Report on Seminar
“Voices From Arunachal: Indo-China Border Problems & Related Arunachal Folklore
Research Centre for Eastern and North Eastern Regional Studies, Kolkata (CENERS-K)
In Conjunction With
Rajiv Gandhi University, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh, and
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute for Asian Studies, Kolkata (MAKAIAS),
Government of Arunachal Pradesh, Oil India, Numaligarh Refinery,
Titagarh Wagons Limited & the Indian Army
THE SEMINAR, HELD AT THE RAJIV GANDHI UNIVERSITY (RGU), Itanagar, was attended by government officials and former diplomats, the intelligentsia of Arunachal Pradesh, the media, representatives of the Indian Army, the oil industry and MAKAIAS. The speakers included the Governor of Arunachal Pradesh, Lt.-Gen. Nirbhay Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd); the Indian Minister of State, Ministry of External Affairs, General V.K. Singh, PVSM, AVSM, YSM, VSM, (Retd); the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Mr. NabamTuki; former Indian Director of the Intelligence Bureau, Mr. P.C. Haldar; former Indian Ambassador to China, Mr. Chandrashekhar Dasgupta; Dr. Manoj Joshi of the Observer Research Foundation; Mr. M. Guruswamy, Chairman & Founder, Centre for Policy Alternatives and former advisor to the Finance Minister (1998), Government of India; former General Officer Commanding, 4 Corps & Army Commander, Lt.-Gen. B.S. Jaiswal; former Chief of Staff, Eastern Command & President, CENERS-K, Lt.-Gen. J.R. Mukherjee (Retd); Maj.-Gen. S.V. Thapliyal (Retd); Executive Director, CENERS-K, Maj.-Gen. Arun Roye (Retd); Professor Tamo Mibang, Vice Chancellor, RGU; and eminent scholars on tribal folklore and matters related to the Arunachal border. The seminar assumed special significance in light of the recent efforts being made by both India and China to find a solution to their border dispute.
IMPORTANT ISSUES THAT EMERGED
China had raised no objections to the boundary, demarcated by the McMahon Line and shown on a map, at the Simla Convention in 1914. The border from Burma to Bhutan was marked as a thick red line running along the watershed between India (the North-East Frontier Agency, or NEFA) and Tibet. A note appended to the Simla Convention appeared subsequently to soothe China’s concerns by stating that Tibet was a part of Chinese territory. The British colonial authorities unfairly ignored China’s claim of any authority over Tibet, adhering to the position that the claim had no foundation whatsoever. The three representatives of Britain, Tibet and China signed the Simla Convention on April 27, 1914. Just two days later, on April 29, 1914, the Chinese government repudiated the Convention.
China has begun taking steps to address the issues publicly identified by the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi during the visit of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, to India in mid-September 2014. Beijing has indicated that it is looking for change, and the minister of external affairs of India, Sushma Swaraj, has spoken of an “out of the box” solution. Recognising that the boundary is only one part of India’s relationship with China, the Indian government has followed a two-track policy of negotiating the boundary question while developing the rest of the relationship where both sides compete and cooperate. China, consequently, is India’s largest trading partner, and a challenger to Indian industry in certain sectors. China could now also be a source of capital in the construction of India’s infrastructure. New Delhi needs to exploit the hydropower potential of Arunachal and sign water sharing treaties with China to India’s advantage.
An in-depth study of China’s boundary resolution with ten other countries reveals that the Chinese have conceded anywhere from 65 percent to 80 percent of their claimed territories. There is need for an in-depth analysis of China’s negotiation techniques, interests, compulsions and the framework of its negotiations. The study could be undertaken by a team of defence specialists, diplomats and academicians who understand the India-China boundary dispute. The responsibility should rest with a research organisation, such as CENERS-K, with adequate support and funding.
During the seminar it emerged that Chinese belligerence is primarily due to Indian sanctuary accorded to the Dalai Lama, to the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, and to refugees from Tibet, and the alleged support by the refugees to the freedom struggle in Tibet. China’s concerns will need to be addressed.
Some of the participating Arunachalee professors argued in their presentations that their tribal boundaries were well north of the McMahon Line, and that they have never been Chinese subjects or for that matter even Tibetan subjects. They declared that Tibetans had been paying them taxes and accepted their rights to these areas. The pertinent areas encompass the Subansiri valley (the holy mountain of Portrang, the Crystal Mountain), thereby refuting Chinese claims to Asafila and Longju.
