CHINESE ACTIVITY AT SIKKIM-BHUTAN BORDER COULD AFFECT GORKHALAND STIR

July 1, 2017

 Siliguri, 30 Jun:

The Gorkhaland movement in the Darjeeling hills may have stumbled against an unforeseen problem - China.

Chinese interference at the Doklam Plateau in the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction of late has turned the region sensitive. With Nathu La barely 15 KM from the Doklam Plateau, the Centre on Friday scrapped the Kailash-Mansrovar yatra through the pass indicating the situation was tentative.

There is no official confirmation to it, but with national security under threat just a stone’s throw away, it might not be surprising if the Gorkhaland protagonists are asked to stand down the movement till tension at the border eases.

The Indian Army has reinforced troop strength in Sikkim in preparation for any exigency and so has China in its territory. Moreover, the Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat reconnoitered the sensitive region the past two days highlighting the seriousness of the standoff.

Doklam Plateau is a disputed territory in western Bhutan adjacent to China’s Chumbi Valley. China of late was constructing a motorable road up to the tri-junction to extend strategic width to Chumbi Valley, which is wedged between Bhutan and Sikkim.

India has, however, made it clear that it will not allow China to build a motorable road to the tri-junction through the Bhutanese territory of Doklam Plateau and Indian soldiers have had to jostle with Chinese forces to desist them from continuing with the construction.

 Chumbi Valley is a strategic position China enjoys. Extending the vantage point to the Doklam Plateau in Bhutan, which acts as a buffer from the Indian point of view, would give China a militarily favourable position overlooking the strategically vulnerable Siliguri Corridor.

The sensitive ‘Chicken’s Neck or the Siliguri Corridor is a narrow strip of land that connects the Northeastern states with the rest of India. Although India has strengthened its military might in the Siliguri Corridor over the years, the stretch, which is barely a 100 Km from the Chumbi Valley, continues to remain geographically sensitive.

Military presence at the Doklam Plateau is therefore important for China’s strategic calculus. Control over the area would make it easier for its army to conduct military manouevres aimed at blocking the Siliguri Corridor.

The Indian Army therefore must be on amber alert following the past few days’ developments in the remote terrain between Sikkim and Bhutan. With the military of a neighbouring country wanting to surreptitiously creep up to India’s borders trampling on a friendly country like Bhutan’s territorial claims, a political movement at close quarters would be the last thing the Army would want to confront at this sensitive hour.

The advocates of the Gorkhaland movement have formed a common platform to take forward the agitation, but theoretically speaking, all initiatives can come to a grinding halt if the Army puts its foot down. Again, there is no official confirmation to this conjecture.

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