Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said that the sacrifice of Indian soldiers killed in a “violent face-off” with Chinese troops at Galwan Valley in Ladakh would not go in vain. Twenty Indian personnel, including a colonel, were killed in clashes on Monday along the Line of Actual Control.

“India wants peace but is capable of giving befitting reply, if instigated,” Modi said. “The nation must be proud of its warriors who laid down their lives while killing enemies.” These are the first fatalities on the Line of Actual Control between the nuclear-armed neighbours in more than 40 years.

The prime minister chaired a virtual meeting with chief ministers of 15 states and Union Territories to review the coronavirus situation in the country. They observed two minutes of silence as a tribute to the soldiers before starting the meeting.

Modi said India is a peace loving country, which maintains cooperative and friendly relations with neighbours, adding that the country has always tried to stop differences from becoming disputes. “We have, in all ages, hoped for peace and the betterment of mankind,” he added. “We’ve always worked in a friendly and co-operative way with our neighbours. We never instigate anyone but we never compromise with the integrity and sovereignty of our nation. Whatever the situation, India will protect every inch of its territory and its sovereignty.”

Modi has scheduled an all-party meet for Friday to discuss the situation.

In a video message, Congress President Sonia Gandhi also expressed grief over the deaths of soldiers. “I pray for strength to the soldier’s families,” she said. “The whole country is outraged. I urge Prime Minister Narendra Modi to tell people the truth about how China intruded into the Indian territory and why our soldiers were killed. How many soldiers are still missing?”

On Tuesday, Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and the military chiefs had held a meeting to discuss the violence in Ladakh, according to NDTV.

In his first comments since the incident, Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said the loss was “deeply disturbing and painful”. Singh said the soldiers displayed “exemplary courage and valour” and that the country will never forget their bravery and sacrifice.

Four more Indian soldiers are said to be in critical condition, ANI reported on Wednesday, citing unidentified officials. Tensions between the two countries have been rising since May after Chinese troops clashed with the Indian Army at several points along the Line of Actual Control – the disputed border between the two countries, which is neither defined nor demarcated.

Though reports have said that the Chinese side also suffered casualties and around 35 to 40 soldiers died, there is no official word on it.

Both India and China have blamed each other for the scuffle. India’s Ministry of External Affairs has said that the face-off at Eastern Ladakh’s Galwan Valley was due to China’s attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the area. China, however, accused India of crossing the border twice and attacking its troops, and China’s Foreign Ministry asked India not to take unilateral actions.

Indo-China tensions

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 had 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.