Daily Editorial Analysis for 22nd June 2020

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India’s continuing two-front conundrum

Paper: II

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.


Since, 1959, when India-China relations sharply deteriorated, India has known that it has two geopolitical adversaries. Concerning China and Pakistan, the American academician, Professor Wayne Wilcox of Colombia University, famously stated in an article in Survival that India has to “hedge all bets and cover all contingencies”. Recently, India’s Chief of the Army Staff, General Manoj Mukund Naravane, reassuringly said in May at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses that the Indian Army remains “alive” to a “two-front” war.


  • Whenever India has forgotten that it has two geopolitical antagonists and let its guard down, it has paid dearly for it. Conversely, whenever India has accounted for the prospect of a possible threat from both quarters, it has done well. The two obvious examples are the 1962 and 1971 wars.

1962 war:

  • In the India-China interactions leading up to the 1962 China-India war, India had demonstrated friendliness without reciprocity and firmness without force.
  • In 1962, India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Defence Minister V.K. Krishna Menon had both believed that the threat to India’s security came principally from Pakistan. Despite deteriorating India-China relations in the late-1950s, neither Nehru nor Krishna Menon had contemplated a war between the two countries. And there were no moves to prepare for such a scenario.
  • Despite warnings from top military officers regarding the under preparedness of the Indian army, no steps were taken to strengthen it.
  • Even despite the deterioration of ties before the 1962 war, there was this immutable belief in the top leadership that Pakistan was the threat, not China.
  • India’s complacency and misjudgment in 1962 were not for want of warning signs from China. Indian leaders had apparently convinced themselves that the Chinese would not attack.
  • On October 20, 1962, the People’s Liberation Army struck simultaneously, all along the India-China frontier, a move which highlighted the long preparation for the attack. The Chinese had overwhelmed the ill-prepared Indian forces.

1971 war:

  • In 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi took account of a possible Chinese move in support of Pakistan. India, therefore, took out an insurance policy in the form of the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation between the Government of India and the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. 

Well planned policies:

  • India must assess its options in a balanced way. While remaining clear-eyed about Chinese intentions, India needs a long-term vision, executed with patience and perseverance.
  • An understanding of the Chinese objectives is essential to fashioning a realistic Indian response to China’s aggressive policies in Ladakh and elsewhere along the LAC.
  • India’s main strategic goal should be the adoption of carefully calculated policies that neutralise China’s diplomatic and military clout in the Asia-Pacific region without making India appear as a surrogate for other powers and without sacrificing India’s autonomy of decision-making in foreign policy.


Current situation:

  • There has been an obsession concerning the threat from Pakistan, together with a degree of complacency vis-à-vis China, in part because the recent stand-offs in Depsang, Chumar, and Doklam were defused.
  • The interactions between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping at Wuhan and Mamallapuram further blind-sided those involved in foreign and security policy planning in New Delhi regarding the current move by the Chinese.

China’s objectives:

  • To drive home the point that India is not in the same league as China through localised assaults across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) when India tries to assume a position of equality.
  • Warning India not to actively oppose Chinese designs to dominate the Indo-Pacific region by aligning with the U.S. and its allies — Japan and Australia.
  • To keep India preoccupied with problems in its immediate neighbourhood so that it cannot act as an alternative pole of power to China in the broader Asian region.
  • Supporting Pakistan economically and militarily, including the sharing of nuclear weapons designs, to neutralise India’s conventional power superiority vis-à-vis that country.
  • China’s aim, as in 1962, is not primarily to acquire territory, but the real aim seems to force on India a political settlement which will involve India re-orienting its policies to suit the pattern of Chinese global policies.


The mistake in 1962 is instructive today — an obsession about Pakistan and a degree of complacency about China. Although circumstances are different today from those in 1962, India continues to face the two-front conundrum. China is undoubtedly India’s principal long-term adversary. India has to plan to cover all contingencies and remain alive to a “two-front” war.

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