“Controversy Being Created”: PM’s Office On His Remarks At All-Party Meet
NEW DELHI : A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “no one has intruded into our territory” an assertion which contradicted government statements about the circumstances in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed in combat with the Chinese army this week – the PMO sought to clarify that the reason he said there was “no Chinese presence on our side of the LAC” is because Indian soldiers had foiled an “attempted transgression” at Galwan.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Saturday clarified that China’s untenable claims regarding the Line of Actual Control (LAC) are “unacceptable” to India and contradicts its earlier stand on the issue.
Responding to media queries about the India-China face-off and Chinese Foreign Ministry’s statement, the MEA issued a statement saying, “The position with regard to Galwan Valley area has been historically clear. Attempts by Chinese side to now advance exaggerated and untenable claims with regard to the LAC there aren’t acceptable. They aren’t in accordance with China’s own past position.”
The Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson, Anurag Srivastava, also categorically rejected China’s claim that India was unilaterally changing the status quo. It may be recalled that Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian had earlier in the day claimed that Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh is located on the Chinese side of the border, which was rejected by the MEA.
“Since early May 2020, Chinese have been hindering India’s normal patrolling pattern in the area. This resulted in face-off which was addressed by ground commanders. We don’t accept the contention that India was unilaterally changing status quo, we were maintaining it,” the MEA spokesperson said.
He also added that the “Indian troops are fully familiar with the alignment of the LAC in all sectors of India-China border areas, including the GalwanValley. They abide by it scrupulously here, as they do elsewhere.”Srivastava went on to say that the Indian side has never undertaken any actions across the LAC.
Replying to a question on what led to clashes between the Indian and Chinese troops, he said, “We expect that the Chinese side will sincerely follow the understanding reached between the Foreign Ministers to ensure peace and tranquilizer in the border areas, which is so essential for the overall development of our bilateral relations,” the MEA said.
Modi made his controversial statement at the all-party meeting called by the government on Friday to discuss the violence on the India-China border that has taken the relationship between the two countries to their lowest level in over five decades.
“Na koi wahan hamari seema mein ghus aaya hai aur nahi koi ghusa hua hai, na hi hamari koi post kisi dusre ke kabze mein hain (No one has intruded and nor is anyone intruding, nor has any post been captured by someone)”, he said in closing remarks that were carried on television.
Modi’s original statement that there is and has been no intrusion by the Chinese – which the government sought to play down by reacting the words “Na koi hamari seema mein ghus aaya hai (No one has intruded)” from its official summary – contradicted the government’s press note issued after external affairs minister S. Jaishankar spoke to his Chinese counterpart, state Councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi:
“[The] Chinese side sought to erect a structure in Galwan valley on our side of the LAC [line of actual control],” the press release dated June 17 said. “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.”
It is clear that if the Chinese sought to “erect a structure” on “our side of the LAC”, it would need to cross the de-facto border.
On Saturday, the Prime Minister’s Office(PMO) issued a statement seeking to clarify what Modi had said and rejecting what it termed the “mischievous interpretation” given to his remarks “in some quarters”:
“Prime Minister was clear that India would respond firmly to any attempts to transgress the Line of Actual Control (LAC). In fact, he specifically emphasized that in contrast to the past neglect of such challenges, Indian forces now decisively counter any violations of LAC (“unhe rokte hain, unhe tokte hain”).
The Prime Minister’s observations that there was no Chinese presence on our side of the LAC pertained to the situation as a consequence of the bravery of our armed forces. The sacrifices of the soldiers of the 16 Bihar Regiment foiled the attempt of the Chinese side to erect structures and also cleared the attempted transgression at this point of the LAC on that day.”
The PMO uses the words “just across the LAC” to describe the location of the spot where the Chinese side was trying to erect structures and later refers to the Chinese efforts as as “attempted transgression”, which implies all of this action happened on the Chinese side.
