Defence Minister’s trip to northeast comes amid reports of increased Chinese presence in Doklam
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is to begin a crucial tour of the northeast on Saturday, even as as the Opposition Congress launched an aggressive attack on the Narendra Modi government over its handling of the border situation with China.
According to officials in the Ministry of Defence, Ms. Sitharaman will begin her tour of military installations in Sikkim on Saturday and move to Arunachal Pradesh on Sunday, The Minister will be briefed on the latest situation along the border, including the Chinese movements on the Doklam plateau, sources said.
Though the Doklam standoff ended on August 28, it has emerged over the last few days that the Chinese military presence in the disputed area continues with several hundred soldiers, construction stores, and new bunkers. This presence is just a few hundred meters away from where the two sides faced-off for over two months, starting June 16, when Indian troops stopped the Chinese from constructing a road.
Military sources have also confirmed that the Chinese have been carrying out relaying and widening of a road not very far from the stand off point.
Meanwhile, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Friday asked the Prime Minister to explain how China managed to widen an existing motorable road in Doklam.
“Modiji, once you’re done thumping your chest, could you please explain this?” Gandhi wrote on Twitter, posting a news report about an ongoing Chinese road expansion in Doklam.
Congress spokesperson Kapil Sibal said Chinese have again established themselves on Doklam plateau. “You [the Prime Minister] had said this matter was over. The Chinese have increased their strength in the Chicken Neck area,” Mr. Sibal pointed out.
He said the Prime Minister kept saying that his meeting with the Chinese President Xi Jinping went off very well. “But the Chinese are once again building road, not just that 500 to 1000 soldiers are deployed in the area. Are you once again going to call President Xi Jinping to sit on the swing near Sabarmati?” Mr. Sibal asked.
Meanwhile, Army sources said they have kept the Prime Minister’s Office and other branches of the government updated about the ground situation in the area. “Right now the situation is not critical but it has to be seen if they withdraw after the party congress,” MoD sources said.
However, officials expressed confidence that a pullback would take place.
“The mobility on their side is much better than on our side. So it does not matter how close they are to the border. Their biggest problem in coming months is the weather. They will have to withdraw soon,” one of the officials said.