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Why Modi’s China remarks were laudable, but not hard-hitting

BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi used some strong words on Saturday with regard to two neighbours with whom India has fought wars: China and Pakistan. Modi should be lauded for making the right noises and giving, for the first time, a sneak peek into what his foreign policy with respect to India’s two security bugbears (China and Pakistan) may be like.

On 22 February, he addressed three election rallies in the northeast — Silchar (Assam), Pasighat (Arunachal Pradesh) and Agartala (Tripura) — setting his eyes on the 25 seats that the region has in the Lok Sabha.

Narendra Modi addresses a rally in Assam. PTI

Narendra Modi addresses a rally in Assam. PTI

In Silchar, he said: “Next to Assam is Bangladesh and next to Gujarat is Pakistan. Due to Bangladesh people in Assam are troubled and due to me Pakistan is worried." Pakistan is closely following the upcoming Indian general elections. Modi’s brief and curt reference to Pakistan in his election rally in Assam would put the Pakistani political and military establishments on alert. It signifies that more detailed Pakistan-centric remarks may come from Modi in the coming weeks, possibly when he visits Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.

However, the most significant Modi-speak came on China during his Arunachal Pradesh rally.

He thundered thus in Pasighat: “Yug badal chuka hai... vistarwadi mansikta sweekar nahi hogi. Cheen ko bhi yeh mansikta tyag deni hogi. Vikas ki mansikta chalegi,” (Times have changed... Expansionist mindset won’t be acceptable. China too will have to give up this mindset. Only the mindset of development will be in currency.)

Here are more quotable quotes from Modi’s speech in Pasighat which have a direct bearing on China:

· Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India and will always remain so. No power can snatch it from us.

· Arunachal Pradesh's people have never come under pressure from China. People stood firm and the clarion call of Jai Hind reverberates in the land.

He signed off thus in a patriotic fervour which is a veiled caution to China: “Saugandh mujhe is mitti ki main desh nahi mitne doonga, main desh nahi tootne doonga, main desh nahi jhukne doonga. Jai Hind.” (I vow on this nation’s soil that I will never let this nation be obliterated or broken or humbled. Jai Hind.)

Actually, Modi has said nothing that top UPA leaders and government functionaries like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or Defence Minister AK Antony or other ministers have not said in or outside parliament. But with these strong words, couched in patriotic sentiments, Modi has done one commendable thing: he has set the bar for political discourse in Arunachal Pradesh.

The Congress party will have to take the cue from here and address the concerns and anxieties of the people of Arunachal Pradesh with regard to China in their upcoming election rallies in the state.

It is here that Modi could have rubbed it in further for the Congress party but he did not. But one cannot fault a prime ministerial candidate for this, as it is the job of his researchers and speech writers to make his speeches more hard-hitting for the rival party. Evidently Modi’s speech writers could have done better in making his speech in Arunachal Pradesh even more hard-hitting.

Modi did talk about development and promised the people of Arunachal Pradesh that if his party were to come to power it would speed up the state’s development. But he should have put probing questions on the vast gap between what the UPA government has announced for infrastructural development of Arunachal Pradesh, and the implementation of these projects.

Here is the elaboration. During his visit to Itanagar on 31 January 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced an ambitious developmental package for Arunachal Pradesh which totaled up to Rs 5500 crore, including the previously announced projects.

The package included: a railway line to Itanagar, a four-lane highway to Itanagar, up-gradation of Advanced Landing Grounds, a Greenfield airport at Itanagar, helicopter connectivity between Tawang and Guwahati, two-lane Trans Arunachal Highway (1574.83 kms) and construction of New Secretariat Building and Legislative Assembly Building.

On 20 February, 2012 the UPA government unveiled fresh measures for speedier development of “Our Land of the Rising Sun”. The announcement was made by AK Antony in Itanagar on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of statehood of Arunachal Pradesh which the Chinese refer to as “South Tibet”.

Significantly, Antony stressed the importance of a secure, “non-porous” international border in Arunachal Pradesh and declared the UPA government’s resolve to set up the 2nd battalion of Arunachal Scouts in the state, build Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) and expedite construction of roads in the state, particularly in the Tezpur-Tawang sector.

But, despite all the noises made by the UPA government, the infrastructural connectivity remains a major point of concern and it still takes a 15-20 days journey on foot to reach out to remote areas in Arunachal Pradesh while in the neighbouring Tibet the Chinese troops can move men, machines and heavy defence equipment from anywhere to anywhere in a matter of hours.

On 5 February, 2013, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways CP Joshi admitted in Guwahati that only 100 km of the 2,400-km Trans-Arunachal Highway, announced under the Prime Minister’s package for Arunachal Pradesh, had been completed so far.

Moreover, of the 10,141 km of two-lane highway planned for providing connectivity to all district headquarters of the northeastern region in two phases under the Special Accelerated Road Development Programme, only 1,000 km had been constructed thus far.

The Phase A of the programme is to cost a whopping Rs 33,688 crore and is targeted to be completed by June 2016 while Phase B is still at a conceptual stage. Phase A includes road connectivity under the PM’s package for Arunachal Pradesh that covers 6,418 km.

A year later, the situation won’t have changed drastically.

These are the kinds of points that Modi should have specifically mentioned in his speech at Pasighat rally. Obviously, his researchers and speech writers are out of depth.

The writer is a Firstpost columnist and a strategic analyst who tweets @Kishkindha.