Restoring India’s case, credibility
PM must make a new, clear statement on China
On Saturday, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a much-needed clarification about Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s statement, on Friday, that there was no (external) presence in Indian territory. It said that PM was referring to the situation pertaining to the Galwan Valley, where Indian Army personnel had bravely foiled China’s attempts to erect structures and transgress on June 15. The clarification came a day after the PM’s statement, at an allparty meeting, created a political and diplomatic row. The original statement, read independently, had the potential of undermining India’s sovereign claims and its negotiating position, confusing India’s friends, providing diplomatic ammunition to China, and appearing contradictory to earlier positions of the external affairs and defence ministries. It also seemed contrary to reports about the situation in Pangong Tso — namely Chinese occupation of a central portion of the shore that was behind the Indian claims line, but is disputed and not under the sovereign control of either country. It also prompted other questions. If there had been no intrusion in Galwan Valley, what led to the violence on June 15? What is the restoration of status quo ante that India wants if there is no transgression?
While the clarification has helped, Beijing will throw the original statement back at the Indian side during the coming negotiations. The considerable support India has overseas can potentially get eroded as friendly governments presume New Delhi is prepared to concede land. Domestically, the PM’s remark deepened political polarisation and led to accusations about government being less than transparent.
The PM has been remarkably sure-footed in the international arena and Friday’s statement was not in character. It is impossible to know whether it was a slip, or whether it was a strategic message meant to China to offer room for quiet de-escalation, or whether it was a political counter to the Opposition’s critique that the Line of Actual Control (LAC) had been breached, or whether, as the clarification noted, it was only about Galwan Valley. But irrespective of the motivations, the message sent out an ambiguous signal. The PM must speak again, and categorically address three issues: on Chinese transgression across the LAC, if any, in recent months; whether China is attempting to change the facts on the ground in Pangong Tso; and the current status in Galwan Valley. It is important to establish that the area that India has always claimed as its own is firmly under Indian control. There is sometimes value to strategic ambiguity in international politics. But this isn’t one of those. A new statement will help restore India’s stand.