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Second YB Chavan Memorial Lecture - Remarks By Shri NN Vohra

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  • November 30, 2011
    Speeches and Lectures

    Remarks by Shri NN Vohra after the Second YB Chavan Memorial Lecture delivered by Prof K. Bajpai

    Shri RD Pradhan and Shri Ajit Nimbalkar, eminent representatives of the YB Chavan Prathishthan; Dr Arvind Gupta, officiating Director General IDSA; Prof Kanti Bajpai; Cmdr Parmar; distinguished invitees, ladies and gentlemen. At the outset, I would like to compliment the YB Chavan Prathishthan and IDSA for organising valuable Lectures in the memory of the late Sh. Y. B. Chavan. I congratulate Prof. Bajpai for his excellent talk.

    As many present in this auditorium would recall, Shri YB Chavan was inducted into the Union Cabinet in the aftermath of the 1962 Sino-India conflict and given the most responsible, and perhaps the most difficult assignment at that time. He was mandated to streamline the entire security apparatus and augment India’s defence preparedness so that the country would not have to face, ever again, such a humiliating situation. An area of Shri Chavan’s priority focus was the functioning of the Intelligence agencies, and it was on his behest that an intelligence organization, albeit a very small set-up, called Special Services Bureau, was established soon after his taking over charge as the Defence Minister. This Bureau, to which I was inducted almost over night and deployed in the western Tibetan Sector, was set up within the echelons of the North Block, functioning under the direct surveillance of Sh. B. N. Mullick, the then Director of the Intelligence Bureau.

    I had the fortune of working in two Ministries which Shri Chavan had steered. I worked for over 8 years in the Ministry of Defence and, later, in the Ministry of Home Affairs, where I had further opportunities of seeing lasting evidence of Chavan Sahib’s mature consideration of vital issues relating to the country’s governance, particularly Centre–State relations and effective management of Internal Security. It would not be out of place to recognize that one of the historical outcomes of Shri Chavan’s deep concern for issues relating to national security was the inception of IDSA. In this context it may also be recalled the valuable contribution made by the late Mr. K Subrahmanyam, one of the founding fathers of IDSA, who spent almost his entire career and later life in trying to build a corpus of thinking on security issues.

    Today, we must pay tribute to this farsighted political leader, the late Sh. Y. B. Chavan, for his most outstanding contribution to the overhauling of the defence apparatus. India-China relations, the theme of today’s talk, was an issue of great concern for him.

    I compliment Prof Kanti Bajpai for his scholarly talk on “India and China: Can the Giants of Asia Cooperate?”, for his objective analysis, his fresh perspective on the present Sino-India relations and the likely future prospects. Needless to say, both China and India are large, populous and important countries and the nature of their future relationship, which has been less than smooth in the years past, would be of high significance.

    I recall my days in the Defence Ministry, over two decades ago, when we held regular meetings to discuss the India-China frontier related issues. Former DG, IDSA, N.S. Sisodia, then Jt Secy Defence, and A.K. Ghosh, then Jt Fin Adviser (Defence), both of whom worked with me and are present here today, were involved in many of these meetings. Discussions were also held under the rubric of the China Study Group and in the Core Group of Secretaries which comprised the Defence, Home, and External Affairs Secretaries and the Chiefs of internal and external Intelligence Agencies and invited experts like the DG, ITBP and others.

    In those days, one of our concerns, which cut across many security management discussions, related to the identification of sources of supply of the weapons used by the subversive/militants elements in North-East, Punjab, and J&K. The reports of the Intelligence agencies brought out that most of the weapons and munitions, used by varied subversive networks, were of Chinese origin. Reports were also received about the progressive Chinese build up all around India’s frontiers. It was reported that the Chinese were establishing a military presence in Burma, as then known, and building a Naval Base along North Coco Islands to exercise surveillance on naval movements and maritime traffic across the Bay of Bengal; China was also reported to be providing varied support to Nepal, including building of ring roads; doing various things in Bangladesh; providing military, technical and other support to Pakistan to establish and run ordinance factories and so on. These were some of the worrying reports at that time.

