| Brigadier Sanjay Kulkarni hugs his Chinese counterpart Col Li Ming An after a border meeting at Bumla on Monday. (AP)
Lately in Bumla and Tawang: A blue plastic helicopter, two grey plastic aircraft and two dolls are among the playthings displayed on a wooden table inside an operations centre of the Indian Army.
This is the garrison that is emerging as the Indian Army’s “Peace Brigade” with China in Arunachal’s Kameng district where soldiers from the two sides fraternise four times a year.
A placard above the exhibits reads: “Invasion of Chinese Toys”.
In this frontier that evokes memories of a tragic war, playthings inside a war-room are as dissimilar as gulab jamun and tomato ketchup. They are also very similar.
A Chinese officer found the gulab jamun served to him during the first of the border meetings in 2003 so sweet that he wanted to spice it up with dollops of ketchup. But this Monday, the Indian officers inside the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) tent during the latest border guard meeting made no such error. Even if the dish that was served did not quite suit their palate, they nibbled at it. If the Indian Army has begun to acquire a taste for the Chinese, the Chinese have reciprocated in kind.
At a meeting on October 1, China’s national day, Chinese girls wiggled their hips for the Indian guests and danced like Raveena Tandon to the hot (if outdated) Bollywood number “Tu cheez badi hai mast mast...”.
It is easy to conclude from the eating and the dancing on the Line of Actual Control that India and China are killing rivalry and celebrating with each other ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to New Delhi later this month.
“We are probably moving towards a time when we would not have to patrol this frontier like we do now,” says Brigadier Sanjay Kulkarni.
Electronic equipment and surveillance gadgetry can gradually take over responsibilities that take a toll on both armies in the harsh climes. That will happen with increasing trust. The eating and the dancing between the soldiers means the trust deficit is decreasing.
But the reality is that the rivalry is intensifying so deeply on another front, away from the borders, that even the armies are sensitised to it.
Even on the road from Bumla — that was built by the Chinese during their 1962 humiliation of the Indian Army — the soldiers are beginning to worry about China’s toys like its guns. Threat perceptions along the border with China have altered so radically that the Indian Army is increasingly worrying for the economy in addition to its capabilities that are military.
The mini-exhibition of the Chinese plastic toys — the helicopters, the aircraft and the dolls — symbolise the new concerns. The exhibition is in a room that also has mannequins of Chinese soldiers and identifiers of ranks in the PLA.
In the adjoining hall, there is a large sand model of the area of the Line of Actual Control in the Kameng sector. There are coloured tags for Chinese and Indian positions and highlighters for Chinese “intrusions” across the LAC. Photography is prohibited.
But the army officer who is explaining the intricacies of patrolling the icy Tibetan heights of Bumla is uncomfortable with the word “intrusion”.
“It is just a different perception on where the LAC should be,” he explains.
“Our threats are more indicated by this,” he moves from the sand model to the displayed toys — cheap Chinese imports that threaten Indian businesses.