I received a call from an army officer in South Block. “Did you hear, sir? The Chinese have moved back two kilometers from the Galwan valley.” I replied: “Yes sir, I’ve heard that Ajit Doval has spoken with China’s Foreign Minister and ultimately the ice melted.
“See, whatever else happens, can’t put Narendra Modi in any kind of discomfiture politically. How can one let the Chinese army win?” The top-ranked army officer, who I had known for a long time, then told me, “Do you know what is the problem? China had moved back only a part of the army presence from the Pangong area. Since they have come in, they are unwilling to depart. Discussions are going on, step by step. Fingers crossed!”
“But both the parties have made an agreement! Even our armies are turning back. This isn’t one-sided.”
“Isn’t that natural? In order to stop Chinese aggression, we too entered the scene with Howitzers. They’ll move back. We will also do the same,” he replied.
“Sir, one of my friends had tweeted a picture of the first page of a newspaper from 1962. That was three months after the Chinese attack. The date was from 1962, July 15. The headline was: Chinese troops withdrawn from Galwan post. Great courage shown by Indian Jawans.” The officer gave a big laugh. “Exactly! Black will take no other hue.”
I countered by telling him that my grandmother would say, however much you might wash, you cannot wipe off dirt. Coal is black. Can it ever turn white.”
I asked him: “What exactly happened on June 15? Why did China suddenly do this? Various quarters have their own propaganda machinery. On social media, even in newspapers and TV channels, everyone has become an expert on military and defence affairs! I am the Jack of all trades, master of none. A true journalist, you may say.”
“Actually, it wasn’t June 15,” the senior army officer said. “They entered the Aksai Chin area quite a few days earlier. See, the LAC is not marked, unlike the borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh. At that height, in the snow, both the countries determine the boundary based on their own perception of it. World War began and Mountbatten quickly left, and hence couldn’t finalize the border issue. Jawaharlal Nehru tried to, but he was unsuccessful. I feel it’s China which ultimately did not let this happen, rather it confused the whole issue.”
“But June 15?” I asked again.
“As far as that area is concerned, throughout the year soldiers from this side go to the other side and come from that side to this. But, for several days, the Indian army had noticed that at Patrol Point 14, where no soldiers would ordinarily be deployed, they had turned up. A meeting had taken place at Galwan about ten days ago at the level of Lieutenant-General. It was decided that they would remove all the posts built by them at Patrol Point 14. The Chinese observation point was also within Indian territory.
“On the morning of June 15, Colonel Santosh Babu even spoke with Chinese officers. At five in the evening that day, when the sun had not yet set, Colonel Santosh Babu along with a few officers of 16 Bihar Regiment went to check whether the Chinese had removed their posts. But, after going ahead a little they noticed that none of the posts had been removed. Instead, they had pitched tents within Indian territory. Colonel Santosh Babu was a cool-headed officer. If he wanted to, he could have easily sent junior Majors to check. But, he decided to go himself, lest there be a clash with the Chinese.
“At 7 pm, Colonel Santosh Babu reached the valley of the narrow river, not with the aim of attacking but to examine. On reaching there he found that none of those present there were known Chinese armymen. These were new faces.”
“So, does that mean Colonel Santosh Babu knew the men of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army?”
“Of course, eye contact happens through meetings and conversations.”
“Then how does one explain the new faces there?”
“That’s exactly our question.”
He continued: “MI, that is Military Intelligence, said these soldiers were recently brought in from Tibet. Colonel Santosh Babu asked why the posts were yet to be removed. That was it! The large force pushed Colonel Santosh Babu into Chinese territory. He was injured. Seeing their Colonel in that bloodied condition, the Indian jawans got agitated. Up to that point there was no gunfight, only hand-to-hand combat. This continued, from altercation to brawl which turned to affray. It was already 11 pm. Do you know what happened after that? It was practically face-to-face. Our 20 and at least 35 people on their side lost their lives.”
