It was the beginning of May, 2020 when reports came in about Chinese ingression across their ‘own’ perceived Line of Actual Control (LAC) at 4-5 points into Eastern Ladakh. The reports mentioned the areas of Galwan Valley and Northern bank of Pengong Tso (Up to Finger 4), familiar places for patrolling activities by Indian Army and Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).
Having retired over seven years ago from the Army, such news always resulted in a ‘rush of blood’, the same as it did 50 years ago when I had joined India Military Academy in 1971, when the war clouds were building up over East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. It was passion for the nation which was at play for a simple village boy at the tender age of 18, who needed no other motivation. Subsequent years introduced me to the notion of ‘Bharat Mata’ and that there is nothing more sacred than the mother.
So, all this news about Chinese intrusion took me down the memory lane of years gone by and patrolling across the perceived LAC. While China always perceived it towards the western side, India, naturally, perceived it towards the eastern side. The gap between these two differing lines of perception became the areas for patrolling activities. Since we always went up to our perceived line of LAC, and Chinese always came up to theirs, it became mandatory to draw up the Rules Of Engagement (ROE) to maintain peace and tranquility on the borders. Our blood boiled then too, because as far as we were concerned, the entire area of Aksai Chin (38,000 Sq Km) had been captured by China in 1962.
To cut the story short, this news of Chinese PLA’s incursion, though a routine matter on the LAC in eastern Ladakh, as also elsewhere in Sikkim and further east, made a different sense this time. Chinese PLA had come with full preparation and complete paraphernalia of war waging arms and equipment, as indicated by the reports. But what were we doing? Only following the ROE: Pulling/pushing to stop them to come any deeper. In the ensuing confrontation, we saw pictures of our injured soldiers at Pangong Tso. The policy of ROE was to maintain peace and tranquility on the borders but this had already been broken by PLA -- which had ingressed with full preparation -- then what were we following the ROE for?
But wait, where is the powerful, aggressive and proactive leadership of the country and the Army? Not a word by anyone? Most of what we were hearing was from the media and that too other than TV, which is the most powerful medium. Naturally then, social media was full of all kinds of rumour-mongering and half-baked information.
Finally, silence was broken when we were told that Lieutenant-general level talks are being initiated on June 6, 2020 to de-escalate the situation, well after one month of the first news of PLA ingression. The level of talks then kept coming down the ladder from Major-general to Brigadier level.
We knew nothing until June 15, when we were shocked to get the news of one Colonel (Commanding Officer), along with two soldiers, being martyred in clashes with PLA in Galwan Valley. By June 16, the martyrdom had grown to a total of 20 soldiers, including these three in the same area. All killed by PLA in cold blood because no arms were carried by our soldiers as per ROE. PLA, of course, had properly made ‘killing tools’, which resembled weapons from the ‘stone age’, to circumvent the ROE. I am overlooking the tweet of External Affairs Minister (EAM) regarding carrying of arms, as Twitter is not an official medium for such statements. To make matters worse, 10 soldiers (Including four officers), who had been taken prisoners probably on June 15, were returned on June 18. Oh! What’s going on? Is this the treatment that a soldier gets? No one even knows his whereabouts in a combat zone, until he returns on his own!
Now, seething with anger and revenge against such brutalities and deceit by the Chinese PLA, the nation waited for the outcome of All-party meeting (APM) that the PM had called on June 19. And then it came, the same evening, our beloved Prime Minister said, “Neither has anybody intruded into our frontier, nor is any one present there, nor are any of our posts under someone else’s occupation”. Technically, all correct words were used but far away from ground realities.
Has the LAC been redefined and all the areas up to Chinese perceived line of LAC given away? Knowing the Chinese and their strategic long term interests, particularly with their friend Pakistan, I will say NO! Chinese “Creeping forward” on borders will haunt us forever. Or maybe my little knowledge can make me perceive only this much for now.