Seeking to portray a strong government in control of a major national security challenge, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh made a statement on Tuesday in Parliament on China’s incursions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC), vowing to react forcefully to any threat to India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“I want to inform this august House, and through it the entire nation, that we are prepared for all outcomes to ensure that India's sovereignty is maintained,” said Rajnath.
His statement, which traced the history of the boundary dispute from the 1950s to the present, was the government’s response to the opposition parties’ demand for a discussion on how troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were allowed to trespass into Indian territory.
While the government agreed to issue a detailed statement, it did not accept the opposition’s demand for a full discussion on the ongoing crisis.
Rather than fielding Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has earlier denied any violations of the LAC or PLA transgressions into India, or Home Minister Amit Shah, who was admitted into hospital on Monday night, the government fielded the defence minister who has gained credibility over this crisis as a credible voice and a steady hand.
Rajnath took the safe, nationalist path by appealing to the opposition and to the country to stand by their brave soldiers in this hour of crisis. “Ham apne jawaanon ke saath, kadam se kadam mila kar chalengen (We will support our soldiers, marching in lock step with them),” he said.
Recounting the current crisis, Rajnath said that, since April, it became apparent that the PLA was on the Eastern Ladakh border in larger numbers and with extra armaments. In early May, the PLA began interdicting our traditional patrolling patterns in the Galwan Valley. China also attempted LAC transgressions at several other places, including Kongka La, Gogra and the north bank of the Pangong Lake.
Avoiding any mention of Chinese occupation of Indian-claimed territory, Rajnath said: “Our troops observed these attempts and took counter measures.”
“We have informed China through diplomatic and military channels that such activities constitute a unilateral attempt to change the status quo, which is on no account acceptable to India,” he said.
Referring to the clash of June 15, in which 20 Indian soldiers died, Rajnath cloaked the actual events in nationalist rhetoric. “Where there was a need for patience, our soldiers displayed patience and where there was a need for bravery, they displayed bravery,” he said.
“We want to resolve the current situation through dialogue and we have ongoing diplomatic and military engagement with the Chinese. Rajnath spelt out three principles that he said guided the Indian side in discussions. First, both sides must respect the LAC. Second, neither side must disturb the status quo; and third, both sides must adhere to the agreements and understanding arrived at over the years.”
Describing the events of last week, Rajnath said that, while discussions were under way, China undertook “provocative military actions” on the night of August 29/30 and attempted to change the status quo on the south bank of Pangong Tso. This attempt, he said, was foiled by our alert soldiers.
He said this highlights China’s disregard for the agreements arrived at between the two sides. Indian soldiers respect the 1993 and 1996 agreements, while the Chinese do not, he said.
At present, the Chinese have mobilized in large numbers along the LAC and there are many “friction areas” in the areas of Kongka La, Gogra and the north and south banks of Pangong Lake. We have implemented a “counter deployment” in these areas to “safeguard India’s security interests in these areas.”
He said that the swift Indian counter deployment, at a time when Covid-19 was rampant, was possible because our border network of roads had been greatly improved.
Choosing not to get into details, Rajnath stated: “There are sensitive operational issues around the current situation, so I cannot reveal too many details, even if I wanted to.”
Seeking to simplify a complex dispute, Rajnath presented to Parliament a detailed summary of the unresolved boundary question. He said China had usurped 38,000 square kilometres of Indian territory in Ladakh; while, in 1963, Pakistan gifted China with 5,180 square kilometres of territory in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). He said China also claims 90,000 square kilometres of Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh.
“China does not accept the customary and traditional alignment of the boundary,” he said. Both countries discussed the boundary from 1950-1960, but could not arrive at a mutually acceptable solution.
Rajnath said the two countries had agreed that the boundary dispute was a complex issue that required patience and that a “fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution needed to be arrived at through peaceful dialogue,” with an atmosphere of “peace and tranquility” on the border. India believed that any violation of the atmosphere on the LAC would inevitably affect bilateral relations.
He said “there is no commonly delineated LAC along the border” and that both countries had differing perceptions about where the LAC ran. Attempts were made from 1990 to 2003 to arrive at a common understanding of the LAC but then China decided to discontinue this. Consequently, there are overlapping perceptions of the LAC in several places.
Both New Delhi and Beijing have blamed successive boundary confrontations on these “overlapping perceptions” of the LAC, which require patrols from both sides to cross into territory claimed by the other.
The government's statement comes at a time of stepped up tension in Eastern Ladakh, with Indian and Chinese troops confronting each other directly as they occupy tactically advantageous heights to the south of Pangong Lake.