How to preserve the purpose of supreme sacrifice of Santosh Babu, and sovereignty of the India over Galwan area on LAC between India and China? It is gratifying to note that our Prime Minister said on June 17 honouring the sacrifice. But what is the meaning of his next official statement on June 19?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 17, 2020 assured the nation that the sacrifice of Indian soldiers killed in a clash with Chinese troops at Galwan Valley in Ladakh would not go in vain and India, while peace-loving, can give a fitting reply if provoked. "No one should be in any doubt. India wants peace but when provoked, it is capable of giving a fitting reply, be it any situation," This was the PM’s strong warning.

On June 19, 2020 the Prime Minister said: “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)”.

There are three major and simple questions: a) If China didn’t enter India, then where did they pick our 10 army men from? b) Every inch of land where Chinese are right now henceforth belonging to China? c) Whether 20 Jawans died on India’s land? Or no man’s land or China’s land? Are we abandoning our claim to no man’s land?

Doubtful statement

Any contradiction in statements or claims from Indian side will strengthen the false claims of China. India should be cautious about it. First the Indian side claimed none is held by China.

ANI on June 18, 5.48 PM says: Major General Level talks between India and China are over after more than six hours. “All the personnel who took part in the Galwan valley operations on June 15-16 are accounted for and no personnel are missing in action: Sources”

Media reported that within minutes ten Indian Army personnel, captured by the Chinese following the violent clashes in Galwan Valley on the night of June 15-16, were returned June 18 evening after talks at the diplomatic and military level.
The PMO clarification In response to criticism and questions over the remark, Modi’s office on Saturday clarified that
“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." This was due to the action taken by the Indian army men on the spot, 20 of whom were killed in a violent face- off with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), it clarified.

Galwan is name of Ladakhi explorer

The 4,056-km (2,520-mile) border between India and China runs through glaciers, snow deserts and rivers in the west to thickly forested mountains in the east. The Galwan Valley is an arid, inhospitable area, where some soldiers are deployed on steep ridges. It is considered important

because it leads to the Aksai Chin, a disputed plateau claimed by India but controlled by China. Under no circumstances the Galwan could be claimed by China. Galwan belongs to India. Even after 1962 conflict, it remained with India. In factr it was named after the 19 th Century Ladakhi adventurer-explorer Gulam Rasool Galwan. There is no Chinese name for this river or valley. Galwan is strategically important as its heights have a dominating position over the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie road built by India.

Maps also support India

It is reported that his descendants are still living in Ladakh. Even the official maps of China draw the boundary/LAC hundreds of metres short of the Galwan river’s confluence with the Shyok river, which stands to prove that a part of the Galwan valley is on the Indian side of the LAC. Now the China is claiming entire Galwan valley as its own. If the entire Galwan Valley is theirs, why are they building a tent and other towers there, which caused the fierce fighting on June 15? It proves that China encroached into Indian part of Galwan valley, erected the structures, as rightly claimed by S Jayashankar, in spite of agreement on June 6. If there is no intrusion by China, there was no reason for Santosh Babu to fight and loose his life for India.

Satellite show China transgression

Reuters wrote with help of satellite pictures on June 18 that there was an increased activity on the disputed site, and it is spotted that China was altering the situation. The media report said: The satellite pictures, taken by Earth-imaging company Planet Labs and obtained by Reuters, show signs of altering the landscape of the valley through widening tracks, moving earth and making river crossings, one expert said. The images show machinery along the bald mountains
and in the Galwan River. “Looking at it in Planet, it looks like China is constructing roads in the valley and possibly damming the river,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “There are a ton of vehicles on both sides (of the LAC) – although there appear to be vastly more on the Chinese side. I count 30-40 Indian vehicles and well over 100 vehicles on the Chinese side.”

Reuters says that the images, shot on June 16, a day after soldiers engaged in hand-to-hand combat in the freezing Galwan Valley, show an increase in activity from a week earlier.

Chinese statements

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said he was unaware of the specifics on the ground but reiterated that the Indian army had crossed into Chinese territory in several places in recent days and that they should withdraw. If what the PM said is true, the above statement of the Chinese spokesman should also be true. Does it mean that the stand of China is accepted?

Indian stand

Till now the India’s stand was that the fighting was triggered by a row over two Chinese tents and observation towers had been built on its India’s side of the LAC. If China has not transgressed into India’s side of LAC, there should not have been any reason for fist fighting that led to killing of 20 soldiers including Col. Santosh.

According to our Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson, Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told China’s senior diplomat, Wang Yi, in a phone call on June 17, that China had sought to erect a “structure” in the Galwan Valley on India’s side of the LAC even after military officials had reached an agreement on June 6 to de-escalate.

