We need to look at the present Indo-China standoff situation with a pragmatic acceptance of realities, taking an unemotional and detached view of the situation.
When we talk of 'WHAT IS THE ROAD AHEAD', it means – "What are the options available to India"? Well, without a doubt, MAKING INDIA STRONGER IS THE ONLY OPTION TO DEAL WITH CHINA, very easily said though. The harsh reality is that there are no meaningful options available without very heavy costs and the nation willing to bear them.
The approach to make India stronger must necessarily be three-pronged without mutual exclusion - Political-cum-diplomatic, economic and military. I will focus on the Military aspect. On the military front, recent events have shown that China has failed to subdue Indian troops at the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Since the aggression by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in May this year, India has matched in terms of deployment of its military assets as it is unwilling to cede any more land. The developments along the LAC post-Galwan in June, followed by the Indian Army occupying new heights between August 29 and the second week of September including the dominating height over Chinese positions near Finger 4 vindicate that the Indian Armed Forces displayed resolution by recognizing that they are confronting a powerful adversary which they once thought could be befriended.
With the Indian position being 'the Line of Actual Control is non-negotiable', the Indian troops will need to remain forward deployed until the Chinese disengage. Our Foreign Minister recently talked about a setback in the relations between the two countries due to the present situation on Ladakh front. Chinese foreign minister responded by saying - the situation in Ladakh must now be taken as the NEW NORMAL. So, there is no way India can let it's guard down 24x7 while pursuing the other two approaches vigorously - Political-cum-diplomatic and economic, despite the continuing optimism in achieving a breakthrough in the negotiations.
The world is fighting on two fronts - the Covid-19 pandemic and the likely impacts of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. India faces the additional challenge of facing a two-front war with China and Pakistan. In the present context, what may be in the minds of many is: Will there be a war? Will it then be a two-front war? We presently are locked with China. Should there be a Sino-Indian confrontation, Pakistan will no doubt pounce at the opportunity and it is reasonable to assume there will be two fronts.
This means the availability of militarily acceptable force levels, the ability to hold one front while you tackle the other, and sufficient residual power with the ability to disengage and shift forces and equipment rapidly to the other front. All this is to be planned much before and not once the war commences. Armed forces are working with new strategies to meet the requirements of a two-front war. It requires the support and backing of friendly and 'neutral' countries and a foreign policy which does not leave us isolated while tackling the twin adversaries simultaneously. We however cannot depend on other countries to come to our assistance unless either we leverage our strengths to demand what we want or they join to fight for their interests.
Irrespective of what else the country is to deal with, India urgently needs to further enhance the capability to fight a successful two-front war. This needs some time to prepare. Hurried efforts to acquire more ammunition and equipment once the front/fronts are activated will be futile. This is the opportune time to strengthen all the three wings of the armed forces. There is no time for procrastination. India needs to also use this time to fast-track economic reforms to get FDIs flowing in and allow companies to shift bases from China into India.
That weakens the adversary. Number superiority of the force structure alone is not necessarily the formula for military success. Backed by strong political leadership, the ethos, leadership, and professionalism of our military will succeed to deliver. In the words of Mrs. Nirmala Sitharaman, albeit in Sanskrit, "There is no virtue like protecting the nation and there is no vow like the defence of the nation". It is hoped that in the current dispensation these manifest on the ground in viable defence and deterrence, compatible with the threat we are facing and the capability we have to acquire to fight and win the war that the nation is keen to settle all conflict areas both with China and its closest ally Pakistan simultaneously. Every citizen needs to realize that National security cannot come cheap for a country like India. Any expenditure on defence and security is a national premium for 'National Security'. This premium has to be found by the national government of the day to ensure the survival of national integrity. The arrangements of requisite funds for defence and security of the nation are the duty of the nation.
These are challenging times, with the farmers and other agitations to boot. Challenging times offer opportunities of a lifetime for a nation for rapid and sustainable all-round growth. The country has to gear up for hard options. Undisputedly, the present times have been the most difficult since independence. The public must be prepared to make sacrifices, have the endurance for both a simmering uneasiness and outbreak of hostilities that could well move beyond Ladakh and Aksai Chin. Vietnam won against the US despite the latter's preponderance of military, economic, technological superiority, because the Vietnamese as a people stood firm, despite struggling beyond imagination, as they were filled with nationalistic fervor.
They stood firm behind their leader Ho Chi Mimh, not sniping at their Government as we are prone to do. If our politicians speak in one voice, showing political solidarity, this would be the loudest message to China, Pakistan, and the world. It is not the Army, it is the nation that has to fight and for that, you require a well equipped, well-armed, well trained, fully motivated military - proud of its standing with the assured knowledge that it holds a place of pride in every citizen's heart. That assured, 'the soldier will then face fearful odds and will be ready to die for the country.' Wars are never won or lost by the military. The country should know that it is the nation and the citizens who win or lose. The only alternative for India is to grow strong. Strength deters wars and weakness invites them. We need to remember the adage: "When you prepare for war; you are ensuring peace.
Tailpiece: Standing up to China sounds undeniably patriotic. This is the opportune time to see resurgent India, with all its fault lines. There are positive indications overall in favor of India among the international community, notwithstanding that there will always be a few unfriendly ones. Undoubtedly, the incident at Galwan valley and China's attitude has flared up public opinion and nationalistic sentiments. This is the only place in the whole world where one finds all religions and castes working together to protect one's motherland. India has sufficient military might to give a fitting reply. Unlike in 1962, there is now vision and an acceptance of the importance of airpower in what has been till now a significantly land-centric operational philosophy across the LAC. With the Indo-pacific initiative taken by India, we now have a maritime force with an adequate punch.
India's resolve and its capacity to fight when national honor and sovereignty are at stake are factors of great significance to reckon with. China has come to understand our undeterred resolve, the new face of India. Imposing substantive economic and diplomatic costs, coupled with the application of coercive military pressure, holds the key in dealing with China as THE ROAD AHEAD. "You never know how STRONG you are until being strong is the only CHOICE you have.