In India, for any editor, there is a hierarchy in the news; I presume that the same is true the world over. This week the “royal visit” made it to the front page. It is normal; India is still sentimentally attached to “her” royals. Cricket is a must, the Panama Papers and, rightly, the tragedy in Kerala. However, a seemingly insignificant news, hardly reported in the national media, may have critical strategic implications for the country. One can easily understand why it has not made the titles. It occurred in a place where hardly any babu, politician or even journalist sets foot — in a remote, tiny “camp” of the Upper Subanisiri district of Arunachal Pradesh, near the frontier with China (Tibet).
On April 6, the engineers of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) managed to open a new road connecting Tame Chung Chung and Nacho. The inhabitants living in the vicinity of Tame Chung Chung (locally known as The Land of Snakes), had dreamed of this road for decades, but like many other things for the border population, it had remained a dream until now. The BRO explains the feat: “The area is located in an extremely remote area with rugged terrains, thick vegetation and inhospitable weather. The place has remained inaccessible since 2009.” In fact, the road was to be opened in 2009, but …India is not China.
The same report says: “The persistent efforts of BRO engineers have finally changed the scenario.” The road comes under Project Arunank, run by the Indian Army in five districts of Arunachal Pradesh. The Nacho-Tame Chung Chung section of the road is strategically vital due to the Chinese presence nearby. The road does not reach the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as yet, but the completion of this portion marks a major step towards Taksing, the border village in Arnachal. In October 2014, The Deccan Chronicle (DC) had reported that the Chinese PLA was focusing on the Taksing area: “After the recent Ladakh incursions, frequent intrusions by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Arunachal Pradesh’s Taksing region have come to the notice of the security agencies… Security sources also confirmed this incursion had come to their notice about a month back, but the PLA had gone back after a brief stay.”
Around the same time, the Times of India (ToI) remarked: “Both armies undertake regular patrols to lay claim to 8-10 disputed areas like Asaphila, a remote 100 sq km.” PLA’s “heightened activity” had been witnessed in Asaphila area for months. “The PLA troops, with vehicles and other equipment, then tried to build a road till Point 2445. They were then stopped from doing so by our soldiers,” a source told the ToI. Some Tagin villagers had even managed to shoot a short video on their phones of the PLA “visiting” their village. The last Indian military outpost before the border is still some 40 km away from the newly-opened section, but the construction will hopefully be easier. Due to the exceptionally hard rock and treacherous terrain, this portion of the road took many more years than expected. Taksin.
Tame Chung Chung is situated near the confluence of Subansiri and Tsari Chu river valleys: “(it) acts as a gateway to both the valleys and its connectivity was essential for further development of the area,” says the BRO statement, which admits that a large number of personnel suffered severe injuries during the construction work and equipment worth crores of rupees was lost in landslides.
Should India not congratulate the 128 Road Construction Company of the 23 Border Roads Task Force (Project Arunank) for accomplishing this herculean task? Have the Central and Arunachal authorities finally decided to undertake the construction of roads in border areas on a “war-footing”?
Hopefully so, as the new road should help in curbing the intrusions.Interestingly, the local Tagin tribe is acting as intelligence recruits for the Indian Army and local intelligence officials. When I earlier said that babus have never set a foot in these areas, I meant “modern” babus. In 1957, Capt. L.R. Sailo, then assistant political officer in Taliha of Subansiri Frontier Division (NEFA), reached the administrative camp in Limeking and wrote in a superb account titled, “Report on an Exploratory Tour Undertaken in the Upper Subansiri Area and the Tsari Chu Valley”, “The location of Limeking vis-a-vis the international border has been determined; the exploration of the Subansiri westwards of Limeking upto the international border has been completed and the confluence of the Subansiri and the Yume Chu has also been ascertained (Taksing); the determination of the precise location of the confluence of the Subansiri and the Tsari Chu; the Tsari Chu valley has been explored upto the international border with Migyitun settlements (in Tibet); a sketch map of the area has been prepared with estimate of the locations of villages or settlements, the courses of rivers, mountains, and important routes.”
Quite a feat!
Capt. Sailo’s conclusions were clear: “The urgency and importance of constructing roads from Daporijo to the border settlements of Lower Na (Taksing) and Migytun (Maja) cannot be over-emphasised.” Very little was done during the next 55 years —a real tragedy for India and the border populations. It should also be mentioned that Taksing was the last Indian village on the Tsari Pilgrimage, one of the holiest of the Roof of the World, around the Dakpa Sheri (Cristal Mountain). Tibetan pilgrims used to perform the parikrama, the sacred Rongkor, every 12 years during the Monkey-Fire Year. 1956, a Monkey-Fire year, witnessed the last Tsari pilgrimage. 2016 is also a Monkey-Fire year.
The particularity of the pilgrimage was that, while the northern part was in Tibet, the southern leg crossed into India, through the jungles of Upper Subansari district. After entering into Indian territory (by crossing the McMahon Line), the pilgrims would proceed southwards along the Tsari Chu, take a turn westwards near the confluence of the Subansiri at Gelensiniak, (the headway of the newly-constructed road) and then follow the Subansiri upstream, to finally cross back into Tibet.
Can we dream that one day the Tsari pilgrimage will again be possible? Even the temporary reopening of the border for the parikrama would be a great confidence building measure between India and China. Even if one has to wait 12 more years, it is worth it. In the meantime, the new road will greatly help to strengthen India’s defence in the area.