PMO statement quoted Modi as saying, “Those who tried to transgress our land were taught a befitting lesson by our brave sons of soil” – which is a loose and inaccurate translation of his exact words in Hindi, “Ladakh mein hamare 20 jaanbaz shaheed hue, lekin jinhone Bhart Mata ki taraf aankh uthakar dekha tha, unhein vo sabak sikhakar gaye (In Ladakh, 20 of our braves were martyred but after they taught a lesson to those who dared look at (covet) Mother India)”.
While Modi and the PMO’s new formulation is vague about the location of the clash, the MEA had said on June 17 that the structures Indian soldiers objected to were “on our side of the LAC”.
Indeed, the first statement issued by the MEA on June 16 right after the Galwan incident said the “violent face-off” had “happened as a result of an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo there.” (emphasis added).
The MEA’s reference to unilateral attempts to change the status quo at Galwan makes it obvious the territory in question either falls on the Indian side of the LAC or is in an area where Indian and Chinese claim lines overlap.
The Wire, former national security advisor Shivshankar Menon expressed his puzzlement over the prime minister’s choice of words, calling it “an ill-considered and inaccurate statement that concedes territory and the gains of aggression.” “If this is so”, he added, “why and where were our soldiers killed?”
Pravin Sawhney, editor of FORCE magazine said India would have to pay “a heavy price for the appeasement of China, and soon…. The Chinese see appeasement as a sign of weakness which they will exploit to the fullest.” Like Menon, he too saw the prime minister’s assertion casting a shadow over the clash at Galwan. “How did 20 unarmed Indian soldiers die?” he asked. “Why were 10 soldiers taken captive by PLA? If no one has intruded into our territory, did India transgress into Chinese territory?”
“I can’t figure out why [Modi] should have done this, contradicting his own army top brass and external affairs minister,” a former Indian diplomat with extensive experience dealing with China told The Wire on condition of anonymity. “There will be a domestic political price to pay no matter how they try and spin it. 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.”
While the MEA has always rejected as “inaccurate” any suggestion that Indian troops had undertaken activity across the LAC – this was reiterated recently, on May 21 the Chinese side has been repeatedly claiming that the violent clash took place when “Indian forces crossed the Line of Actual Control again, made deliberate provocations and even violently attacked the Chinese soldiers who went for negotiations”.
This was reiterated by the foreign minister Wang Yi in his conversation with Jaishankar, as per the Chinese foreign ministry readout. On June 16, the Chinese PLA western the tare command’s spokesperson, while claiming that Indian soldiers had crossed the LAC and “launched provocative attacks”, had also asserted Chinese sovereignty over the Galwan valley area.
After the Chinese foreign ministry also reiterated the claim over the entire Galwan valley, the MEA spokesperson described this as “exaggerated and untenable”. The LAC, the de-facto border, between India and China has never been demarcated or delineated. When India attempted to exchange maps for the western sector in 2012, China brought the process to a halt.
In Indian official language, when Chinese soldiers come into these ADPs, this is not considered an “intrusion” but a “transgression” of the LAC. The PM’s statement, however, does not use that term for Chinese actions either.In any case, Galwan had not been part of this list of ADPs, as India had considered the LAC to be settled as per the withdrawal line of the Chinese after the 1962 war.
On Friday, the Chinese foreign ministry published a document that makes it clear Beijing’s claim over Galwan has extended beyond their withdrawal points as depicted in Chinese maps from 1962.
A few hours after the all party meeting where Indian PM made the statement no one had intruded into Indian territory, the Chinese embassy’s spokesperson tweeted a link of a publication that gave China’s “Step-by-Step Account of the Galwan Valley Incident”.
It began by stating that “Galwan Valley is located on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control in the west section of the China-India boundary” Galwan’s strategic important is that its heights have a dominating position over the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie road built by India.
The opposition has alleged PM Modi has not fully explained what changing status quo meant if Chinese troops had not crossed into Indian territory. “If no Chinese troops had crossed the LAC into Indian territory, why did Foreign Minister Jaishankar’s statement refer to restoration of status quo ante?” Congress leader P Chidambaram tweeted this morning.
In today’s statement, the government said the “Prime Minister’s observations that there was no Chinese presence on our side of the LAC pertained to the situation as a consequence of the bravery of our armed forces”.
(With Agency Inputs ).