26 August 2014

More border areas may threaten to go to China if India doesn’t wake up, now

August 24, 2014 

I don’t know how many of you read a report in last week’s Times of India, where the residents of Pin valley, which borders China, have threatened to seek China’s help if the state government in Himachal does not wake up to their plight.

For a nation that stands up and screams and shouts even when a Chinese bee were to flutter across, often without any impact, I was surprised by the lukewarm response to this development. But think, and you would realize that the reason why the residents of the valley reacted thus is hidden in our reaction itself — irrespective of who is in control, we take our own for granted. And if they are out of sight, they are out of mind too. That is what the residents of these remote parts of the country are. They don’t even signify a decent vote bank to enthuse our rulers.

And if I read into the discussions I often have with friends all across this nation’s north and northeast, who are not too far from the China border, this may not be the last. For, the way the governments, both the Centre and the state, treat our countrymen at the borders is, well, shocking. Be it development, both infrastructure or their personal, avenues for growth, connectivity, and anything else. In fact, if the rest of the country is poor in infrastructure after the so-called development over the years, even that has given these areas a miss.

In contrast, the Chinese have road, air, even train connectivity, including a pressurized train that connects mainland China to the Tibetan plateau. And this is expanding at an amazing pace. I remember the kind of infrastructure being readied over a decade ago when I travelled from Lhasa to Mansarovar. Lhasa and Lhatse, as cities, looked more modern than anything that qualifies as modern in India, at least in terms of roads and glass and steel.

And what about us? Sixty-eight years after independence, we are still huffing and puffing our way from Jammu to Srinagar. Let’s be honest, the only major new line we have built since independence is the Konkan Railway, while the rest of it has been doubling of tracks with virtually no improvement in quality anywhere. In fact, the toughest part, the hill railways to Shimla and Darjeeling and Ooty, were all built by the British and we should be grateful to them for that.

Back to the threat of the villagers from the Pin valley. These are among the most amazing parts of India. Sometimes stark, sometimes breathtakingly green, but awesome in every which way you look at it.

But it is one thing to visit these places as a tourist, or as a trekker or adventurer, as I have often done, and completely different when you have to live there. One has to see the conditions in which they live to understand what they go through. You would marvel how, but they do. They are generally uncomplaining, mostly because they are simple people, but also for they know no one would listen to them.

But the times they are a-changin. They are more aware of the money that the government is “supposedly” spending on development in their area, with zero results, and they also have a fair idea of what changes are taking place on the other side of the border. In a way you can say, at least in terms of information flow, there is an improvement, and that also means the politicians, and administrators who work under their political masters, need to change. They must know what works and what doesn’t and that in an area where our northern neighbours waste no opportunity to needle us, it would help if this realization dawns NOW.

Else, the way we treat our countrymen in these remote areas, the way our corrupt babus and politicians pocket even the paltry sums that are earmarked for development there, it would hardly be a surprise if the beleaguered residents plead with the Chinese to improve their standard and quality of life.

For the Chinese, the geopolitical game is more significant than the money making politicians and bureaucrats here would ever understand. We better take corrective steps now before what happened in Pin Valley grows.

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