Indian Prime Minister’s remarks on the Ladakh clashes and crisis expose UPA-government’s por messaging to its people

The NDA-government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks at the all-party meet on Friday last claiming there had neither been any intrusion by Chinese PLA nor was there any intruder present on Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), created a storm in the political circles. It also sent confusing signals to the people, who asked a simple question if this was the case, the explanation given by the PM, then why clashes happened in which 20 brave Indian soldiers lost their lives in Galwan Valley amidst standoff with China. It was not only the question of violence on June 15 night that claimed lives of 20 Indian jawans triggered by China setting up structures on this side of the LAC, Chinese troops still remain present in Ladakh region including the northern bank of Pangong Tso.

After his remarks were highlighted and criticized by the Opposition, the PMO was activated to issue a much-needed clarification on Saturday, stating the PM was only referring to the situation in Galwan Valley as a consequence of the bravery of our armed forces that foiled a Chinese aggression on this side of the LAC. Even if the PMO attributed the political storm to ‘a mischievous interpretation’, it is more than clear that the PM did not choose his words carefully. In fact, his remarks have already been seized upon by the Chinese state media, and were seen as endorsing Beijing’s claims that its troops did not cross the LAC and justifying the People’s Liberation Army’s recent actions and violence against the Indian troops. At the same time, the Ministry of External Affairs issued its own statement on Saturday, reiterating that the Chinese had crossed the LAC and erected structures across the LAC, which lead to clashes between the soldiers of two sides. Any rational thinking person will not take these statements as mere remarks made so causally about a serious issue that was created with claims and counter-claims by Indian and Chinese forces on the territory occupied by them on the yet to demarcated LAC.

It is clear that the remarks made by Narendra Modi that requires at least two clarification has serious problems with its messaging, the controversy has underlined NDA-government’s poor communication skills on the extremely dangerous situation on the border with China. Instead of blaming the opposition parties on misinterpreting the PM’s speech, the central government should go in for some introspection why such irresponsible statements be made on a serious issue at a time when tragic loss of precious lives followed more than six weeks of standfoff and tensions between the two most populous countries in Galwan Valley.

During this critical juncture, the public was kept in the dark about what was happening and transpiring along the LAC. It is true that sharing every detail in the public domain is not possible when it comes to negotiating sensitive issues of national security. But, the solution to the current crisis, and the disengagement that is needed urgently at various points along the LAC with China, can make progress only through hard diplomacy. At the same time, a blanket of secrecy and silence does not serve the government’s interests. The absence of timely and credible information will only fuel speculation and alarm besides fear among people. The silence has also triggered unseemly domestic politics and a blame-game, at a time when India is confronting perhaps its biggest national security challenge since limited conflict in Kargil in 1999.

Last week’s all-party meet was certainly a step in the right direction, even if it perhaps came a few weeks late. India’s China policy may be approaching as significant an inflection point as 1988, which marked the normalisation of ties after 1962 war. Treading on the way ahead for the relationship after the worst violence since 1967 will require a well calibrated appraisal of how to purposively engage India’s biggest and most powerful neighbour. This cannot happen by being in denial mode or by attempting to obscure facts. The foremost and first step to a solution is a real assessment of the nature and the magnitude of the problem on the border with China.