Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team, otherwise masterful communicators, may have stumbled a bit on Friday. Perhaps under pressure from the deadline-driven media to provide soundbites from his concluding speech at the All Party Meeting on the standoff with China in Ladakh, the government’s information managers culled out a small portion of the Prime Minister’s speech and circulated it to the broadcast media and social media platforms.
Taken without context, a huge distortion crept in in the way the message got transmitted. It was only after a detailed clarification was issued on Saturday that the fog of confusion was cleared. Though the initial misstep was in the government’s media messaging the subsequent ruckus and a slew of accusations and counter-accusations are because of a host of media houses and TV strategists who refuse to stop milking the issue for personal or political gains.
In this case, the main issue that the Prime Minister was referring to was the one in Galwan valley in Eastern Ladakh. As is well-known, the Chinese had tried to transgress into Indian area in Galwan Valley. The issue was being discussed repeatedly between military commanders on both sides. The modus operandi of their withdrawal had been finally agreed upon in the morning of 14 June between the Commanding Officers of both sides. In conformity with decisions arrived at the higher commanders’ conferences, the Chinese were to fall back a certain distance from where they had tried to take positions. When the Commanding Officer of 16 Bihar went in the evening of 15 June to ensure the Chinese are withdrawing as per plans, a violent encounter ensued. The rest of the facts are all well documented. India lost 20 soldiers but not before inflicting equal if not more casualties on the Chinese side.
The thrust of the government release of 19 June when the All Party Meet (APM) concluded, was:
- 20 of our brave soldiers made the supreme sacrifice in Ladakh but also taught a lesson to those who dared to look towards our motherland: PM
- Neither is anyone inside our territory nor is any of our post captured: PM
That the PM was referring to Galwan Valley in particular and the move back of the Chinese soldiers from that area is quite obvious, However, further clarity is obtained when the release is studied in detail:-
- Prime Minister underscored that today all of us stand united with the soldiers defending our borders and repose full faith in their courage and bravery. He added that through the All Party Meeting, he wants to assure the families of the martyrs that the entire country stands with them.
- At the outset, Prime Minister clarified that neither is anyone inside our territory nor is any of our post captured. He said that twenty of our brave soldiers made the supreme sacrifice for the nation in Ladakh but also taught a lesson to those who had dared to look towards our motherland. The nation will forever remember their valour and sacrifice.
The fact that he refers to Galwan Valley is quite obvious with his starting his address by referring to the casualties in Galwan.
Incidentally, 20 leaders of political parties, some of them Chief Ministers of their States, attended the video conferencing. All of them are surely erudite, experienced and matured. They are all a part of our national political leadership. Had the PM really meant to convey that the Chinese have not committed transgressions anywhere, they would have reacted. Though it was a video meet, surely all of them were not muted. It’s to the credit of these leaders that none of them has alleged any such indiscretion.
In any case, another release on the PM’s statement was put out the next day, 20 June. The release conveys adequate clarifications. A portion of the release makes the following statement:-
- The APM was also informed that this time, Chinese forces have come in much larger strength to the LAC and that the Indian response is commensurate. As regards transgression of LAC, it was clearly stated that the violence in Galwan on 15 June arose because the Chinese side was seeking to erect structures just across the LAC and refused to desist from such actions.
- The focus of the PM’s remarks in the APM discussions were the events of 15 June at Galwan that led to the loss of lives of 20 Indian military personnel. Prime Minister paid glowing tributes to the valour and patriotism of our armed forces who repulsed the designs of the Chinese there. The Prime Minister’s observations that there was no Chinese presence on our side of the LAC pertained to the situation as a consequence of the bravery of our armed forces. The sacrifices of the soldiers of the 16 Bihar Regiment foiled the attempt of the Chinese side to erect structures and also cleared the attempted transgression at this point of the LAC on that day.
- The words of Prime Minister “Those who tried to transgress our land were taught a befitting lesson by our brave sons of soil”, succinctly summed up the ethos and the values of our armed forces. The Prime Minister further emphasised, “I want to assure you, that our armed forces will leave no stone unturned to protect our borders”.
Fortunately, the clarification next day and a closer scrutiny of the original press release has allowed the government to come out of an immediate crisis brought about by miscommunication.
Under the circumstances that this country finds itself, with multiple transgressions across the LAC, and such experiences being the case repeatedly over the years, no Prime Minister of no country could have made a statement that the enemy has not transgressed. More so, immediately after losing 20 men who were attempting to ensure that the country’s territorial integrity is restored. Further, the Chinese continue to deploy their personnel in certain areas that are yet to be handled.
It’s time to milk the issue no more. It’s also an issue the Press Information Bureau (PIB) needs to look into. They have to find ways and means to cope with 24 X 7 media, which will always be breathing down the neck because such is the nature of their job.
Brig SK Chatterji (Retd)