicates with the stakes on the border writes Indian online News18.com.

July 11, 2017, 7:56 a.m.

China is not willing to walk away easily from the current stand-off with India. But India has to immediately settle the internal political squabble in sensitive Darjeeling lest it complicates with the stakes on the border writes Indian online News18.com.

A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping had a ‘chance’ meeting in Hamburg, Germany – the first inter-action after the stand-off over construction by China in Bhutan’s Doklam plateau -- China created a drama by claiming that its envoy to India met Rahul Gandhi of the Congress in New Delhi and that both talked about the current “Sino-Indian relations”. It was a post on the Chinese embassy’s website. It created a political flutter after which the statement strangely disappeared from the website.

Nothing new about such flip-flops which are part of the Chinese PR armoury. Behind the stand-off – backed by belligerent verbal outbursts by Chinese media toeing the party line -- is by far China’s boldest action to consolidate military presence right across the Indian border, in fact its closest venture towards the sensitive Chicken’s Neck of India in the north-east.

Notwithstanding how India sees the stand-off and tries resolving it, the political parties are busy politicizing the current unrest in Darjeeling district of West Bengal. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha is a constituent of the NDA. The Morcha has turned the current agitation bloody and vandalized the district. The Morcha’s leaders including Bimal Gurung, are said to be in Sikkim, away from the clutches of the WB police. What a coincidence that the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front is also an NDA constituent.

The BJP has been trying to expand its base in the district. To that extent it has sided against the state government, roundly blaming Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for the Darjeeling unrest. True that Mamata, inspired by the slow and steady popularity of the TMC in the hills, tried to hasten the Trinamool’s entrenchment in the hill areas. A cornered Morcha struck back. Now, it is on the verge of becoming more a movement of the people who have taken to the streets against the politics.

But this is a minor aspect of the situation compared to the China standoff that concerns Darjeeling and the repercussions for India can be dangerous and massive.

The Darjeeling district is at the quadri-junction of the North-East: India, Nepal to the west, Bangladesh to the South and East and Sikkim to the north that stands between Darjeeling and China.

Just below Darjeeling is the crucial India’s Chicken’s Neck – the Siliguri Corridor – which is the only access route to the Indian north-east from mainland India. The Corridor is a narrow stretch of land, located in West Bengal, with Nepal and Bangladesh lying on either side of the corridor. Bhutan lies on the northern side of the corridor.

The city of Siliguri, in the state of West Bengal, is the major settlement in this area and the central node that connects Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sikkim, Darjeeling hills, Northeast India and the rest of India.

The Siliguri Corridor was created in 1947 after the partition of Bengal between India and Pakistan, wedged between Bangladesh to the south and west and China to the north.

Between Sikkim and Bhutan lies the Chumbi Valley, a dagger-like slice of Tibetan territory. The Chinese are barely 150 km away. They have sufficient infrastructural facilities in case they eye the Corridor. The Corridor is so vital to Indian interests that choke it off and one can cut off Bhutan, part of West Bengal and all of the Indian North-East.

In this kind of a situation, China now wants to build infrastructure in the Doklam plateau. India is steadfastly opposing the move. That is the stand-off, with no side backing down. The plateau is in Bhutan, at the very tip of this dagger-like slice of Tibetan territory. China is contesting all historical facts to claim that the plateau does not belong to Bhutan. India clls the region Doka La. For Bhutahn, it is Doklam. Now China says it is part of its Dongland region. The plateau is at the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan. It has Nathu La on the west from the Sikkim Side. The last big Chinese town of Yadong, a military hub, is just a few hours away from this point.

China has quietly built-up the scenario over the last few years that eventually led to this stand-off. It ensnared Pakistan into a quid pro quo infrastructure vs land relationship. If softened Nepal with a slew of populist and financial measures. It began the One Belt One Road project to connect Europe and Africa with Asia by road. A part of this project is the China-Pakistan-Economic- Corridor which is to pass through Pak-Occupied Kashmir, the region claimed by India. China all this while began building heavy duty mountain roads connecting the Tibetan plateau with key points in Nepal and Bhutan. It tried to enter into an arrangement with Bhutan for exchanging the Doklam plateau in return for nearly anything. Bhutan disagreed. China continued the sops to Bhutan, in terms of financing education for Bhutanese in Chinese universities, jobs for Bhutanese youth and setting up other infrastructural projects. Bhutan continues to back India and vice-versa.

Having, in its opinion, “secured” cooperation by volition or coercion, China was ready for the stand-off with India. The foremost priority for India is to de-activate the BJP-Trinamool-Morcha politics that is causing so much bad blood in Darjeeling. The unrest only weakens the security of the region. The country can do without the drama on the domestic front as it grapples with the international front. 

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