On June 16, in a sad and shocking incident, Indian Army lost 20 soldiers during the de-escalation process of Chinese soldiers at Galwan valley in Ladakh. The first reports came of three casualties, including Col Santosh Babu, who was Commanding Officer of 16 Bihar Regiment and Hav K Palani and Sep Ojha who belonged to the same unit. Our heartfelt condolences to the families and units on the loss of brave soldiers who in the highest traditions of Indian Army, laid down their lives defending the country and us all.
As per reports, the Chinese Army was supposed to be packing and moving. However, during the night, at PP 14, Galwan Valley, a scuffle broke out between the troops of Indian Army and PLA which led to injuries on both sides. The Commanding Officer and his escorts were supposedly attacked by iron rods and stones and by morning, it was confirmed that they had succumbed to the injuries. Later, additional 17 casualties were reported by government sources. The Chinese media reported five PLA soldiers were dead and 11 injured during the clash, which later was said to be 43 in number. But then, the report is ‘Made in China’; its authenticity is anyone’s guess.
India stands at a crucial juncture. Mind you, not crossroads! We do not have many options, but one. The bully has to be defeated in his own game. Stay aggressive. China and its Army did this as a message to put India on backfoot, to maintain the psychological dominance in the region and to break away on a comparatively higher note. China is a master of propaganda and this single act will light social media on fire. Remember, not a single bullet was fired, and China’s Foreign Ministry denied even having any information of this incident. What does that mean? We will not do anything that can be construed as an act of war and work under plausible deniability at the highest levels. Ladies and gentlemen, China!
The region is becoming increasingly difficult for India. Our diplomacy with neighbours has taken a major hit recently. And this incident has further worsened the situation. Yes, the authorities will talk, and de-escalation will happen, and the world will move on. But as I have been saying earlier, what do we do if they act again like this? Why don’t we have diplomatic, economic and military deterrents in place to counter such moves? Why does Pakistan think it can keep sending terrorists for decades and nothing will happen? Why does Nepal think it can change the map on its own? Why does China think it can come and go whenever it wants? It is time to shed the Nehruvian-Gandhi image of non-violence, submission and fake brotherhoods, and respond appropriately. Have we still not learned our lessons? Why do we have one of the largest armed forces if we cannot even answer to an open threat? This is not war mongering; this is balancing the scales. This is creating appropriate defence and this is telling everyone, ‘Enough’. It's only when there is fear of retaliation that neighbours will stop taking us for granted. Till then, we will keep buying casualties and moving tanks on slides on TV shows. Better be safe and hated than vulnerable and still hated!
As normal citizens, we have to safeguard ourselves against propaganda. Nothing eats away the sanity and unity of a nation like psychological ops. And propaganda remains its strongest tool. China has dedicated teams focused only on this. Soon, you will see social media flooded with anti-government posts. As these posts and tweets start to pick up, there will be posts to create a rift between the Army and government. Propaganda shapes opinions and opinions dictate actions. As responsible citizens, we should not forward messages that are not substantiated. In this information-sharing age, we all play a role in these battles. By giving a boost to negative and anti-India propaganda, we not only weaken the resolve to act, but create gaps for the enemy to exploit. The best we can do is believe news from authentic sources and ask right questions, and wait for answers patiently. Also, the armchair Generals and keyboard warriors should know that it takes years of training and decades of service to become Commanding Officer of an Infantry Battalion. To criticise actions of a CO, to dissect his operation and to undermine his decisions because you know names of five types of guns and have watched some YouTube videos is not only disrespectful towards the martyr but also shows your ignorance. Rather, focus on the commitment and bravery of these Commanding Officers who always lead from the front, and that would be an appropriate homage. And if you still think you are right, go and join the Army and prove everyone wrong.
The country needs to put up a united front and we all have to show our soldiers that not only do we care, we support them unconditionally. We have a government that is known now for taking tough decisions. I am sure they will not let this go. But let’s not push for knee jerk reactions and comments from the government and military. The country is fighting a major war internally with Covid-19 crisis and we cannot afford to take focus away from that either. Do not buy into loose talk and ‘source in Army’ reporting. We have one of the largest and best Armies in the world, and given chance and permission, they have the capability to deliver. So, have faith, stay calm and trust your army.
(The author is a decorated veteran, who now works in Energy Innovation and Rural Development. Views expressed are personal.)