New Delhi: Clashes which occurred between India and China on the Line of Actual Control in Galwan in 2020, claiming lives of 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese soldiers, caused a significant disruption in ties between the two countries. But it has emerged that this was not the last time the two nuclear, Asian neighbours were involved in violent clashes in the past three years.
Fresh details about clashes were revealed at the investiture ceremony of the western command of the Indian Army. These details revealed how China had attempted to violently overthrow at least two Indian Army checkpoints.
The news comes in the same week when the army chief General Manoj Pande has said that situation on the China border is “stable, yet sensitive”.
What is this new information?
The Indian Army every year announces gallantry awards on Independence and Republic Days. These awards are given away in investiture ceremonies that are held at a later date.
One such investiture ceremony was conducted, where the western command of the Indian Army gave away medals in the honour of soldiers for their brave deeds.
While three Army personnel involved in the skirmishes along the LAC were awarded Sena Medals on January 26, 2023, the others were conferred the awards on August 15 last year. The citations, however, came into the public domain only during the investiture ceremonies.
These citations revealed crucial details about skirmishes between the Indian Army and Chinese army, which is the People’s Liberation Army or PLA. Not only that, it also revealed how an Indian major crossed over to the “enemy” side and was able to provide 120 hours of live feed of military movement on the other side, from deep inside the Chinese territory.
These awards were held for honouring the deeds which occurred between September 2021 and November 2022.
The first major revelation was that of a clash at Sikh Light Infantry Post on January 7, 2022. Here, Chinese troops attacked a post manned by troops of the Sikh Light Infantry. A soldier from the unit, Raman Singh, displayed extreme courage in hand-to-hand combat, repulsing the attack, injuring four PLA soldiers, and seizing their weapons.
The attack on January 7, 2022 was not known before.
Other than this, on November 27, 2022, the PLA initiated an attack on a post manned by J&K Rifles. Citations revealed that 50 PLA soldiers were trying to cross LAC and capture the Atari post.
A Junior Commissioned Officer, Baldev Singh successfully led his troops in repulsing the attack and was wounded in the process. The citations at the awards ceremony revealed that Baldev Singh singlehandedly injured 15 PLA soldiers.
He was awarded the Sena Medal for Gallantry.
Apart from these two attacks on Indian Army posts, there were some covert operations.
Lieutenant Colonel Pushmeet Singh of the 19 J&K Rifles played a crucial role in thwarting the plans of the PLA. Undertaking a patrol along the LAC, Lt. Col. Singh’s actions led to a significant standoff. Through negotiations spanning two days with a local PLA commander, he successfully reinforced Indian positions and de-escalated the tense situation. The details of this operation, including the specific date, have been intentionally withheld.
Then, on September 16, 2022, Lieutenant Colonel Yogesh Kumar Sati, a member of the 31 Armoured Division, engaged in a high-altitude special mission as part of Operation Snow Leopard. His task was to navigate challenging terrain while avoiding detection by the enemy.
A particularly intriguing operation, named ‘Operation Dorji’, unfolded under the command of Major Sourav Kumar from the 15th Battalion of the Kumaon Regiment. Maj. Kumar conducted multiple covert missions deep within the Chinese) territory. His covert patrol team established a covert surveillance post aimed at securing the Siliguri corridor, also known as the “Chicken’s neck.” Maj. Kumar executed Operation Dorji remained in enemy territory and gathered crucial information.
Virtual blackout of information about India-China ties
As this “new’ information about at least two Chinese attacks on Indian soil was revealed, The Indian Express reported that the Army is now deliberating on keeping details of critical operations out of citation announcements of gallantry award winners in investiture ceremonies.
While acts of gallantry will continue to be highlighted in citations, the newspaper said that specific details of operations and the dates these were conducted may not feature in investiture ceremony announcements until the operations concerned are declassified.
The army chief’s has called the situation on the China border is “stable, but sensitive”.
External affairs minister S. Jaishankar has maintained that India’s relations with China remain abnormal, or certainly not normal. But, other than that, there has been a continual lack of information, briefings to the press or debates in Parliament on China. Ministers do not even name China. The prime minister, in an all-party meeting in 2020, said “no one had ever entered Indian territory and there was no one inside.” All this again, without naming China. No details were ever given about the skirmishes that took place between PLA and the Indian Army. Jaishankar also met his Chinese counterpart in Goa on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation event.
According to a research paper tabled at the annual Director Generals of Police Conference organised by the Intelligence Bureau, by a police officer, we may have lost access to 26 out of the 65 Patrolling Points that mark the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh. The paper was not discussed at the conference, which was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah, but the government made sure the paper was taken off the web.
The Hindu reported in 2020, that about 1,000 square kilometres of area in Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is now under Chinese control, as per intelligence inputs provided to the Centre.
As reported by The Wire, former chief of Army Staff, General M.M. Naravane’s memoirs have been withheld for revealing how the Modi government left the Army to its own devices when hostilities at Galwan broke out.
In August 2019, after India repealed Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and announced Aksai Chin as a Union Territory, China registered their protest against the same.
Aksai Chin is territory in Ladakh, which both India and China stake their claims. Post that, that multiple clashes occurred along the LAC. The clashes that have been reported include the one at Pangong Tso on May 5, Sikkim on May 9 and at Galwan Valley on June 15, 2020.
Since then, negotiations have been ongoing between India and China. While China has publicly staked their claim on parts of Arunachal Pradesh, renaming some towns, details about physical confrontation with Indian soldiers were never made public.
The latest details about the violent clashes along the LAC depict strategic acumen, and courage of Indian Army personnel operating in challenging and often undisclosed circumstances.
The removal of the gallantry awards video from YouTube highlights the high level of secrecy involved in the cross-border matters and also raises questions about Indian government’s unwillingness to reveal the details about the actual situation between India and China.