Opposition leaders and India’s national security experts on Saturday questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claims that no outsider was inside Indian territory in Ladakh, nor had any border post of the Indian Army been captured by outside forces during the face-off with Chinese troops earlier this week.
Modi made the comments at an all-party meeting called by him on Friday to discuss the June 15 clashes in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley, which claimed the lives of at least 20 Indian personnel in the worst violence on the Indo-China border since 1975.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi accused the prime minister of surrendering the Indian territory to China. “Neither anyone has intruded into our territory nor took over any post,” Modi had said. Quoting this, Gandhi tweeted: “Prime minister has surrendered Indian territory to Chinese aggression. If the land was Chinese: Why were our soldiers killed? Where were they killed?”
Former Union minister P Chidambaram asked if the Indian and the Chinese senior commanders discussed the weather at the June 6 meeting, as there is no intrusion. “If there was no intrusion or violation of LAC, why was there so much talk about ‘disengagement’ of troops by both sides,” the Congress leader asked. “Has the prime minister given a clean chit to China? If so, what is there to negotiate with China? Why are the major generals negotiating and about what?”
Chidambaram added that Modi’s remarks has left everyone “baffled and bewildered”.
Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra also questioned Modi’s remark that no one had intruded on Indian territory. “PM says no intruders, no occupation in Galwan at all party meeting,” she tweeted. “If nothing happened am confused as to why then the ‘de-escalation’ mission? Why the military and diplomatic engagement? Why the deaths?”
Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury sought to know if there was no conflict between India and China. “Why have our brave soldiers been martyred,” he tweeted. “Why this all-party meeting?”
Aam Aadmi Party leader Sanjay Singh, whose party was not invited to the all-party meeting, asked: “Has India dropped its claim on the Galwan Valley? If China has not occupied our territory then what are we discussing with China?”
Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi said the Centre must respond to China’s claims over the entire Galwan Valley. She was referring to a statement by Beijing that claimed the region is located on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control. “Yesterday PM Modi assured the nation that no posts/territory have been ceded to China, but here China claims Galwan Valley as theirs,” she tweeted. “This is unacceptable and GoI [government of India] needs to clarify or respond to this. Have we ceded our Galwan Valley or ousted the PLA from there? Nation needs to know.”
Modi’s comments came two days after Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar told his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi that Beijing had sought to erect a structure in Galwan valley on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control, leading to violence. “[The] Chinese side sought to erect a structure in Galwan valley on our side of the LAC,” a press release by the foreign ministry also said on Wednesday. “While this became a source of dispute, the Chinese side took pre-meditated and planned action that was directly responsible for the resulting violence and casualties. It reflected an intent to change the facts on ground in violation of all our agreements to not change the status quo.”
Similarly, the first statement issued by the MEA on Tuesday said the “violent face-off” had “happened as a result of an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo there”.
Former National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon told The Wire that Modi’s choice of words was an “ill-considered and inaccurate statement that concedes territory and the gains of aggression”. “Why and where were our soldiers killed,” he asked.
Pravin Sawhney, editor of FORCE magazine, said the prime minister’s comments have raised doubts about the clashes. “India would have to pay a heavy price for the appeasement of China,” he added. “The Chinese see appeasement as a sign of weakness which they will exploit to the fullest. How did 20 unarmed Indian soldiers die? Why were 10 soldiers taken captive by PLA [People’s Liberation Army]. If no one has intruded into our territory, did India transgress into Chinese territory?”
Another former diplomat, with extensive experience dealing with China, told the news website on condition of anonymity that he cannot understand why Modi contradicted the statements of the foreign minister. “There will be a domestic political price to pay no matter how they try and spin it,” he added. “So there must have been a bigger price to be paid to justify this utterly pathetic climb down. What is that? I can’t believe this was inadvertent.”
Journalist and former Indian Army officer Ajai Shukla asked if Modi conceded the Galwan region to Ladakh. “Did I see Prime Minister Narendra Modi redrawing the Sino-Indian border on TV today,” he tweeted. “Modi said nobody entered Indian territory. Has he conceded to China the Galwan River valley and Fingers 4-8 in Pangong Tso – both on our side of the LAC – and where Chinese troops now sit.”
In another tweet Shukla wrote: “20 Indian soldiers gave up their lives while evicting Chinese intruders from Indian territory. But Modi says nobody entered Indian territory. Then where did these soldiers die? Is Modi saying – like China is saying – that they crossed into China?”
KC Singh, a former diplomat, said the prime minister conceding to China’s claims won’t result in peace. “PM Modi last night [was] in denial, dissimulating or giving China a face saver before resolution,” he tweeted. “Normal wisdom: don’t feed the dragon, till you can ride it.”
Defence journalist Sushant Singh asked why 20 soldiers died then in Monday’s clashes if no one has occupied Indian territory. “Denial is no longer a river in Egypt,” he tweeted. “It is a valley in Ladakh.”
This is the first instance of casualties on the Line of Actual Control since 1975. It came amidst a “de-escalation” process in the Galwan area that was started last week, after a month-long standoff between troops at several points along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh and Sikkim. Though some reports have said that around 40 Chinese soldiers died during these clashes, China has not responded to this.