    India’s foreign policy has consistently been to have friendly relations with all her neighbours and to work towards a peaceful and harmonious security environment in our region. Notwithstanding India’s peaceful policies it would not do to say that, as a neighbour, China has been duly sensitive to India’s concerns. I recall the first visit of an Indian Defence Minister to China, 30 years after the Sino-India conflict. It was aimed at building trust and a better understanding of each other’s concerns and move towards developing peaceful relations. This visit provided an opportunity to also complain about what India thought was not fair and right on the part of China. The delegation accompanying the then Defence Minister had, interalia, prepared a statement which indicated the type and number of weapons, munitions etc bearing Chinese markings which had been confiscated from varied insurgent/militant groups operating in India. In the meeting with the Chinese Prime Minister, our Raksha Mantri conveyed India’s concern about the supply of Chinese weaponry to insurgent/militant groups in India. In response, the Chinese Premier smilingly observed that China exports military equipments or provides free supplies to many countries with whom it has friendly relations and, consequently, a couple of thousand weapons found in Manipur, Nagaland, Punjab or elsewhere in India should be viewed in the correct perspective! He observed that this also indicated the far reaching popularity enjoyed by Chinese products!! When I murmured something to the Raksha Mantri, the Chinese Premier said that, for greater satisfaction, I could have a separate meeting with Chairperson of the Military Commission, a veteran Long March General who, during a detailed discussion later in the day, outrightly dismissed India’s concerns about China’s border build-up. While discussing the 1962 conflict, he suddenly warmed up and said “didn’t we tell your friends in Moscow to advise you to stop fiddling around our frontiers. We sent you warnings months and months before the conflict but you people were not inclined to listen to Beijing!”

    In the context of our prolonged negotiations with the Chinese, with no outcome so far, we need to be altogether clear and firm about our objectives and national interests. It would appear that the agreed Guiding Principles for the Resolution of the Boundary Dispute have the potential of leading to a mutually acceptable agreement. These Principles contain reference to “national sensitivities,” “practical difficulties,” “reasonable concerns,” etc; these concepts can be leveraged to enable both sides to address the long standing problem and evolve a mutually acceptable understanding.

    I would, however, disagree with Prof Bajpai on the fine distinction sought to drawn between “transgression” and “intrusion”. All “transgressions” have the high risk of evolving into “intrusions”. In any case, it is not possible to satisfy the affected population on our side with such an intellectual explanation.

    Notwithstanding Beijing’s reluctance to voice its views on Pakistan’s role in fostering terrorism, which has wreaked havoc in our region, it can be said that presently there is both growing awareness and concern about the potential of the China-Pak axis affecting regional peace and stability. The growing radicalization of Pakistan is cause for serious concern to India. India has remained of the consistent view that a stable and peaceful Pakistan and friendly relations with Pakistan and China and all our other neighbours, would be in the best interest of regional peace and stability which, in turn, would contribute very significantly to promoting the welfare of the people of India and Pakistan and those living in all the countries in our neighbourhood.

    Needless to say, India will have to view the obtaining geo-political scenario with critical objectivity and weave her way, through the various difficult paths, to safeguarding her national security interests, while remaining committed to maintaining peaceful and friendly relations with all her neighbours.

    I agree with Prof. Bajpai that, in resolving the issues between our two countries, a difficulty relates to the deficit of “political capital” on both sides. Both the countries face varied problems, some of which are similar. Finding solutions to problems relating to water and energy scarcities have the potential of engendering both cooperation and conflict, as both the countries would be competing for securing scarce resources virtually in the same arena. In regard to the severely competitive scenario relating to food, water and energy, it could be said that while these are potential arenas of likely future conflicts, these could also be the areas of future cooperation and mutual benefit. We have roughly 40 million hectares more arable land than China and China enjoys proven salience in the application of highly productive agricultural technologies. The small size of our holdings and the technological wherewithal of the Chinese can pave the way for profitable bilateral cooperation and perhaps even joint ventures being taken up. Even in regard to the issue of water, which is presently perhaps of much bigger concern for India than China, cooperation between the two countries could be enormously beneficial, as all the major rivers in the region originate from the Tibetan plateau.

    We can perhaps also, side by side, enlarge and intensify CBMs to progressively move closer towards the final settlement of the boundary issue. Our leaders would need to evolve an approach which is harmonious with our declared foreign and defence policy objectives and also acceptable to all those who have so far been holding contrary positions. I would conclude by saying that India and China could make a historical contribution to the establishment of peace and prosperity by settling all contentious issues and establishing collaborative ventures in varied mutually beneficial arenas.