On the face of it, it looks difficult to make sense of what is happening on the Chinese front. If the government in Delhi is to be believed, then all is quiet on the northern front. Some newspaper reports, denied furiously by the government, suggest a different perspective altogether.
A pro-establishment paper and its news channel, usually gung ho about the Indian economy and its growing global stature, has been crying hoarse that the Chinese are coming. It also did a story on how an exchange of fire injured two Indo-Tibetan Border Police jawans. The news story was jointly done by correspondents in Guwahati and Kolkata, suggesting thereby that there were more than two sources confirming the incident.
After allowing the border skirmish story to play out for the next few days, the Indian government issued a firm denial. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, National Security Advisor M K Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao - all lined up to debunk reports about the border with China being hot. ITBP also hinted at filing an FIR against the journalists who filed the firing report.
In many ways, the border firing report and the reaction of the government have been rather unusual. First, the newspaper report did not have any attribution. No official was quoted. The newspaper also did not choose to get corroboration from the army headquarters in Kolkata or Delhi. This made the newspaper vulnerable to a denial and any action anyone could think of against false reporting.
The government, after dithering for a few days, rejected the report and alleged that the media was being irresponsible. The NSA hinted that such media reports could also spark off war if not checked. It would be a pity if newspaper reports begin to fire howitzers across the border.
After being in the business of news gathering, I can sense something is not right in the way the whole issue has been blown out of proportion. Journalists do not create news; they only report what has been fed to them. It is possible that this report may have been planted by some vested interests. It could be arms lobbyists, some Rightwing American think tank that wants to build India as a counterpoint to China or by disgruntled elements in the security forces not fond of the present leadership of the Indian army.
My information suggests that this could be the doing of elements within the army and the external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), who are upset over the manner in which certain officials have been superseded. It is possible that the Dirty Tricks department in these two important set-ups created this information and planted it in a national newspaper and its warmongering channel that has been hawkish towards China (and Pakistan, especially post-Mumbai attacks) and would be happy if the two countries start fighting.
The Chinese, on their part, seem to have put enormous pressure on the Indian government forcing it to take exemplary action against the media. They pressured New Delhi to judge the action of the media against Beijing's standards. The Chinese government made it clear that the Indian media was causing mistrust between the two countries.
However, the flip side is that the media campaign was hurting China and they wanted it to stop lest things spin out of control. No one really noticed. But the Chinese also promised to keep a close watch on its patrols so that there are fewer allegations of "intrusion" into the Indian territory.
What do we learn from this unsavoury fracas? For starters, there is a major turf battle going on in the Indian security establishment. The ugly spat over our thermonuclear test in 1998 is yet another evidence of the malaise that has afflicted the leadership.
Also, there are major arms lobbies and transnational interests trying to influence our perception of neighbours. Indeed, there is a colossal amount of money riding on such disturbing enterprises that use the media to bend minds to militarise the society and make money.