Reuters says that the Indian patrol wanted to check whether Chinese troops moved back from LAC as agreed, then problem arose, the Chinese troops had thinned out and left behind the two tents and small observation posts, and the Indian party demolished the towers and burnt the tents. The satellite images show possible debris from the observation posts on June 16 morning on a ridge on India’s side of the LAC. There was no such structure in the image taken a week earlier. Report further says:

“A large group of Chinese soldiers arrived and confronted the Indian troops, led by Colonel Santosh Babu. They were lightly armed in line with the rules of engagement at the LAC, one of the sources said..India and China have not
exchanged gunfire at the border since 1967, despite occasional flare-ups. Soldiers are under instructions to keep their rifles slung at their backs..It was not clear what happened next, but the two sides soon clashed, with the Chinese using iron rods and batons with spikes, one of the sources said. Colonel Babu was one of the 20 victims, they said. More Indian troops were rushed in and the confrontation turned into an hours-long brawl eventually involving up to 900 soldiers, the source said. Still no shots were fired on either side.

The question is: Whether the PM’s statement that there was no intrusion contradicts the statement of S Jaishankar?

The press release dated June 17 stated: “The Chinese side sought to erect a structure in Galwan valley on our side of the LAC. 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.

Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement on June 16, after the fist fight at border, that the “violent face-off” had “happened as a result of an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo there.”

Let us see what spokesperson of Chinese PLA western theatre command said on June 16, that Indian soldiers had crossed the LAC and “launched provocative attacks” had also asserted Chinese sovereignty over the Galwan valley area. Does the PM’s statement support this claim of China?

Galwan: not part of ADP

There are several areas of different perception (ADP) on the LAC, where the claim lines of the two sides overlap, Chinese and Indian soldiers regularly come face-to-face, before withdrawing back as per an elaborate system of drills. If there is any crossing of this line from that to this side, it could be called ‘transgression’ but not ‘intrusion’. Whether PM is hiding in this technical expression? But the Galwan was never the area of different perception. It is not
part of those ADPs since 1962 which are listed to be settled.

With this backdrop we must understand the statement of China issued on June 19, i.e., after PM’s statement that there was no intrusion at all by China.

Immediately after the PMs statement, the Chinese embassy explained in their account saying foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian “pointed out that the Galwan Valley is located on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control in the west section of the China-India boundary. For many years, the Chinese border troops have been patrolling and on duty in this region”. Their spokesperson tweeted a link that explains the “Step-by-Step Account of the Galwan Valley Incident” which is summarised into following points.

(i) “Galwan Valley is located on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control in the west section of the China-India boundary”
(ii) since April, India has been building infrastructure in Galwan, which led to “representations and protests on multiple occasions”
(iii) On May 6, Indian troops crossed the LAC by night, and impeded patrol movements by “building fortifications and barricades”, which led to the first confrontation.
(iv) India agreed to withdraw and demolish its “facilities”.

It means the China did not lose even a few seconds to reiterate their ‘recent’ claims over Galwan, after the PM’s statement.

Another media report quoted Nathan Ruser of Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), who said that the Chinese have constructed 500 structures, fortified trenches and a new boatshed over 20 kilometres between Fingers 4 and 5. At Hot Springs, Ruser analyses that satellite imagery from late May shows that there are two dirt tracks that go into “Indian-
controlled territory”. “There are no PLA positions on the Indian side of the LAC; however, these tracks suggest that PLA forces are regularly making incursions into Indian territory, at a remote part of the LAC that is 10 kilometres from the nearest Indian positions,” he claims.

The Prime Minister’s statement carries huge value and commitment. He is so popular leader that majority of the people repose great confidence in his statement. The officers and machinery around him have a higher responsibility to properly inform and equip him in such delicate situation where an inch of land matters and a single word would be enough to create
serious consequences. If what PM stated is true, our earlier claim over Galwan near LAC becomes untrue. Should we say what happens otherwise? All this indicates that there is a lot of confusion.

It is important that India should not lose sovereign authority over Galwan, for which Santosh and other 19 laid down lives. If the status quo is maintained at least, the 20 souls will rest in peace.

M Sridhar Acharyulu

Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu was the Central Information Commissioner (2013-18) of Union of India, who delivered thousands of landmark judgments on Right to Information. Earlier, Madabhushi Sridhar served as Professor and Registrar at NALSAR University, Hyderabad . With double post-graduate degrees (LLM & MCJ) Ph.D. and LL.D., Sridhar continues as a columnist on socio-political happenings and policies of the state. He has written and published 40 books on Law and Journalism in both Telugu and English, 100 plus research articles and thousands of newspaper articles. Sridhar anchored a live phone-in TV weekly program to answer doubts on land records in 60 episodes of a TV channel in Hyderabad.

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