China’s protests over a visit on Saturday by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing claims as part of its own territory, raised hackles in a New Delhi that is busily preparing for a fast approaching election. The Chinese government “is firmly opposed” to such prime ministerial visits, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement, adding that Beijing has “never recognised the so-called Arunachal Pradesh” - an area it refers to as South Tibet. India’s foreign ministry was quick to respond with its own statement, referring to the state as “an integral and inalienable part of India” that the nation’s leaders visit “from time to time” as they might do with any other part of the country. “This consistent position has been conveyed to the Chinese side on several occasions,” it said. New Delhi’s speedy retort was hardly unexpected, though it does hint at the Indian government’s underlying sensitivities over a long-running boundary question that Beijing has refused to let lie. The spectre of 2017’s Doklam stand-off in particular, which saw the two countries dispatch their respective militaries to the border area after China built a road on a disputed plateau, will weigh heavily on Modi’s mind. That tense encounter, which dragged on for nearly two months , was pounced upon at the time by the opposition Congress party to question the China policy of the prime minister and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Both Modi and his foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, were variously accused of being caught “snoozing” and misleading the nation about the situation on the ground. India and China share more than a disputed border Such statements seem to have had little effect on polls that were held in the border states of Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat soon afterward, but Congress is sure to make the most of any “Doklam 2.0” that might occur in Arunachal Pradesh as the party looks to wrest back control of a state it lost in 2016 following a protracted political crisis. Which is why, on Saturday, Modi made moves to allay any fears the state’s inhabitants might have about its future. “Arunachal Pradesh is India’s pride,” he said while announcing 40 billion rupees (US$565.9 million) worth of projects in Itanagar, the state capital. “It is India’s gateway, and I assure you all that we will not just ensure its safety and security, but also put in on a fast track to development.” He promised that his government would improve connectivity and boost tourism in the sensitive border state , saying that it was “duty bound to develop the state at any cost”. “India will develop only if Arunachal and the entire northeast develops,” he said. Border issues have long been a thorn in the side of India-China relations , with 21 rounds of talks on the topic being held through special representatives since they were first appointed in 2003. No fewer than 14 meetings of joint India-China working groups were held before that, with a number of border talks also taking place in the 1980s. Tensions eased a little recently after Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping in May for an informal summit to reset strained ties following the Doklam stand-off. But New Delhi knows all too well the sway Beijing can hold over anti-India forces in the country’s far northeast. China has been accused of sheltering separatists in the past, including members of armed insurgent groups such as the outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam , as well as offering weapons and training to militant outfits from across the region. New Delhi now fears Beijing will capitalise on the backlash against Modi’s plans to extend citizenship to settlers who fled to India from neighbouring countries under a controversial new bill. Protesters rallying against the bill in the northeastern states of Mizoram and Tripura could be seen holding placards bearing the slogan “Hello China, Bye Bye India” last month. How Modi will counter such sentiments remains to be seen. But if his recent visits to Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Tripura are any indication, he and his party are beginning to realise that with an election looming no later than May, they need to switch gears to damage control mode and rid themselves of the illusion that foreign policy can be entirely walled off from domestic politics.