From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Ladakh and its topography
Mains level : India-China border disputes
This article from IE discusses this cold, dry, high altitude territory with its extremely scarce vegetation that makes it a point of disagreement between India and China.
Practice question for mains:
Q. India’s boundary disputes with its neighbourhood are the legacy of its colonial past. Analyse.
Ladakh: The Cold Desert of India
- Ladakh is the highest plateau in India with much of it being over 3,000 m.
- It extends from the Himalayan to the Kunlun Ranges and includes the upper Indus River valley.
- The importance of Ladakh is rooted in complicated historical processes that led to the territory becoming part of the state of J&K, and China’s interest in it post the occupation of Tibet in 1950.
Beginning of the Chinese claim
- In July 1958, an official monthly magazine in China published a map of the country that would in the next few months become a bone of contention between India and its East Asian neighbour.
- The map in question showed large parts of the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and the Himalayan territory of Ladakh as part of China.
- Soon after ‘China pictorial’ came out with the new Chinese map, the leaders of both countries began writing to each other frequently regarding Ladakh.
- The exchange of letters between Jawaharlal Nehru and his Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai was followed by the Sino-Indian war of 1962.
- The war also led to the formation of the loosely demarcated Line of Actual Control (LAC) running through Ladakh.
The Integration of Ladakh into India
- Historically and culturally the state was intrinsically linked to neighbouring Tibet.
- Language and religion linked Ladakh and Tibet; politically too, they shared a common history.
- Ladakh was part of the Tibetan empire which broke up after the assassination of King Langdarma in 742 CE.
- Up until the Dogra invasion of 1834, Ladakh was an independent Himalayan state, much the same way as Bhutan and Sikkim.
- As the Sikhs acquired Kashmir in 1819, Emperor Ranjit Singh turned his ambition towards Ladakh.
- But it was Gulab Singh, the Dogra feudatory of the Sikhs in Jammu, who went ahead with the task of integrating Ladakh into Jammu and Kashmir.
British interests in Ladakh
- The British East India Company, which was by now steadily establishing itself in India, had lacked interest in Ladakh initially.
- However, it did show enthusiasm for the Dogra invasion of the area, with the hope that as a consequence, a large portion of Tibetan trade would be diverted to its holdings.
- The state of J&K was essentially a British creation, formed as a buffer zone where they could meet the Russians.
The Sino-Sikh War
- In May 1841, Tibet under the Qing dynasty of China invaded Ladakh with the hope of adding it to the imperial Chinese dominions, leading to the Sino-Sikh war.
- However, the Sino-Tibetan army was defeated, and the Treaty of Chushul was signed that agreed on no further transgressions or interference in the other country’s frontiers.
- After the first Anglo-Sikh war of 1845-46, the state of J&K, including Ladakh, was taken out of the Sikh empire and brought under British suzerainty.
Chinese interest in Ladakh after the occupation of Tibet in 1950
- The annexation of Tibet by China in 1950 sparked a newfound interest in Ladakh, and particularly so after the 1959 Tibetan uprising that erupted in Lhasa with Dalai Lama’s political asylum in India.
- In attempting to crush the Tibetan revolt while at the same time denying its existence, the Chinese have used methods which have brought China and India into sharp conflict.
- To begin with, the road that the Chinese built across Ladakh in 1956-57 was important for the maintenance of their control over Tibet.
- The building of the road through Ladakh upset Nehru’s government. The diplomatic negotiations failed, and the war of 1962 followed.
Why conflict has flared up again?
- There are two layers to this. First, up to 2013, India’s infrastructural development in that area was minimal.
- From 2013, India started pushing for infrastructure projects there and by 2015; it became a major defence priority.
- The second layer is the August 5, 2019 decision (to remove the special status of J&K and downgrade the state into two Union Territories).
- From the Chinese point of view, they would have assumed that if India makes Ladakh a Union Territory, they would be reasserting its control over the entire state.
- Moreover, it is also important to note that over time, Xinjiang which is part of Aksai Chin, has become very important to China for their internal reasons.
- The British legacy of the map of the territory continued to remain the ground upon which India laid its claim on the area.
- India insisted that the border was, for the most part, recognised and assured by treaty and tradition; the Chinese argued it had never really been delimited.
- The claims of both governments rested in part on the legacy of imperialism; British imperialism (for India), and Chinese imperialism (over Tibet) for China.