Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar on Thursday denied Indian soldiers were unarmed during the clashes at Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh, saying the troops were armed but followed protocol not to use firearms. His comments came after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi wondered why Indian soldiers in Ladakh were sent “unarmed to martyrdom” against China. He also asked who should be held responsible for the death of 20 army personnel during the violent face-off.

“Let us get the facts straight,” Jaishankar tweeted in response. “All troops on border duty always carry arms, especially when leaving post. Those at Galwan on 15 June did so. Long-standing practice (as per 1996 and 2005 agreements) not to use firearms during faceoffs.”

This was the first instance of casualties on the Line of Actual Control since 1975. It came amid a “de-escalation” process in the Galwan area that was started last week. Though some reports have said that around 40 Chinese soldiers died during these clashes, there is no official confirmation from Beijing. China and India have blamed each other for the violence.

“China has committed a big crime by killing unarmed Indian soldiers,” Gandhi said in a video message. “I want to ask who sent these bravehearts towards danger without arms and why. Who is responsible for this?”

This came after several media reports suggested the encounter between the Chinese and Indian armies in Galwan Valley did not involve any exchange of gunfire. Instead, the face-off was “violent hand-to-hand scuffles” in which Chinese troops hit Indian soldiers with rods and clubs.

In a separate tweet, Gandhi also shared an interview of retired Lieutenant General HS Panag with the Hindustan Times and said: “How dare China kill our Indian soldiers? Why were our soldiers sent unarmed to martyrdom?”

On Wednesday, Gandhi had questioned Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on why it took him two days to condole the deaths, along with four other questions. “If it was so painful, why insult Indian Army by not naming China in your tweet,” he tweeted. “Why take two days to condole? Why address rallies as soldiers were being martyred? Why hide and get the Army blamed by crony media? Why make paid-media blame Army instead of GOI [government of India]?”

Singh had said that the loss of soldiers was “deeply disturbing and painful”. This was the first comment by a Cabinet minister in the government after Monday’s incident.

Earlier in the day, the Congress leader had also questioned the prime minister’s silence on the matter at that time.

Hours later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the sacrifice of Indian soldiers killed would not go in vain. “India wants peace but is capable of giving befitting reply, if instigated,” Modi said. He made the comments as part of his opening remarks to chief ministers during the video conference to discuss the coronavirus situation in the country. Modi added that India will protect every inch of its territory and its sovereignty, but did not speak about the events that took place on Monday night. An all-party meet has been scheduled for June 19 to discuss the situation.

Also read:

  1. Explainer: What we know about the first deaths on the disputed India-China border in 40 years
  2. Will the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers finally force Modi to be frank with the public about China?
  3. Ladakh face-off: India mourns loss of soldiers with boycott of Chinese goods; protests in Delhi, UP