New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi convened an “all-party meeting” on the issue of India-China face off in Ladakh on Friday evening. Attended by several political parties, the meeting drew sharp focus on the escalation of tensions at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that claimed the lives of 20 Indian soldiers.
This is the first time that the prime minister has opened his office for discussions on border tensions with China with opposition members, yet the virtual meeting on Friday ended with an address by the Prime Minister that sparked more questions than it answered.
Modi categorically said that India did not lose any territory to China in recent months. “Neither have they intruded into our border, nor has any post been taken over by them (China). Twenty of our jawans were martyred, but those who dared Bharat Mata, they were taught a lesson,” he was quoted by ANI as having said.
This is at odds with China’s clear claim of sovereignty over the Galwan valley. The statement also comes in the wake of reports that Chinese military has transgressed into the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de-facto border, in several areas of eastern Ladakh including Pangong Tso and Galwan Valley.
Taking a predictably nationalist political line, Modi further said, “Today, we possess the capability that no one can eye even one inch of our land. India’s armed forces have the capability to move into multiple sectors at one go.”
“Till now, those who were never questioned or stopped, now our jawans stop them and warn them at multiple sectors,” he said, adding that the Army has been monitoring even those areas which were not attended to earlier at the India-China border.
If pushed to the brink of retaliatory action, Modi said, “Whether it is deployment, action, counter-action…air, land or sea, whatever our armed forces have to do to protect our country they will do.”
“In the past few years, to protect our borders, we have given importance to infrastructure development to protect our borders. The requirements of our armed forces, be it fighter planes, advanced helicopters, missile defence systems, that too is being given importance,” Modi said.
He also notably said that the government has given the armed forces “full freedom for taking any appropriate action necessary.”
Maintaining that ‘India wants peace and friendship,’ Modi further said, “India has never come under external pressure. Whatever is necessary for country’s protection will be expedited.”
The defence minister Rajnath Singh said that there was no intelligence failure, as is being accused by some political parties.
What did the opposition leaders say?
Ahead of the meeting, Janata Dal (Secular) leader and former prime minister H.D Devegowda wrote to Modi suggesting that the meeting should be preceded by a “presentation to the opposition leaders on the ground situation, and the progress of talks”. He said the presentation should be done by senior government and military officials, and added that while classified information could be kept secret, “truthful information” could be shared with opposition members.
He went on to make four other suggestions that included toning down of nationalist rhetoric to prevent further escalation. He urged the leaders to refrain from using intemperate language and politicising the armed forces’ presence in order to have a fruitful discussion on the sensitive national security issue.
My statement on the India-China Border issue in the backdrop of the Prime Minister’s meeting with opposition leaders. pic.twitter.com/wYTu4sI6LO
— H D Devegowda (@H_D_Devegowda) June 19, 2020
Later, Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi released her statement. While paying homage to the slain soldiers and wishing the injured ones a speedy recovery, she said that the meeting “should have come sooner and and immediately after the government had been reportedly informed about the Chinese intrusion on May 5th, 2020 into several places in Ladakh and elsewhere.”
Although she said that the entire nation fully supported the government in the steps to defend India’s territorial integrity, she also alleged that the government had kept everyone “in the dark about many crucial aspects of the crisis.”
“We have some specific questions, for the government: On which date did the Chinese troops intrude into our territory in Ladakh? When did the government find out about the Chinese transgressions into our territory? Was it on May 5th, as reported, or earlier? Does the government not receive, on a regular basis, satellite pictures of the borders of our country? 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,” she asked.
She demanded that the government be more transparent about the “way forward” and seek suggestions from opposition parties. She added that the Congress party believes that valuable time between May 5 and June 6, the date on which the Corps commanders met, has been lost, but now is the time to exhaust all political and diplomatic avenues to talk to the Chinese leadership directly.
“The entire country would like an assurance that the status quo ante would be restored and China will revert back to the original position on Line of Actual Control,” she said.
“We would also like to be briefed on the preparedness of our defence forces to meet any threat. In particular, I would like to ask what is the current status of the Mountain Strike Corps, with two mountain infantry divisions, that was sanctioned in 2013,” she asked.
Pinaki Mishra of the Biju Janata Dal took a more forthright approach. “Shri Naveen Patnaik ji’s appeal to all parties is not to indulge in a blame game at this point. We must be in lockstep with the government, the entire country needs to talk in one voice. The government will have to give a strong response; strong action will have to be initiated (against China). Whatever that action may be, the BJD will fully support the government,” ANI quoted the Puri MP as having said.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, on the other hand, directed the talks towards an economic boycott of China. “Goods from China flooding Indian markets have major problems. They’re plastic heavy, aren’t eco-friendly and they harm the environment. Electronic waste associated with them is high. Chinese products don’t even last long. It’s our duty to be one and support the Centre,” ANI quoted him as having said.
