Border security is non-negotiable and cannot be compromised at any cost. The Indian armed forces’ humiliating defeat in the 1962 confrontation between India and China speaks enough about the stark failure of the short-sighted policies of Nehru, which eventually threatened to sever the entire Northeast from the rest of India. In fact, the 1962 border skirmish still serves as a telling example of the importance of having strong infrastructural facilities for the speedy supply of men and material at the borders, and more so with particularly belligerent neighbours like China and Pakistan. The Chinese forces had already advanced upto Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh and there was every possibility that they could be heading towards Tezpur in Assam, situated at a distance of about 150 km from Bomdila.
In the early 1960s, even after more than a decade of India’s Independence, the mighty Brahmaputra had remained the only major river in the country that was still not bridged. Thanks to the complete lackadaisical attitude of the Congress leadership under Nehru, several mistakes that it had committed in the past especially with respect to the Northeast, severely bore upon the country’s national security. A creaky meter-gauge railway system snaking through the narrow Siliguri Corridor (Chicken’s Neck) had been the only railway link between the Northeast and the rest of the Indian states till the 1960s. This too was, however, disconnected between Amingaon and Pandu on the opposite banks of the Brahmaputra where passengers and goods had to be ferried across. As a result, military and material reinforcements could not be sent on time in order to stave off the debacle of 1962.
Indian soldiers felt demoralised and heartbroken, for they were let down by their own government in their most crucial hour of need!
An honest discussion of the follies of the previous governments at the Centre must take into account this chilling episode and the consequences it produced thereafter, leaving an imprint behind of a failed system and its failed politics. It also serves as an important reminder of the necessity of establishing a viable communication and transportation infrastructure including roads and bridges in India’s border states. Needless to say, on the other side of the border, China had always been strengthening its own infrastructure and upgrading the existing ones, with railway lines being laid out to connect the mainland with the Tibetan Plateau, besides the enhancement of air connectivity.
Some might say that India has still not been able to keep pace with the Chinese advancements of infrastructure development; holds true to a certain extent, but, nevertheless, the advances made so far in this direction have been quite reassuring.
Under the visionary leadership of PM Narendra Modi, the Northeastern region of India has become the main pivot of India’s development and progress not only by way of ensuring the overall security of the country, but also in terms of increasing the infrastructural preparedness of the sensitive border regions in the event of any hostility. In one of the latest developments, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh virtually inaugurated 44 major bridges situated at strategic locations along the western, northern and north-eastern borders. Eight of these bridges are located in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh each, along with 28 other bridges that are located across different sectors. The timing of this inauguration has indeed been a significant one, for prolonged tensions at our borders with both China and Pakistan have led to a renewed focus on the ever-increasing importance of strengthening India’s security mechanisms on all its fronts.
These bridges across seven states and Union Territories have been constructed by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) functioning under the Defence Ministry. It was a Herculean endeavour considering the harsh terrain and the dire weather conditions in which the BRO works, and hence, it must be rightly congratulated for having completed this magnificent task, successfully. The bridges will not only help facilitate faster movement of heavy civil and military traffic in the border areas of the country, but also are aimed at providing means of year-round connectivity to the residents of these areas. Besides, they will also aid in the faster deployment of troops whenever required in sectors of strategic importance.
Along with these bridges, the Defence Minister had also laid the foundation stone for the 450-metre-long, two-lane Nechiphu tunnel on the road to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. This would ensure all-weather connectivity across the accident-prone area between Tezpur, which houses an all-important armed forces base, and the Tenga Valley where one of the forward divisions of the army is located. Hence, this is expected to facilitate speedier and safer connectivity to the frontline troops.
The fact that such developmental initiatives, most of which had long been pending in the region, came to be fast-tracked only after the coming to power of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre under PM Modi in 2014, is highly appreciated. E.g. for the first time in the history of Independent India, the geographically isolated southernmost part of Assam, i.e. the Barak Valley, comprising of three districts – Cachar, Karimganj, and Hailakandi – was connected with a railway link directly to Delhi on November 21, 2015. After a nearly two-decade long negotiation with the central and state governments, it was for the first time that the Modi government had opened up the broad-gauge Silchar-Lumding railway line which benefitted not just Assam but also Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram.
On December 25, 2018, which also happens to be the birth anniversary of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, PM Narendra Modi had inaugurated the Bogibeel Bridge that was proposed as a part of the Assam Accord in 1985. It connects the south bank of the river Brahmaputra from Upper Assam’s Dibrugarh district to Silapathar in Dhemaji district bordering Arunachal Pradesh. The 4.9 km-long bridge across the mighty Brahmaputra happens to be the second longest rail-cum-road bridge in entire Asia. It is also a long-term attempt on the part of the Government of India to shore up its defence logistics along the Sino-Indian border. It may be mentioned here that due to inordinate delays in its implementation for over 30 years, the overall cost of the project had escalated by almost 85% from the sanctioned estimated cost of Rs. 3,230.02 crore.
These are some of the important strategic and political moves on the part of the BJP on the infrastructure front that have stood out in sharp contrast to the Congress Party’s colossal failure in finishing several of its inaugurated projects in the Northeast. It has also helped showcase the BJP’s willingness and commitment in dealing with the unique developmental needs of this sensitive border region of the country, by rapidly re-launching and completing some of these long-pending projects.
- The Assam Tribune. (October 14, 2020). Forging Infrastructure. p.6
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