Defence minister Rajnath Singh told Parliament on Tuesday that China has engaged in massive mobilisation of troops at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), engaged in aggressive behaviour, and sought to unilaterally change the status quo — all in contravention of existing border agreements and pacts between the two countries.
In the face of this, he said, India’s armed forces have shown both restraint when needed and courage when required, and will defend Indian sovereignty and territorial integrity in any situation.
In the first official statement by the government on the floor of the Lok Sabha on the India-China standoff in eastern Ladakh, Singh provided the historical backdrop of the border question; emphasised the importance of maintaining peace and tranquillity at the border for bilateral relations to progress; chronologically outlined the series of aggressive moves by China and “violent conduct” since April this year; acknowledged how the current situation is qualitatively different from the past in terms of the number of troops involved and the number of friction points; laid out the Indian position and principles on the need to respect the LAC; and alluded to the recent understanding between the foreign ministers of both countries in Moscow, putting the onus categorically on China to disengage.
“The amassing of the troops by China goes against our 1993 and 1996 agreements. Respecting and strictly observing the Line of Actual Control is the basis for peace and tranquillity in the border areas and explicitly recognised in both agreements. While our armed forces abide scrupulously by it, this has not been reciprocated by the Chinese side… In the recent incidents, this year, the violent conduct of Chinese forces has been in complete violation of all mutually agreed norms,” Singh said.
“As of now, the Chinese side has mobilised a large number of troops and armaments along the LAC as well as in the depth areas. There are several friction areas in eastern Ladakh, including Gogra, Kongka La and north and south banks of the Pangong Lake. In response to China’s actions, our armed forces have also made appropriate counterdeployments in these areas to ensure that India’s security interests are fully protected. The House should have full confidence that our armed forces will always rise to the challenge and do us all proud,” he added.
Singh suggested that in the past too, there have been long standoffs which were peacefully resolved, but acknowledged that the scale of troop mobilisation and number of friction points made then current situation different. “We are ready to face any situation,” he said.
The defence minister also urged the House to pass a resolution expressing admiration for the bravery of Indian soldiers at the front line and solidarity with the troops — as Parliament has done in times of crisis.
The Congress walked out after it was not allowed to speak under House rules after the defence minister ended his address. Adressing reporters outside Parliament, Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s absence from Parliament when the defence minister made a statement showed that how the government was afraid of a discussion on the face-off.
Also read| ‘Don’t be afraid to name China’: Rahul Gandhi’s jibe after Rajnath Singh’s LAC statement
“For the Congress, the country is the most important. We are proud of our armed forces. This government did not allow us to speak in Parliament. They are afraid of Congress asking questions that they will not be able to answer,” he said.
Singh began his speech by offering the context to the long-festering border dispute between India and China, and said that customary alignments, geographic principles, historic use and border pacts have not been accepted by Beijing. China is, the defence minister said, in possession of 38,000 square km of Indian territory in Ladakh; 5,180 sq km of Indian territory in Kashmir given to it by Pakistan in 1963; and has claimed Arunachal Pradesh.
But since 1988 (when then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited China), Singh said that both countries decided that the border issue needed patience and a “fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution”. And while on the LAC itself both countries had differing perceptions, they agreed that peace at the border was essential for the progress of bilateral relations. This, then, led to agreements in 1993 and 1996 — which stipulated minimal troop presence, respect and adherence to the LAC, and an understanding to arrive at a common perception of the LAC, a process China stalled in 2003.
Turning to the present crisis, Singh said that in April, China began mobilising both troops and armaments. In May, it interrupted regular patrolling patterns in the Galwan valley where there was a face-off, and it also attempted transgression in the western sector in mid-May, in Kongka La, Gogra and Pangong Tso. Singh said that India conveyed to China, through diplomatic and military channels, that attempts to change the status quo unilaterally won’t be acceptable.
Also read| India inflicted heavy casualties on Chinese forces in June: Rajnath Singh
On June 6, there was an understanding on disengagement. But on June 15, in Galwan, Singh said, “China created a violent situation”. Indian troops made sacrifices and secured the border, but, Singh said emphatically, there were also “heavy casualties” on the Chinese side. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed in the violent brawl in Galwan valley.
Singh said that India, in its communication with China, had clearly laid out three principles — the need to respect the LAC and adhere to it strictly; the need to not change the status quo; and the need to respect all pacts and agreements. But on August 29 and 30, even as discussions were underway, Singh said that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) tried to unilaterally change the status quo on the southern bank of Pangong Tso, but “timely action” by Indian armed forces repelled the design.
India, Singh said, engaged in counterdeployment so that Indian security interests were safeguarded no matter what the situation. But he added that there were sensitive operational matters involved, which he, even if he wanted to, could not discuss.
The defence minister then turned to the state of negotiations, while emphasising that India wants a resolution of the situation peacefully. He spoke about his meeting with the Chinese counterpart in Moscow, where they had an in-depth discussion. “I made it clear that even as we wanted to peacefully resolve the issue and would like the Chinese side to work with us, there should also be no doubt about our determination to protect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
He then referred to foreign minister S Jaishankar’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart. “The two have reached an agreement that, if implemented sincerely and faithfully by the Chinese side, could lead to complete disengagement and restoration of peace and tranquillity in the border areas.”
Experts hailed the clarity in the minister’s statement. “I think the defence minister has unequivocally laid the responsibility for the current tensions on the actions of the PLA and the complete disregard for past agreements and protocols. He has also clearly stated that while we would prefer that the matter be resolved through dialogue, there will be no compromise with our territorial integrity. This is a firm and clear statement of our intent,” said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General (retired) DS Hooda.
Former ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, distinguished fellow for foreign policy studies at Gateway House, said Singh’s statement was a combination of clarity, candour and confidence and reflected the new phase in the standoff following the meeting of the foreign ministers in Moscow and the five-point roadmap for the way forward.
“It is a strong statement reflecting India’s national determination. It addressed three constituencies – our own people, who have been taken into confidence on what is happening and India’s strategy to tackle the situation; the international community because a clear-cut message hadn’t been going out to the world that it was China which created this situation by violating all agreements and that India still wants a peaceful resolution and if this doesn’t happen, it could lead to further deterioration; and the Chinese government and elite, to say that it is still India’s preferred option to resolve things through negotiations,” he said.