India and China are once again embroiled in a stand-off over a road being constructed by the latter in the Doklam Plateau. It is also known as Donglang, or Dolam.
The plateau is contiguous to India’s “Siliguri Corridor” as well. The Siliguri Corridor or “Chicken’s Neck” is a strategic point of immense importance, as it connects India’s northeast with the mainland. It is bordered by China in the north, Nepal in the west, Bhutan in the east, and Bangladesh in the south.
The geo-strategically important corridor is not merely a lifeline for northeast’s populace, but also feeds the primary military formations installed in the region, which would act like a bulwark for India and counter China during a conflict.
Experts believe that the road in the Doklam Plateau would enable China to launch an overwhelming offensive against India during a conflict. This would also provide China the scope to sever the Chicken’s Neck and inflict geographical isolation on the northeast, as well as emasculate the might of the Indian army.
Where three countries meet
The Doklam Plateau is the area where the boundaries of three aforesaid countries meet. Bhutan believes that the tri-junction is at Doka La pass, which is located in the middle of the aforementioned plateau itself.
Doka La pass, located at Sikkim sector, is patrolled by the Indian army. Irked by India’s objection on the road construction in Doklam, Chinese troops barged into Doka La and busted few Indian bunkers, which provoked the face-off.
On the contrary, China opines that the tri-junction is located at a place called Gamochen, which is a few kilometres south of Doka La. Gamochen is guarded by Indian troops and is also the starting point of Bhutan’s Jampheri Ridge.
China clearly has intentions to foster unrest in a volatile region like India’s northeast
According to army officers who have served in the region, a Chinese road near Doka La already exists, and China wants to extend it further south towards Gamochen.
This would amount to intrusion into Bhutan’s territory and bring China closer to the Chicken’s Neck as well.
And thus, it explains China’s ulterior motive of shifting the tri-junction to Gamochen in the garb of road-construction in Doklam Plateau.
China clearly has intentions to foster unrest in a volatile region like India’s northeast. India is already facing a backlash in Kashmir. Therefore, doing anything sensitive in the northeast would rub salt in India’s wounds.
In 1996, China made a diplomatic effort to yield one of its border claims with Bhutan in lieu of the Doklam Plateau.
China’s state-run daily, Global Times, said: “Although China recognised India’s annexation of Sikkim in 2003, it can re-adjust its stance on the matter.
“There are those in Sikkim that cherish its history as a separate state, and they are sensitive to how the outside world views the Sikkim issue. As long as there are voices in Chinese society supporting Sikkim’s independence, the voice will spread and fuel pro-independence appeals in Sikkim.”
The newspaper run by the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) has also accused India of imposing its oppression upon Bhutan.
“As a result, Bhutan has not established diplomatic ties with China or any other permanent member of the UN Security Council. Through unequal treaties, India has severely jeopardised Bhutan’s diplomatic sovereignty, and controls its national defence,” the newspaper added.
“The small neighbours’ revolts over sovereignty in the 1960s and 1970s were brutally cracked down on by the Indian military. New Delhi deposed the king of Sikkim in 1975 and manipulated the country’s parliament into a referendum to make Sikkim a state of India.
“The annexation of Sikkim is a nightmare haunting Bhutan, and the small kingdom is forced to be submissive to India’s bullying,” the newspaper further added.
No stability, no peace
These statements of China’s state mouthpiece clearly substantiates their motives to destabilise peace in India’s northeast. Or else they wouldn’t have mooted the idea of fuelling “independence” in Sikkim by any stretch of the imagination.
This is also a reminder of the circumstances in the late 60s when then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi received intelligence reports that China and Pakistan’s ISI craved separation of India’s northeast by cutting off the Chicken’s Neck. They harboured this intent for debilitating India’s backbone.
Indira mulled over the matter and decided that espousal of Bangladesh’s cause was the only way to rescue the northeast. And thus, war was on and the rest is history.
Therefore, if the northeast gets isolated from India’s mainland following a detachment of the Chicken’s Neck, it would have to lean upon a very old friend named Bangladesh to feed itself with road and railway connectivity.
However, the loss of a region is not easy for India to swallow, as it would amount to the country’s humiliation in the eyes of the world.
Shilajit Kar Bhowmik is the Dhaka Tribune’s Tripura correspondent.