In happier times, Indian and Chinese army personnel exchanged sweets.
New Delhi: Even as India celebrated its 71st Independence Day on Tuesday, a contingent of 350 Indian soldiers have unfailingly stood up for the last 61 days mounting a seemingly never-ending vigil on the 10,500 feet-high Doka La, around 2 km south of the India-Bhutan-China trijunction near Sikkim, a raging flashpoint that has the potential to engage the two Asian giants in a destructive conflict.
Only a mere 100-odd metres separate the Indian and an equal number of Chinese soldiers who engage in an eye-ball-to-eye-ball confrontation, even as the Indian contingent of 10 to 12 soldiers link hands to mount a human wall to maintain the relay vigil.
“For the past few days, the weather has been bad. Dressed in their raincoats, the Indian soldiers forming a human chain have been standing all throughout the day and night till they are relieved by another batch that takes over the vigil,” a local source said.
In happier times, India's Independence Day was celebrated with much fervour. The visiting Chinese army delegations from across the border were offered sweets as well as lunches. Also cultural programmes were staged at five designated points along the Indo-China border - Daulat Beg Oldie (Ladakh), Spanngur Gap (Ladakh), Bum-La (Arunachal Pradesh), Nathu-La (Sikkim) and Kibithu (Arunachal Pradesh).
In the backdrop of the ongoing tense situation, it is unlikely that any such exchange will take place on Tuesday although this newspaper could only confirm about no event being hosted at Bum-La. While the Union defence ministry and army sources refused to comment, this newspaper has learnt that troop mobilisation has slowed down considerably in a bid to de-escalate the tense situation.
The forces continue to remain battle-ready armed with the recently procured high-tech and lightweight ballistic helmets and mobile bridges at Doka La. With a Major-General level meeting by the Indian and Chinese armies on Friday last yielding no conclusive result, the face-off threatens to continue.