by Subir Bhaumik (in Calcutta and Pratyusha Mukherjee in Arunachal Pradesh)

Detailed tweets by the army circulated under its logo have challenged the Chinese renaming of seven places in Arunachal and efforts are on to counter each of the 30 odd places renamed by the Chinese. The Indian Army’s Information Warfare Branch is leading the charge, backed by prestigious research institutes such as the Kolkata-based British-era Asiatic Society.

Now they have also compiled a list of 30 places in Tibet, recovering their ancient names in Indian languages from historical records. This list, now available with these authors, will soon be made public through the media as part of a global campaign to offer a strong counter-narrative to Chinese claims to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and other parts of the disputed border. Possibly after a new government takes charge in Delhi – PM Modi’s BJP is expected to return to power – the renaming of places in Tibet, an autonomous region of China, will be used as a tit-for-tat to defuse Chinese claims to Arunachal Pradesh.

The new names will be backed by extensive historical research, military officials said on condition of strict anonymity. “If and when this happens, it will be tantamount to India reopening the Tibetan issue.  Until now, India has accepted Tibet as part of China since it was forcibly occupied by Beijing, but now the Modi government seems ready to change course to defuse the Chinese cartographic and nomenclature aggression,” says former Intelligence Bureau officer Benu Ghosh, who served in the LAC for many years while pursuing his mountaineering interests.

The Indian Army has organised many media trips to these disputed border areas in recent weeks, getting them to talk to locals who vehemently reject Chinese claims and say they have always been part of India. “The ultimate goal is to push the Indian counter-narrative on the disputed border through regional and global media, based on both solid historical research and the voices of local residents,” says an officer involved in the campaign, who asked not to be identified.

In what is seen as an attempt to assert its claim to Arunachal Pradesh, China has renamed 30 places along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the northeastern Indian state. China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs, responsible for establishing and naming administrative divisions, recently released the fourth list of ‘standardised’ geographical names in Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing calls Zangnan, according to a Hong Kong-based daily.

This is the fourth time China has renamed places in Arunachal Pradesh unilaterally, having done so in 2017, 2021 and 2023. The list of places renamed by China includes 11 residential areas, 12 mountains, four rivers, a lake, a mountain pass and a piece of land. The names are in Chinese characters, Tibetan and pinyin, the Roman alphabet version of Mandarin Chinese. “In accordance with the relevant provisions of the State Council [China’s cabinet] on the management of geographical names, we have worked with relevant departments to standardise some of the geographical names in Zangnan of China,” the South China Morning Post quoted the ministry as saying.

Beijing released the first list of so-called standardised names of six places in Arunachal Pradesh in 2017, the second list of 15 places in 2021, followed by another list of names for 11 places in 2023. India has repeatedly rejected China’s move to rename places in Arunachal Pradesh, saying that the state is an integral part of the country and that giving ‘invented’ names does not change this reality. In 2023, then foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said: “We have seen such reports. This is not the first time that China has made such an attempt. We strongly reject it.”

He added: “Arunachal Pradesh is, has been and always will be an integral and inalienable part of India. Attempts to give invented names will not change this reality”. China’s recent statements reasserting its claims to the state began with Beijing lodging a diplomatic protest with India over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, where he dedicated the Sela Tunnel, built at an altitude of 13,000 feet in Arunachal Pradesh, to the nation.

Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar on 23 March dismissed China’s repeated claims to Arunachal Pradesh as “ridiculous” and said the border state was a “natural part of India”. “This is not a new issue. I mean, China has made claims, it has extended its claims. The claims are ludicrous to begin with and they remain ludicrous today,” he said in response to a question on the Arunachal issue after delivering a lecture at the prestigious Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) of the National University of Singapore (NUS).

“So I think we’ve been very clear, very consistent on that. And I think you know that this is something that will be part of the boundary discussions that are taking place,” he said.

On the cover photo, Arunachal Pradesh map ©Awesome_art_Creation/