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China factor

November 6, 2009

Sushanta Talukdar
Frontline
Volume 26 - Issue 23
Nov. 07-20, 2009

Indian Army Personnel at the India-China border
in Bumla, Arunachal Pradesh, situated at an altitude of 4,700 metres.

THE elections in Arunachal Pradesh, which would
have otherwise gone unnoticed owing to the small
size of its voter population and of the State
Assembly, got global attention because of the war
of words and the subsequent diplomatic engagement
between India and China over the latter’s claim
to the border State. The dispute overshadowed the election campaign as well.

A meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Hua Hin,
Thailand, on October 24 was followed by one
between External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna
and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi in Bangalore on October 27.

Of the three States -- Maharashtra, Haryana and
Arunachal Pradesh -- that went to the polls on
October 13, Arunachal Pradesh recorded the
highest voter turnout, over 72 per cent – 7.25
lakh voters exercised their franchise. In 2004,
the voter turnout was 68.77 per cent.

The Chinese objection to the elections came 10
days after the visit of Manmohan Singh to
Pasighat, the headquarters of East Siang
district, on October 3 to campaign for Congress
party candidates. However, Chinese Foreign
Ministry spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu’s statement on
"an Indian leader’s visit to the disputed east
section area of China-India boundary" was
carefully worded so as not to name the "Indian
leader" or Arunachal Pradesh or the Assembly elections there.

Ma Zhaoxu stated that the China-India border had
never been officially demarcated. "The Chinese
government’s position on the disputed area has
been consistent and clear. China expresses its
strong dissatisfaction on the visit by the Indian
leader to the disputed area in disregard of
China’s grave concerns. We urge the Indian side
to take China’s solemn concerns seriously and not
to stir up trouble in the disputed area with a
view to ensuring the sound development of
China-India relations," the statement said.

India expressed its "disappointment and concern"
over the statement and said that "this does not
help the process of ongoing negotiations between
the two governments on the boundary question”.

"The State of Arunachal Pradesh is an integral
and inalienable part of India. The people of
Arunachal Pradesh are citizens of India, and they
are proud participants in the mainstream of
India’s vibrant democracy. The Chinese side is
well aware of this position of the Government of
India. It is a well-established practice in our
democratic system that our leaders visit States
where elections to Parliament and to the State
Assemblies are taking place. The Government of
India is deeply committed to ensuring the welfare
of its own citizens across the length and breadth
of our country," Ministry of External Affairs
spokesperson Vishnu Prakash stated in an official response.

He further stated that "India and China have
jointly agreed that the outstanding boundary
question will be discussed by the Special
Representatives appointed by the two governments.
India is committed to resolving outstanding
differences with China in a fair, reasonable and
mutually acceptable manner, while ensuring that
such differences are not allowed to affect the
positive development of bilateral relations. We
hope that the Chinese side will similarly abide by this understanding."

The run-up to the polling also witnessed
political parties and candidates raising the
China bogey in their campaign. The increase in
the voting percentage can perhaps be attributed
to the impact of such campaigns and the fact of
voters seeing the Assembly elections as an
opportunity to demonstrate that they are proud to
participate in the Indian democratic exercise. It
could also be seen as an emphatic no from the
people of the border State to the Chinese claim.

"China has nothing to do with the internal
affairs of this border State. Arunachal Pradesh
is an integral part of India. All Arunachalis are
citizens of India and they came out in
overwhelming numbers today to participate in the
democratic process to elect their new
representatives," said Chief Minister Dorjee
Khandu in a statement issued to the press on the day of polling.

He expressed surprise at Beijing’s reaction to
the Prime Minister coming to address a Congress
rally. "Arunachal has a democratically elected
government and is represented by three Members of
Parliament. Arunachalis want good relationship
with their neighbours across the border. Both
sides should make efforts to reopen border trade
through the traditional routes for mutual
benefits and peaceful coexistence," the Chief Minister added.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made the
"growing Chinese threat over Arunachal Pradesh" a
major campaign issue and demanded that the
Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA)
government pursue a proactive policy on China to
counter it and protect the country’s sovereignty.

BJP president Rajnath Singh, in an election
speech, alleged that China had been making
repeated claims over Arunachal Pradesh because of
the weak policy of the UPA government. He
demanded that the government issue a
clarification on the actual status along the India-China border.

Manmohan Singh, in his election speech at
Pasighat, refrained from touching the
controversial issue; instead he highlighted the
Rs.24,000-crore development package announced by
him the previous year aimed at bringing the State
on a par with the developed States of the
country. It gave an indication of the kind of
investment New Delhi was planning for it.

The diplomatic row was also over the anticipated
visit of the Dalai Lama to Tawang in November.
Beijing objected to the visit while New Delhi
asserted that the Tibetan spiritual leader was
free to visit any part of the country.

Although the Chinese Premier did not raise the
issue of the Dalai Lama’s visit during the
delegation-level talks at Hua Hin, Manmohan Singh
said he himself brought the issue up during the
dinner thrown by the Thai Prime Minister for all
ASEAN and East Asia Summit country leaders. He
said the Dalai Lama’s travel plans arose in the
general context of a discussion about the Tibetan
spiritual leader. "I told him [Wen], you have
raised this issue [of the visit]. He is an
honoured guest, a religious figure, but we do not
allow him to indulge in political activities."

The new Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh
is eagerly awaiting the Dalai Lama’s visit and is
ready to welcome him as a "state guest”. However,
there was no official word from the self-exiled
Tibetan leader’s office in Dharamsala about the
visit. According to T.G. Rinpoche, an aide to the
Dalai Lama, it was scheduled to begin on November 8.
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