– Amalendu Kundu
With China confirming that it would not allow the entry of Indian pilgrims to Kailash and Manasarovar because of the showdown at the border, the resumption of the yatra through the Nathula route seems uncertain this year. Earlier, China had said pilgrims would not be able to enter Tibet as a bridge had collapsed because of a landslide.
With China asking India to pull back its troops from ,what it says is Chinese territory and India insisting that Chinese troops had destroyed bunkers on the Indian side of the border, a speedy resolution of the dispute does not seem likely. The incident happened in the first week of June and came to light only after three weeks. A scuffle had taken place between Indian troops and troops of the Peoples Liberation Army of China at Dokala, over the dismantling of Indian posts.
On June 20, there was a flag meeting between senior officers of the two armies at Nathula where the Indian side complained against the destruction of two bunkers at Dokala and the Chinese informed that the pilgrimage through Nathula would not be possible.
On June 26, China lodged a protest with India over the alleged crossing of the boundary by the Indian troops and demanded their immediate withdrawal. Beijing warned that future visits of Indian pilgrims to Kailash-Manasarovar would depend on the resolution of the stand-off. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told the media that Indian troops had obstructed the Chinese from constructing a road at Donglang which was within Chinese territory.
While India has not yet issued an official reaction, it is learnt, however, that what China calls Donglang is, in fact, the Doklam area which is not Chinese territory but a part of Bhutan. There is a border dispute at the area between Bhutan and China; Bhutan has objected to China constructing a road there. Besides, Chinese presence in the strategic area would threaten the vulnerable Siliguri corridor of India.
The showdown in the area is not new either. In 2007, in a similar incident Chinese troops had destroyed two unoccupied bunkers of the Indian army at Dokala following transgressions of Chinese troops in the Doklam plateau. Villagers from Tibet take their yaks to the area to graze, taking advantage of which Chinese troops intrude in the area. In 1995, Chinese troops had transgressed at Batangla and Jelepla near Kalimpong. All these are areas close to the India-Bhutan-China trijunction. China has also in a number of occasions intruded in the Finger Tips area of north Sikkim.