Doklam plateau has been a bone of contention between China and Bhutan for several years with serious security implications for India too. Indian and Chinese troops were involved in a tense standoff for 73 days from June to August 2017 in the Doklam region, which is at the tri-junction border of India, Bhutan and China, after the latter attempted to build roads in the plateau. Chinese troops reached Doklam in early June with heavy machinery including bulldozers and excavators to build road in the region. Control of Doklam plateau would have given the Chinese troops a direct view of the Indian territory around Siliguri, which is extremely critical strategically for India as the narrow strip of land connects the Northeast to the mainland.
The Siliguri corridor is just 17 kilometres wide at some places and is known as Chicken's Neck. All the land routes from West Bengal to Assam and other Northeastern states pass through the corridor. Maintaining a credible defence force in the Northeast depends on securing the Siliguri corridor and if Chinese troops control Doklam overlooking the area, they can potentially choke supplies to Indian forces stationed in the Northeast.
As the Northeast is completely landlocked, road and rail routes are the lifeline for the region. Any threat to the Chicken's Neck will jeopardise Indian defences in the Northeast, parts of which are claimed by China. Supplying troops through the aerial route will only result in limited provisions and may not be enough in the event of a war with China.
So, who controls Doklam, an area of almost 269 square kilometres in western Bhutan, becomes crucial. Doklam plateau belongs to Bhutan but the security of the area is India's responsibility as the former has no diplomatic ties with China. After Chinese troops reached Doklam to construct roads to link the Chinese territory of Yadong to Doklam, Indian Army moved to the area to confront them.
Troops of both the countries were involved in pushing and shoving each other, raising the temperature along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Chinese media kept on harping that it was India that was the intruder. On the other hand India advocated talks to resolve the standoff as the two sides had agreed in 2012 to settle any dispute related to the Bhutanese territory of Doklam through joint consultation between the three countries.
The 73-day standoff at Doklam finally ended on August 28 after both India and China decided to disengage their troops. But China has stationed it troops a few kilometres from Doklam and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman made an aerial survey of the Doklam-Nathula stretch on October 7.
While the Ministry of External Affairs has maintained that Chinese troops are not in Doklam, Indian Army has been on high alert. Nirmala Sitharaman met Army commander of Gangtok-based 17 Mountain Division, which is tasked with ensuring Doklam's security.