Shiv Sena, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, YSR Congress, Telangana Rashtra Samithi all voiced support to the government and either called for a strong military response or an economic boycott of Chinese goods.
“India wants peace but that doesn’t mean we are weak. China’s nature is betrayal. India is ‘mazboot‘ not ‘majboor‘. Our government has the ability to ‘aankhien nikalkar haath me de dena‘,” Maharashtra chief minister and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray said.
BJP ally Shiromani Akali Dal said that this wasn’t the time to question the government on the handling of the situation, and all parties must show that they are with the Prime Minister.
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee said that India should not allow Chinese companies to enter telecom, railway, and aviation sectors. “We will face some problems but we won’t allow the Chinese to enter,” ANI quoted her as having said.
Left party leaders, however, pointed out that the government should move forward in the direction of India’s non-alignment foreign policy and were the only parties to clearly advocate an anti-war approach between the two countries. The Communist Party of India general secretary D. Raja spoke on the “need to resist US efforts to drag us into their alliance,” while Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury emphasised on the principles of Panchsheel Treaty between India and China in 1954 in which the countries agreed upon five principles of peaceful coexistence.
“At the conclusion of the discussion, it was agreed that the overall situation would be handled in a responsible manner, and both sides would implement the disengagement understanding of June 6 sincerely. Neither side would take any action to escalate matters and instead, ensure peace and tranquility as per bilateral agreements and protocols,” Yechury said, while extending its support to the government’s similar stance currently.
“Following this, government of India should initiate high level talks, so that steps are taken, including clear demarcation of the LAC, to maintain peace and tranquility on the border,” he added.
Some of the prominent political names who attended the meeting were:
- Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi
- BJP president J.P. Nadda
- Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief M.K. Stalin
- Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N. Chandrababu Naidu
- YSR Congress chief and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy
- Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar
- Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (United) head Nitish Kumar
- Communist Party of India general secretary D. Raja
- Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury
- Telangana Rashtra Samithi president and Telangana CM K. Chandrasekhar Rao
- West Bengal CM and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee
- Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sukhbir Badal
- Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Chirag Paswan
- Maharashtra CM and Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray
- Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Ram Gopal Yadav
- Jharkhand CM and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Hemant Soren
- Biju Janata Dal leader Pinaki Mishra
- Janata Dal (Secular) leader and former Prime Minister H.D. Devegowda
- Sikkim Krantikari Morcha’s Prem Singh Tamang
- Mizoram chief minister and Mizo National Front Zoramthanga
- Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati
- Tamil Nadu chief minister and AIADMK’s E.K. Palaniswami
RJD, AAP, AIMIM protest at not being invited
Earlier in the day, the exclusion of some opposition parties from the all-party meeting had the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) fuming.
The defence minister had reportedly called all party chiefs on Thursday evening to invite them for the meeting. However, on Friday morning, Tejashwi Yadav, the RJD leader, said that he was not invited.
Dear @DefenceMinIndia @PMOIndia, Just wish to know the criteria for inviting political parties for tomorrow’s #AllPartyMeet on #GalwanValley. I mean the grounds of inclusion/exclusion. Because our party @RJDforIndia hasn’t received any message so far.
— Tejashwi Yadav (@yadavtejashwi) June 18, 2020
Even AAP’s Sanjay Singh tweeted to register his protest. “There is a strange ego-driven government at the centre. AAP has a government in Delhi and is the main opposition in Punjab. But on a vital subject, AAP’s views are not needed? The country is waiting for what the Prime Minister will say at the meeting.”
Later, however, while expressing its disappointment at its exclusion, it said that the party stood committed to the outcome of the meeting.
Sources in the Union government told NDTV that parties which have at least five MPs were only called for the meeting.
RJD spokesperson Manoj Kumar Jha, however, said that the exclusion of his party appeared to be “strange and arbitrary” as the RJD has five MPs in the parliament.
— Manoj Kumar Jha (@manojkjhadu) June 19, 2020
Later, RJD MPs stood in protest in front of the Gandhi statue in the Parliament house. Jha also wrote a letter to the prime minister registering his dissent against leaving out the principal opposition party in Bihar.
Similarly, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, in a letter to the prime minister, said that he was disappointed for not having been invited to the meeting as he was one of the few MPs who had been raising the issue of Chinese incursion in Ladakh for the last five weeks. He urged the Union government to convene parliament at the earliest so that the government could answer opposition queries regarding the India-China face-off. He also listed a set of 11 questions for the government to address in the all-party meeting.
Wrote to @PMOIndia about the growing concerns regarding Chinese incursions into Indian territory. We’ve lost 20 brave personnel besides our territory to Chinese occupation.
Recovering this territory by any means necessary is the best way to avenge the killings of our men pic.twitter.com/8GlIMxZQ9l
— Asaduddin Owaisi (@asadowaisi) June 19, 2020