Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday told an all party meet called by him that no outsider was into Indian territory in Ladakh nor had any border post of the Indian army captured by outside forces, adding that the 20 Indian soldiers who had died in the violent face off between Indian and Chinese troops had “taught a lesson to those who had cast an eye on our Motherland before laying down their life”.
He said this in his closing remarks in a meeting attended by presidents of over 15 political parties, who while expressing support to the country, the armed forces and Prime Minister Modi’s government on tackling the situation at the East Ladakh border said status quo ante on the borders must be restored.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh, external affairs minister S Jaishankar and finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman were present at the meeting as well as foreign secretary Harsh Shringla. Sources told The Hindu that while Dr Jaishankar made a presentation over the diplomatic issues surrounding the event, Mr Singh responded to direct questions by party leaders and denied that any intelligence failure had taken place.
“The meeting was to take party leaders through the sequence of events and what has been done to deal with the issue, but apart from the foreign minister’s presentation it was not a hugely detailed briefing,” said one opposition leader. “Rajnath Singh answer some questions, especially the ones put forward by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, but denied that any intelligence failure had taken place,” said the source.
In fact, Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s closing remarks at the meeting (telecast on Doordarshan) made the point that intensive patrolling due to improvement in infrastructure and supply lines on the borders had raised the frequency of such clashes.
“For the last few years we have prioritised developing infrastructure, easing supply lines and equipment. Because of the new infrastructure especially at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) our capacity for patrolling has increased and because of that we are able to monitor and respond to things. Till now, the movement of those which used to take place without disruption, is now checked by our jawans. The national interest is our highest priority, whether it is trade or connectivity or counter terrorism, India has never accepted outside pressure and done whatever is necessary for the benefit of the country and will be done in future,” he said adding that the armed forces are capable of defending the borders, and have been given a free hand. “Our forces are capable of moving in a coordinated fashion across all sectors,” he said.
Among the first political leaders to speak was Congress president Sonia Gandhi who adopted a hard line, saying that the Indian government must assure that status quo ante is restored. She also asked if the violent face off was the result of an intelligence failure. She said the “entire Opposition was willing to make any sacrifice to ensure that Indian troops are battle ready”.
Noting that the first reports of Chinese intrusion came on May 5, Ms Gandhi said “crucial time” was lost by the government in starting diplomatic level talks with China.
“Did our external intelligence agencies not report any unusual activity along the LAC? Did the Military Intelligence not alert the government about the intrusion and the build-up of massive forces along the LAC, whether on the Chinese side or on the Indian side? In the government’s considered view, was there a failure of intelligence?” Ms Gandhi asked in the meeting.
While most political parties said that they supported whatever action the government was prepared to take to send a strong message to China and restoration of status quo ante, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Bahuja Samaj Party leader Mayawati emphasised India’s trade deficit with China must be addressed and the Indian economy should not so closely allied to Chinese supply chains.
Former defence minister and Nationalist Congress chief Sharad Pawar maintained that whether soldiers carry arms in particular situations are a subject of international treaties and similar sensitivity has to be maintained. He recalled his experience as defence in the Narasimha Rao government to say that the Chinese army occupying high ground in Galwan Valley is “essentially with the specific objective of dominating the Dubruk-DBO (Daulat Beg Oldie) road on the Indian side” and that “Chinese troops can at any time decide to force the closure of this road which would be at heavy military cost to India.”
“PLA (People’s Liberation Army) must be evacuated from occupying high ground in Galwan Valley, for which compulsory measures are required. It would be advisable to strategise using diplomatic channels to diffuse tensions on the border and get China to see reason,” he said.
Pinaki Mishra of the Biju Janata Dal, said that strong action was needed after the death of 20 soldiers, two of whom were from Odisha, and said that now was not the time for division but speaking with one voice.
Earlier in the day, former prime minister Deve Gowda, whose party the Janata Dal (S) did not make the cut of having five MPs for the meeting, wrote to Prime Minister Modi and asked for a toning down on nationalistic rhetoric and taking the opposition into confidence. The five MP cut off required for a table at the video conference left the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) out in the cold, the latter protesting their exclusion before the Gandhi statue in Parliament in New Delhi.