Indian Opposition leaders on Tuesday urged the Centre to give “a clearer picture” to the nation after a commanding officer and two soldiers of the Indian Army lost their lives in a “violent face-off” with Chinese troops at Galwan Valley in Ladakh. This is the first instance of casualties on the Line of Actual Control since 1975.
The deceased soldiers have been identified as Colonel B Santosh Babu, Havildar Palani and Sepoy Ojha, India Today reported.
The exact nature of the confrontation is not yet known. While the Indian Army said casualties occurred on both sides, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian did not confirm it. Zhao accused India of crossing the border twice and attacking Chinese troops and said that this led to “serious physical clashes”. Senior military officials of both the sides are holding a meeting in Galwan Valley to defuse the tension, the Army said.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala asked Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to confirm the deaths. “Shocking, unbelievable and unacceptable,” he said in a tweet. “Will the Raksha Mantri [defence minister] confirm?”
The party also urged the Narendra Modi government to convene a meeting to brief all political parties about the ground situation, PTI reported. “It is a matter of serious national concern as it has grave implications for national security,” Congress leader Anand Sharma said. “As we have been requesting, the government should urgently take the nation into confidence.”
Rashtriya Janata Dal Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Kumar Jha also urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to call for an all-party meeting. “Dear Narendra Modi...Request you with folded hands! Please call an all-party meeting immediately,” he tweeted. “Since 1962, we have never heard of such disturbingly chilling news. Martyrdom of forces have a story to tell to the nation. Please.”
Similarly, former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda said both the prime minister and the defence minister should give a clearer picture of the face-off. “Reports coming from Galwan Valley are disturbing,” he tweeted. “Why did our soldiers lose their lives during a de-escalation process? In national interest, the prime minister and RM [defence minister] should offer a clearer picture to the nation on the border issue with the Chinese.”
Punjab Chief Minister and Congress leader Amarinder Singh said the incident was a continuation of violations by China, and added that it was now time for India to stand up to these incursions. “Our soldiers are not fair game that every few days officers and men are being killed and injured defending our borders,” he tweeted. “It is time now for the Govt [government] of India to take some stringent measures. Each sign of weakness on our part makes the Chinese reaction more belligerent. I join the nation in paying tribute to our brave martyrs. The nation stands with you in your hour of grief.”
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said if the soldiers were beaten to death then “that’s even more horrific”.
Former head of the Army’s Northern Command, DS Hooda, told NDTV: “The situation is more serious than what we have seen in past stand-offs, we should look at steps to resolve it”.
The escalation between both India and China came at a time there were efforts were underway to defuse weeks of tension at the border. Tensions between the two countries heightened in May after Chinese troops clashed with the Indian Army at several points along the Line of Actual Control. India and China do not share a defined and demarcated border. Instead, there is the Line of Actual Control, which stretches thousands of kilometres from Ladakh all the way to Arunachal Pradesh.
The dispute between India and China centres around a strategic bridge being built near Daulat Beg Oldi, a military post south of the Karakoram Pass. China has reportedly asked India to stop building infrastructure even on its own side of the LAC. New Delhi, on the other hand, has asked Beijing to maintain the status quo on the border. In recent weeks, India and China have reportedly deployed additional troops along the LAC at North Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh.
Earlier in May, there were reports of China pitching tents near river Galwan, which was also a flashpoint between New Delhi and Beijing during the Sino-Indian war of 1962. Both India and China had deployed additional security forces in the area amid heightened tensions.
Last week, the two countries agreed to peacefully resolve the border-standoff after high-level military talks. The meeting was held at the Border Personnel Meeting Point in Moldo on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh.