Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday said that the sacrifice of 20 Indian personnel killed in a violent face-off with Chinese troops at Galwan Valley in Ladakh on June 15 cannot go in vain. Singh referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comments on the border, made at Friday’s all-party meeting, saying he must “always be mindful of the implications of his words”.

A controversy erupted after the prime minister said 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 clashes with Chinese troops. However, a clarification issued by Modi’s office claimed that attempts were being made to give a “mischievous interpretation” to his remarks and said his comments referred to the situation at the Line of Actual Control after Indian soldiers had foiled China’s intrusion.

“At this moment, we stand at historic cross-roads,” Singh said in a statement. “Our government’s decisions and actions will have serious bearings on how the future generations perceive us. Those who lead us bear the weight of a solemn duty. And in our democracy that responsibility rests with the office of the prime minister. The prime minister must always be mindful of the implications of his words and declarations on our nation’s security as also strategic and territorial interests.”

In his first response to last week’s clashes, the senior Congress leader urged the government not to be cowed down by threats and intimidation in dealing with China or compromise with India’s territorial integrity. “The prime minister cannot allow them [China] to use his words as a vindication of their position and must ensure that all organs of the government work together to tackle this crisis and prevent it from escalating further,” he added.

Singh accused China of “brazenly and illegally” seeking to claim parts of Indian territory such as the Galwan Valley and the Pangong Tso Lake by committing multiple incursions since April.

“This is a moment where we must stand together as a nation and be united in our response to this brazen threat,” he said. “We remind the government that disinformation is no substitute for diplomacy or decisive leadership. The truth cannot be suppressed by having pliant allies spout comforting but false statements.”

The former prime minister also said that the Narendra Modi government must “rise to the occasion” to ensure justice for Colonel B Santosh Babu and the other soldiers who lost their lives to defend country’s territorial integrity. “To do any less would be a historic betrayal of the people’s faith,” Singh said.

Meanwhile, Congress leader Kapil Sibal on Sunday questioned why Modi had said that there was no intrusion, adding that his comments amounted to an endorsement of the Chinese position and contradicted the defence and foreign ministers, army chief, retired generals and security experts. “Why are you helping China?” Sibal had asked. “Why are you contradicting the facts put out by your own government in the public domain?”

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The clash in the Galwan Valley 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.