While China has developed Tibet’s infrastructure by leaps and bounds, India has been building up its border infrastructure at snail’s pace. The Modi Government has promised a change but this is easier said than done
The Indian electronic media has developed the art of inconsequence: They take an irrelevant issue and for days at the time, go on and on, repeating the same clichés, while ignoring the vital issues facing the nation. One of the subjects which has been grossly neglected is India’s borders, particularly with China in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.
While China has taken a great leap forward to develop Tibet’s infrastructure (using the great excuse of having to cater every year for 15 millions Han tourists visiting the Tibetan plateau), India develops its border areas at snail’s pace, struggling to create a semblance of infrastructure.
Soon after he took over as the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, this writer had interviewed Kiren Rijiju, a native of Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh; he had then said, “My immediate concern is to concentrate on the India-China border. That concern means securing our territory. When I say that we must strengthen our position on the India-China border, it’s not in offensive terms. We don’t want any kind of confrontation; by not developing or strengthening our area along the India-China border, we are indirectly conceding these areas to the other side.”
The young and dynamic Minister added, “It means development of infrastructure, roads, communication, other basic amenities; facilities for local people living in the border area. They should be provided with electricity, water, food.”
It is not a glamourous process; indeed perseverance and an unshakable will are required to change the tide. One of the major issues facing the local population along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh or the McMahon line in Arunachal Pradesh, is migration. Why should a farmer living near a LAC in Ladakh, remain in his native village, with the risk of being harassed by the People’s Liberation Army, when he can earn a decent living as a taxi driver or by running a small hotel in Leh? The question of migration is indeed most vital to secure India’s borders.
To change this trend is difficult for the Modi sarkar. It is a long complicated process, not thrilling or ‘scoopy’ enough to be heightened by the media. Despite the declared resolve from the present Government, it may take years for proper roads to reach the remotest districts of Arunachal Pradesh…and stop the Chinese ‘visits’ in what Beijing considers its own territory (they call it ‘southern Tibet’).
It is not an easy challenge, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi had the wisdom to realise that the North-East cannot be developed from Delhi. In his latest monthly radio programme Maan ki Baat, he announced that he was “deputing Central Government officials to find solutions to problems being faced by the region”. He announced that the Ministry of Development of the North-Eastern Region will send officials to hold week-long camps. Mr Modi believes that these officials will realise how beautiful the region is and how warm the people are.
We are far from Verrier Elwin’s A Philosophy for NEFA, so dear to Nehru. Based on French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s theory: “Nothing is so gentle as man in his primitive state, when placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the fatal enlightenment of civil man.” This philosophy prevailed in the 1950s. In his foreword to the book, Nehru said that he had “began to doubt how far the normal idea of progress was beneficial for these people and, indeed, whether this was progress at all in any real sense of the word.”
This romantic view of the tribal folks ultimately amounted to the segregation of a large chunk of the Indian population and a total lack of development of the region. Nehru had written, “I am not at all sure which is the better way of living, the tribal or our own. In some respects I am quite certain theirs is better. Therefore, it is grossly presumptuous on our part …to tell them how to behave or what to do and what not to do.” Sixty years later, the population in the North-East remains gentle and special, but like the rest of their countrymen, they aspire to a better material life.
One of the decisions taken by the Union Government has been to modify the guidelines of the Border Area Development Programme drafted some 10 years ago. According to the new notification, “The main objective of the BADP is to meet the special developmental needs and well being of the people living in remote and inaccessible areas situated near the international border and to saturate the border areas with the entire essential infrastructure …(with a) participatory approach.”
The BADP is a 100 per cent centrally funded scheme covering in priority all Indian villages located within 10 km of the International Border. Within the 10 km, some villages are identified by the Border Guarding Forces for most immediate help.
This is one way to counter the Chinese claims on Arunachal Pradesh, which regularly translates into deep incursions into the Indian territory (migration plays into the hands of the Chinese as it then becomes easier for them to intrude). The BADP scheme could hopefully help to reduce the migration from the IB.
Despite these good intentions, one will have to watch during the coming months and years, how the project is implemented in the spot. Delhi has added some of its own ‘central’ schemes to the BADP: The Swachch Bharat Abhiyan, skill development programmes; promotion of sports activities, promotion of rural tourism, protection of heritage sites, construction of helipads in remote and inaccessible hilly areas, etc. This is good.
Another issue is the stagnating petty trade between India and Tibet. While Nathu La is better organised, the traders at Shipki La (Himachal) and Lipulekh La (Uttarakand) face many bureaucratic hurdles. Though border trade is a way to stop migration, the local babus are not really motivated. Recently, a Kinnaur India-China Traders’ Association was formed to seek the Government’s help to address the traders’ problems, in particular their demand for setting up of a single window for clearing their permits and also provision for medical facilities on the way to Tibet, but the local Government often remains insensitive.
Mr RS Tolia, who served as the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand, has suggested regular visits by the Domain Controller and Additional Domain Controller to the border posts. It is what the Political Officers and Assistant POs of the defunct Indian Frontier Administrative Service used to do in the 1950s and 1960s; and they sent long and most informative reports about local issues to the ‘babus’ in Delhi. One can’t expect young Indian Administrative Service officers to be of the caliber of the old POs, but Mr Modi’s initiative to send officers on the spot, is certainly a great improvement in the correct direction. Even if we don’t read anything in the news, let us hope for the best for Indian borders.