Many so-called Tibetan settlements in Arunachal are recent, and of Monpa or Bhutanese and not Tibetan origin, thereby refuting claims in Siyom, Siang and Dibang River valleys. Tibetan settlements of so-called Tibetans in the Lohit valley are also of recent origin. Even Tawang was part of an independent state till recent history.
Scholars in Arunachal are publishing books and papers on these issues of oral history; funding, however, is a problem. They complain that India has omitted to record oral history and folklore related to Arunachal which could reinforce Indian claims. Further investigative studies are required of the Ahom Burunjis to reinforce existing records of the earlier Bodo Kings, which document the hill tribes of Arunachal, their fiercely independent nature, and the limits of the frontiers.
As the Indo-Chinese negotiations will be based on history, customs, and traditions, it is imperative that folklore should be studied. To ensure that Indian interests are safeguarded, local culture and folklore will have to be properly documented and indeed funded as a special project. As the boundary issue equally affects the Western Sector (Eastern Ladakh) and the Middle Sector, a similar exercise will have to be done in both these areas and properly integrated.
Arunachalees are concerned that the Indian government has so far not taken them into confidence regarding the dispute, as the land belongs to their tribes and the sixth schedule of the Constitution gives them inalienable right to their land. They openly state that negotiators must get to know the area, their customs, folklore, and consult their leaders on relevant issues.
The LAC (Line of Actual Control) with China has never been jointly delineated, and yet, both India and China have largely respected it under the Border Peace and Tranquillity Accord of 1993 to preserve the status quo. The LAC must be formalised without prejudice to each other’s claims in the final settlement.
India needs to internalise its bargaining strategy as it will help in the management of perceptions. A special thrust is needed to prepare the public for a final settlement.
India should recognise that the Chinese claim is not inflexible, but it is an attempt to seize as much land as possible in every sector. India cannot concede Tawang for strategic and political reasons. The framework of settlement should be based on the agreement between India and China on the “Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question” of April 11, 2005. An Indian satellite survey must be immediately undertaken to identify the actual/desired watershed, as the watershed principle for the boundary is a possible solution.
As China respects strength, India needs to continue to enhance capacities and build capabilities to negotiate from a position of equality, if not strength. Documents are meaningless in the absence of actual possession of territories.
A major grievance of the Arunachalees is that Indian infrastructure along, and up to, the India-China Border is in a bad shape, and is a major weakness requiring urgent attention. Infrastructure construction will also ensure development of the remote region and address the aspirations of the people.
The Inner Line Permit (ILP) system should be relaxed and tourism encouraged as it will also establish and reinforce Indian claims in addition to contributing to the economy.
China’s issuing of stapled visa to residents of Arunachal will continue to remain an issue. India needs to compensate by increasing reserved vacancies in educational institutions across the country and by creating additional facilities in Arunachal.
As the Arunachalees feel very strongly that they are being denied trade, traditional border trading routes need to be reopened, and trading posts established at a point of India’s preference at the LAC. It would also help in institutionalising the LAC globally. India made a mistake in respect of Nathu La by permitting the market in Sherathang, five km inside Indian territory.
A view was expressed that Asian countries were once much more connected and had vibrant trade with open borders. We have now compartmentalised hard borders. Towards the end of the twentieth century, the rise of globalisation has opened up a new chapter for rapid economic growth, improving the prospect of creating connectivity across Asia. In the context of Arunachal Pradesh, irrespective of claims and counter-claims, there is scope to go back to the pre-colonial period and look at the region without the present concept of borders, wherein socio-economic links coupled with the dictates of geography made this area truly trans-national.
To China, the McMahon Line was not just illegal, but it was also an imperialist imposition. Yet, China was pragmatic. A Chinese compromise formula offered in the mid-1950s and as late as April 1960 was not accepted by India. China was ready to accept India’s authority over this area, but in exchange, India had to acknowledge the existence of a border dispute, agree to negotiations and joint surveys for the purpose of a peaceful settlement. China acted upon this formula to deal successfully with the Sino-Burmese boundary problem, which was more complex than the Sino-Indian boundary problem. In resolving the issue with Myanmar, China implicitly applied the watershed principle. China was prepared to resolve the boundary problem with India in a similar way. In the 1950s, India and China were in a position to strike a bargain by allowing each to retain its strategic advantage in the eastern and western sectors of India’s northern frontier respectively. Actually, in April 1960, Premier Zhou Enlai offered this compromise solution and the supreme leader of China, Deng Xiaoping, followed it up in 1980. Can India revive it?