In the wake of the killing of 20 Indian Army soldiers by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Ladakh’s Galwan valley and amid reports of Chinese forces intruding across the Line of Actual Control (LAC), Prime Minister Narendra Modi categorically said on Friday that neither has anyone entered Indian territory, nor is anyone present in Indian territory currently, and nor is any Indian post captured.
The PM also praised the valour of the 20 army personnel killed in the clash, and said they “taught a lesson” to those who were eyeing Indian territory.
While highlighting the capability of India’s armed forces and suggesting they have been given a free hand, Modi said that with India upgrading its border infrastructure, its armed forces better equipped, and more frequent patrolling, India is able to better “monitor” developments at the LAC and “respond better”.
“Neither has anyone entered our territory, nor is anyone still there, nor is any of our posts under anyone’s capture. In Ladakh, our 20 jawans got martyred. But they taught a lesson to those who were eyeing Indian territory,” he said at an all-party meeting called to discussed the India-China border situation.
But the PM’s remarks led to some speculation about the exact status at the LAC, particularly the Galwan Valley, which China, in recent statements, has claimed is part of its sovereign territory. India has dismissed the Chinese claim of sovereignty over the Galwan valley.
A ministry of external affairs (MEA) statement on Wednesday said the Chinese sought to erect a structure in Galwan valley on the Indian side of the LAC and took “pre-meditated and planned action” that resulted in the violence and casualties on June 15. The statement further said the Chinese intended to change the status quo on the ground in violation of all bilateral agreements not to do so.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) killed 20 personnel of the Indian Army, including a Colonel, on June 15 in the Galwan valley after the PLA did not follow through on a commitment to disengage as per an understanding reached between the two militaries on June 6. While China has not officially given out numbers of casualties on its side, Indian military officials familiar with the sequence of the clash believe there were over 40 casualties on the Chinese side, including deaths and injuries. This was the first incident of bloodshed on the India-China border since 1975 and has led to an escalation of the ongoing conflict at the border in eastern Ladakh.
Friday’s all-party meeting to discuss the fallout of the incident was attended by defence minister Rajnath Singh, external affairs minister S Jaishankar, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Telangana Rashtra Samithi leader K Chandrasekhar Rao, Janata Dal (United) chief Nitish Kumar, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader MK Stalin, YSR Congress Party’s YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray .
Even as all political parties expressed their solidarity with the government and the armed forces in the wake of the ongoing confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi questioned the government about a possible intelligence failure, suggested that the country had been kept in dark about developments, and demanded the restoration of status quo ante at the LAC.
In his remarks at the end of the meeting, according to an official statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office, Modi said that the entire country was “hurt and angry” at China’s steps at the LAC, but emphasised that the armed forces were doing all that they needed to do protect the country. “Be it deployment, action or counter action, through land, sea or air, our forces are taking the necessary steps to protect the country... Indian forces are capable of moving together across sectors.” He said that while the army had been given the freedom to take necessary steps, India had also conveyed its position through diplomatic means.
The PM also said that the government had given primacy to development of border area infrastructure; it had also provided fighter planes, modern helicopters, missile defence systems and other needs of the armed forces; and patrolling capacity at LAC had also increased. “We are better informed about the developments at LAC and consequently are able to monitor and respond better. The movement of those which used to take place without any disruption earlier is now checked by our jawans, which, at times, leads to build up of tension,” he said, according to the official statement.
External affairs minister S Jaishankar made a presentation at the meeting, which conveyed the stance taken by the ministry and included a summation of the engagements through diplomatic and other channels with the Chinese side to de-escalate and to disengage, people familiar with development said. According to the official statement, he also gave an overview of agreements between India and China on border management, informed about the directions given by the PM in 2014 to accord highest priority to the development of infrastructure in border areas in the regions identified and approved by the government back in 1999.
Commenting on the PM’s comments on the incursion, Commodre (retired) C Uday Bhaskar, director of the Society for Policy Studies, said: “PM Modi’s s statement that nobody has entered Indian territory may be ‘legally’ accurate but it is disingenuous. It is contrary to the MEA’s assertion about a premeditated attack by the PLA and will baffle a nation that is shocked and enraged at the manner in which 20 army personnel have lost their lives.”
Bhaskar added that while the sensitivity of the LAC violence must be recognised, there was a “growing sense, accompanied with dismay” that the country was not being told the full truth about the Galwan setback.
Two retired army officials, who asked not to be named, also expressed their surprise.
A former army commander, who asked not to be named, said: “If the PLA has not breached the LAC and come into our areas, what is the dialogue at the military and diplomatic level for? The people of the country must be made aware of the reality along the border.”
A second retired officer said on condition of anonymity that China was trying to change status quo along the border. “We have to assert our claims forcefully. Many soldiers have died guarding these frontiers. We must never forget that.”