“But, the Chinese government has not acknowledged the deaths of their soldiers.”
“See, whenever a soldier dies, our government brings the body in a coffin. This happened even during the Kargil war. Success and failure happen in war. It is our responsibility to bring the dead bodies to the family members. Ours is a democratic country. The army in their country is a part of a dictatorial regime.
“China does not declare deaths in war even when it knows they have occurred. It does not even provide a presentment. And when did they even fight a war? In our case, there have been four wars with Pakistan alone, if we count the Kargil war. They attacked Vietnam once. China has border disputes with 18 countries, and even those countries haven’t attacked them ever. What do they know about war, they just make threats. Dragon’s breath? Rubbish!”
This time I couldn’t control my laughter. I said, “The Army officer inside you is alive again. The problem is, if China doesn’t provide the number of Chinese armymen who have died and the Indian government also does not formally announce the details, then how can we, the Indian news media, write about it? We are not PIB, as in a government medium.”
“Why not? Why won’t you believe this? We are saying! Army sources. Why won’t you cite Indian Army sources? This is again the problem with you people.”
I said, “I don’t want to get into an argument with you early in the morning. Please understand, we are not representatives of the state. Whatever happened with PTI, was that justifiable? Now let all that be, instead you tell me quickly what will happen now. If the devil does not listen to the scriptures, then China might attack again in the coming days.”
“Absolutely! Even in 1962 after China’s attack, they signed an agreement and withdrew the army. Then in 1967 they attacked Ladakh. China has thrown into the dustbin the agreement that took place in 1993 on the LAC. Peace agreements were repeatedly signed in 1996, 2005, 2012, 2015. They want to return to their demand of 1960 by making the 1993 agreement redundant. Hence, it is not possible to trust China again.”
“But what should we do? Yashwant Sinha has asked Narendra Modi to do a surgical strike,” I said.
“See, all this is to mock Modi! But what was the Prime Minister’s ‘role’ in that day’s incident? Whatever happened was the result of a premeditated plan by China. But, will it be the right thing to do if we suddenly use the gun? The name of the country is China, hence, Narendra Modi is being tactful. Moving step by step. Diplomatically, banning the Chinese Apps is the first step. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
“This is but food for laughter! This is ‘aggressive nationalism’! If someone raises the matter, it has to be supported. It is good news that the market for swadeshi products will increase. But, even President Trump wanted the boycott. America has a $21.4 trillion economy. Therefore, in spite of yearning for it, it’s not easy to stop Chinese ‘dumping’. China’s cheap goods have captured the market. Indian businessmen also want to reduce the influence of Chinese goods. Will this change the aggressive strategy?”
“Do you know the actual reason! China is dead against the road being constructed by India (DS-DBO) on the way to Tibet. However, if the Chinese build a road through Pak-Occupied Kashmir, we are expected to accept that. The Chinese will intrude in vessels through Indian Ocean to diminish our power and we are expected to accept it. Narendra Modi does not agree with OBOR. He has countered the South China Sea policy through Japan-Vietnam. Now China is trying to spread hate against India by pouring money into Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.”
“Sir, thank you! I got to know so much,” I said.
To conclude, I understood that the matter is very complicated. China is powerful and autocratic. India cannot just bow down and surrender to it. And, a surgical strike at the border is out of question now.
Then what will be the right thing to do? ‘Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai (fraternity between India and China)? Do we need brotherhood? Or professional friendship? China takes two steps forward and one step back. For now, we must come to an understanding.
Firstly, not the Foreign Minister. At first, the army, then Ajit Doval have spoken. The Foreign Minister will speak in the end, after the complete withdrawal of the Chinese army. Let India’s strategy be ‘Snake in the garden policy’, which J.N Dixit used to say. The gardener will take care of the garden and water the plants and will always be alert, thinking there is a poisonous snake in the garden. There cannot be any deficit in the concoction to prevent the snake from coming. One has to be always alert and well prepared.
(Jayanta Ghosal is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal)