Congress locks horns with Centre over China border row

The Congress during its duel with the BJP in Parliament argued that the Chinese incursion in Arunachal Pradesh on Dec 9 was symptomatic of  the larger problem of continuing Chinese threat on the borders and Beijing’s evil designs against New Delhi, writes Amit Agnihotri

 The Congress picked up a major issue with the Centre over the latest Chinese incursion in the Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh and demanded that the government’s China policy be debated threadbare during the Winter Session of Parliament that ended on December 23.

Though the government cited lack of legislative business as the reason to curtail the Parliament session before the scheduled date Dec 29, the Congress claimed it was done to avoid a debate on the Chinese threat on the borders as well as on the other burning issues like price rise and unemployment.

The main argument of the Congress party was that the Chinese incursion in Arunachal Pradesh on Dec 9, during which troops of the two countries clashed at a checkpoint along the Line of Actual Control, the de facto border, was reminiscent of the larger problem of Chinese threat on the borders and Beijing’s evil designs against New Delhi.

The Congress, backed by several other opposition parties, harped on PM Modi’s 2020 statement “no one had entered the Indian territory” that was made at an all-party meeting held soon after the Chinese troops violated the LAC in eastern Ladakh.

The Congress accused the PM of having given a clean chit to the Chinese, which further emboldened Beijing to not only grab territory where Indian troops used to patrol till April 2020, but also claim the parts as its own.

The Congress also accused that the Chinese had pursued similar incursions in another border state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as its own.

Pressed for a debate, the government fielded Defence Minister Rajnath Singh who told the House that Indian troops had repulsed a Chinese intrusion attempt at the LAC on Dec 9 but noted that neither any territory was lost nor was any soldier seriously injured.

The minister then left the House without taking any questions from the opposition members, provoking the Congress and several other parties to stage a walk out in protest.

“We had asked for a debate not a statement and that too without any clarifications,” Rajya Sabha member Syed Naseer Hussain said.

As the Congress accused the government of hiding facts about land grabs by China, the Centre alleged that the country had lost a big chunk of territory to China in the 1962 war when the grand old party was in power and stressed that a befitting response would be given if the neighbour dared to attack India now.

To this the Congress argument was that then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had valued parliamentary norms and allowed a debate demanded by then BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee even as the Chinese aggression was on, instead of hiding behind the cover of national security concerns.

Rahul vs foreign minister

As the Congress locked horns with the Centre over the China issue inside Parliament, Rahul Gandhi slammed the government during the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Rajasthan saying the Asian Dragon was preparing for a war against India but the Centre was ignoring the threat. He also said the Indian soldiers had been thrashed by the Chinese troops on Dec 9 and that Foreign Affairs minister S Jaishankar needed to study the matter in depth.

A few days later, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar acknowledged in Parliament that India’s relations with China were “not normal”, but targeted Rahul over his remarks ‘against’ the Indian soldiers.

Congress Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh hit back at the minister saying if that was the case why he did not call the Chinese Ambassador and issue a demarche as he had done with the Pakistan High Commissioner.

The Congress leader also wondered if India-China relations were not normal, why was China allowed to have an advantage in bilateral trade and why did the Indian troops conduct joint exercises with the Chinese soldiers in Russia.

“Why is our trade dependence on China at a record high with imports at $95 billion in 2021-22 and the trade deficit at $74 billion? Why did our troops conduct military exercises with Chinese troops at Russia’s Vostok-22 exercise in September 2022,” asked Ramesh.

“We agree with the external affairs minister that our jawans should be “respected, honoured and appreciated” as they stand strong against our adversaries. Was it this respect that led PM Modi to say “no one has entered our territory” on June 19, 2020, days after 20 soldiers laid down their lives defending our borders,” he said.

The bloody clashes at Galwan Valley resulted in the India-China relations taking a plunge and have yet not reached normalcy yet.

According to Ramesh, the minister claimed that “we will not let China change the status of the LAC unilaterally” but his statement was not true.

“Has the status quo at the LAC not been altered by Chinese troops reaching 18 km deep in Depsang for the last two years? Is it not altered by the fact that our troops are unable to access 1,000 sq km of territory in eastern Ladakh that they earlier patrolled? Is it not altered by the fact that we have agreed to buffer zones that prevent our patrols from going to areas they previously could go to? When will the minister unequivocally declare that restoration of the pre-2020 status quo is our objective,” said Ramesh.

Congress questions foreign policy

Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Gaurav Gogoi slammed the Centre over its China policy saying the PM’s clean chit “emboldened the Chinese further and led to the latest incursion in Arunachal Pradesh. BJP leader Tapir Gao too had been highlighting the Chinese incursions in Arunachal Pradesh but the government simply ignored it.”

The Congress Lok Sabha member alleged that China was exploiting the weakness of the PM. “When the PM gave a clean chit to the Chinese in 2020, they understood that he only cares about his image. Hence, they keep violating the LAC. They are building infrastructure like 5G networks and roads there to conduct military exercises there. We must be alert and counter them. The government should tell the nation what it plans to do to defend our borders,” said Gogoi.

He said the Congress was asking questions as it was concerned over national security. “We are asking these questions because we are concerned over the safety of the nation. Instead of attacking China, the Centre attacks us. Mere banning 59 Chinese apps is nothing when the government has allowed China to benefit in bilateral trade,” Gogoi said.

The Congress leader alleged that various incursions along the China border showed that Indian foreign policy was failing somewhere.

“We do not know who is deciding the foreign policy, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh or NSA Ajit Doval. The FM makes some strong statements abroad and thinks the job is done. The PM hides behind his ministers and does not come out to explain what is happening,” said Gogoi.

The Congress leader said the response of South Asian nations like Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan on the latest Chinese incursion in Arunachal Pradesh shows that India’s allies were doing a balancing act instead of condemning the aggressor.

Cong vs Home Minister

Amid the war of words between the treasury and the opposition benches during the Parliament session, Union Home Minister Amit Shah targeted the Congress by saying that the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation had received donations from the Chinese embassy.

“If they would have allowed it, I would have given an answer in Parliament that Rajiv Gandhi Foundation received a grant of Rs 1.35 crore from the Chinese embassy during 2005-06 and 2006-07, which was not appropriate as per the FCRA. So as per the rules, the Home Ministry cancelled its registration,” Shah said.

The Congress in turn questioned the Centre over Chinese donations to the PM Cares fund, the Vivekananda Foundation, contracts to Chinese companies and BJP’s contacts with the Chinese Communist Party.

“We have nothing to hide in the funding of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation…it is transparent. But we would like to know why the Chinese embassy has been funding the India Foundation and the Vivekananda Foundation since 2016 and why the BJP partners with the Chinese Communist Party,” Congress media head Pawan Khera said.

Khera alleged that various Chinese companies had donated money to the PM CARES fund. A Chinese company Dong Feng, which was blacklisted by the World Bank, the US and the European Union, had been given a contract to install smart electricity metres in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir, he said.

Khera further alleged the government had signed an MoU worth Rs 43,000 cr with a Chinese company in Gujarat’s Dholera. He also charged that the BJP had taken help from Chinese companies like UC web mobile and Share IT in 2019 for poll purposes. According to Khera, the saffron party had sent its legislators to take lessons from the Chinese Communist Party and had even suggested to them that the two should form a global partnership as they were the big parties of their respective countries.