NEW DELHI: Attacked by Chinese soldiers in full riot gear with rods & bamboos that had nails on them; Colonel among the troops killed in action; many succumbed to injuries because of sub-zero temperature and high altitude.
In what appears to be a dramatic meltdown of bilateral relationship, India and China on Tuesday blamed each other for the worst face-off in 45 years that left 20 Indian soldiers dead, including one officer, along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Galwan area.
A terse late night statement issued by the Army said: “Indian and Chinese troops have disengaged at the Galwan area where they had earlier clashed on the night of 15/16 June 2020. 17 Indian troops who were critically injured in the line of duty at the stand-off location and exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the high altitude terrain have succumbed to their injuries, taking the total that were killed in action to 20.” An earlier statement said, “The loss of lives on the Indian side includes an officer and two soldiers.”
While Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian accused Indian troops of crossing the LAC twice, leading to a serious clash, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said the face-off was a result of China unilaterally trying to alter status quo.
“Our border troops had a high-level meeting and reached important consensus on easing the border situation but astonishingly on June 15 the Indian troops seriously violated our consensus and twice crossed the border line for illegal activities and provoked and attacked Chinese personnel, which led to serious physical conflict between the two sides and China has lodged strong protest and representation with the Indian side,” Zhao said.
Later in the day, a statement from Srivastava said, “While it was our expectation that this (de-escalation) would unfold smoothly, the Chinese side departed from the consensus to respect the LAC. On the late-evening and night of June 15 a violent face-off happened as a result of an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo there. Both sides suffered casualties that could have been avoided had the agreement at the higher level been scrupulously followed by the Chinese side.”
There were reports of Chinese fatalities, too, but the state establishment has not put a figure to it yet.
However, Hu Xijin, the editor of the Global Times, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, tweeted that there were Chinese casualties as well. Agencies in India put the Chinese troop toll at 43, but the figure could not be independently verified.
On the Indian side, the casualties include Telangana native Colonel Bikkamalla Santosh Babu -- who was the Commanding Officer of an Infantry Unit -- Havildar Palani from Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu and Sepoy Kundan Kumar Ojha from Sahibganj in Jharkhand
The incident occurred when a large number of Chinese troops encircled Indian soldiers and beat them with rods and bamboos with nails on them.
“The Chinese soldiers were in complete riot gear with helmets, shields and knee and elbow caps,” informed a source.
Senior military officials of the two sides have been meeting at the venue to defuse the situation, the army added. The last violent clash between troops of the two countries was reported in Arunachal Pradesh in 1975.
Later in the day, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh reviewed the situation along with the Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat and the three service Chiefs and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar. Rajnath and Jaishankar later briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the phone, which was followed by a meeting between Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
Going forward, defence experts expect greater bilateral tension.
“I see this stand-off leading to greater tension if what the Chinese want is unacceptable to us. If the Chinese agree to return to the original position along the LAC, then the tension could ease. But, this time the Chinese don’t seem to be ready to vacate the areas,” Lt Gen (retd) D S Hooda said.
Major General D K Mehta said, “The way China is cornered - and there is tremendous pressure on China from all around - this is a tactic to whip up ultra-nationalism among the Chinese people who are suffering from the worst phase of their economy.”
China is browbeating countries in the South China Sea and is worried about the growing significance of Taiwan in geopolitics.
It also is trying to pressure India into not getting involved in the affairs of the World Health Organization, like the probe into the origin of the coronavirus and entry of Taiwan as an observer, added Maj Gen Mehta.
Diplomatic experts called for an overhaul of Delhi’s policy on China.
“It is high time India starts to look towards China through a different prism. By merely saying we are not the India of 1962, resolution of border differences will not happen. We need to act. We need to be cautious about our neighbour at all times and stand up to its aggression,” a former Indian Ambassador to China said.
HISTORY REPEATS AS CHINESE AMBUSHED INDIAN SOLDIERS, KILLED FOUR OF THEM IN 1975
- The last clash between Indian and Chinese troops that led to casualties took place in 1975
- An Indian patrol team of Assam Rifles personnel was killed in an ambush by Chinese troops in Tulung La in Arunachal Pradesh
- India alleged that the Chinese army crossed into Indian territory and attacked soldiers,lodged strong protest
- But China blamed India, claimed its army opened fire in ‘self-defence’ as a group of Indian soldiers crossed the ‘Line of Control’