Villagers in Nathang, a border village 10-12 kilometres as the crow flies from Doklam, have been asked to evacuate their homes and move elsewhere. Nathang is overlooked directly by mountain features at Doklam, like Gyemochen, which China claims as the disputed India-China-Bhutan tri-junction.
Another Indian village nearby, Kuppup, is significantly closer to the border. But it is shielded from the Doklam area by high mountains that Indian troops occupy.Army spokespersons deny the military has asked for Nathang to be evacuated. But the step is being seen as a precautionary step.Simultaneously, two Indian mountain divisions –17 Division, headquartered in Gangtok; and 27 Division, based in Kalimpong – are discreetly moving troops to their battle stations on the Sikkim-Tibet border, including areas far removed from Dolkam.
Military sources downplay this move as “precautionary”. Says one senior officer: “We have our annual operational alert in October every year. This year, because of the tension at Doklam, we have advanced it by a couple of months.”
The operational alert allows troops to get acclimatised to high altitudes, renovate the bunkers and trenches from which they would fight, break out ammunition, and carry out the coordination needed to fight an integrated defensive battle.Even as the army takes these precautions, policymakers in New Delhi are optimistic that diplomacy would resolve the issue without the need for military action.