‘Era of expansionism over’: PM’s warning to China on Ladakh visitUpdated: Jul 04, 2020 00:19 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday declared that the “era of expansionism” is over, sending a strong signal to China about India’s determination to defend its borders, on a surprise unscheduled visit to Ladakh, the theatre of the tension between the neighbours.
In a speech to the troops, relayed live on television,the prime minister asserted that India has always wanted peace but this peace will come from strength; and paid glowing tributes to the bravery and courage of soldiers in the frontlines of the stand-off at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), with a particular reference to those who laid down their lives in the Galwan Valley clash on June 15.
Analysts described the visit as a clear message to Beijing, and one that would motivate troops.
Asserting that all of Ladakh was India’s pride and that people of Ladakh were patriots, and claiming that India had, for centuries, given a strong response to “aggressors” and had emerged stronger after each attack, Modi said that “enemies” had seen both the “fire and fury” of Indian soldiers.
The PM also spoke of the raft of decisions that had been taken to strengthen India’s defence apparatus and border infrastructure in recent years; quoted a wide range of Sanskrit, Tamil, and Hindi sayings to convey determination and resolve; and highlighted Buddha’s emphasis on courage as conviction and compassion.
Friday’s surprise visit came in the backdrop of the two-month long stand-off at the LAC, where China has attempted to change the status quo by intruding into Indian territory; engaged in a military build-up; and expanded its territorial claims, particularly over the Galwan Valley. India has matched the military build-up with additional deployment of troops and equipment. Three rounds of military-level talks have taken place between the two counties, besides dialogue at the diplomatic-level, but commitments on de-escalation have not yet resulted in tangible action on the ground with Chinese troops staying put.
Accompanied by the chief of defence staff Bipin Rawat and army chief Manoj Mukund Naravane, Modi visited Nimu, surrounded by the Zanskar range, where he was briefed by military commanders on the situation. He also interacted with personnel of the army, the Indian Air Force, and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).
HT learns that the decision on Modi’s visit was taken on Thursday evening with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval working out the details with Gen Rawat.
PM stressed in his speech, without naming China, that the “era of expansionism is over” and this was the “era of developmentalism”, which is both an opportunity and will serve as the basis of the future.
“In centuries gone by, expansionism has tried to destroy humanity. Whenever an expansionist mindset has dominated someone’s worldview, it has posed a threat to world peace. But history is also witness that such powers have got destroyed, or have been forced to mend their ways. This has been the collective global experience. And on the basis of this experience, the world has made up its mind. Today, the world is committed to developmentalism and welcomes competition for development.”
Modi has called out expansionism as a threat in the past, but only once before in his official capacity as PM.
During an election rally before the 2014 polls, while asserting that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India, Modi — then a PM candidate — had asked China to leave “its mindset of expansion”. As PM, during a visit to Japan — another country which has faced Chinese aggression in recent years — in 2014, he had warned of the dangers of “18th century style expansionist attitudes” such as encroaching into other countries and intruding into seas. But given the current stand-off with China, his remarks assume renewed importance. They also come in the wake of Chinese projection of power in the South China Sea, East China Sea, and internal moves to push through repressive legislations, for instance in Hong Kong.
Shyam Saran, former foreign secretary and senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, said that the PM adopted a “more defiant posture” in his speech. “His remark about this not being an age of expansionism but of development is clearly directed at China though it has not been mentioned by name. This presages a tougher posture towards China and preparedness to confront its challenge for the long haul.”
Saran added that this may also reflect the fact that the “diplomatic and military engagement between the two countries” being undertaken to defuse the situation and return to status quo ante may not have made progress so far. “His visit underlines the seriousness of the security threat India faces and conveys a sense of confidence that the country is more than capable of dealing with it.”
The PM spoke, repeatedly, of the bravery of Indian soldiers. “Your courage, your bravery, and your commitment to protect the honour of India is incomparable...Till the security of the country is in your hands and strong intentions, not just me, but the whole country has complete faith. The message that you and your brave friends have just given has sent a signal to the whole world about India’s strength.”
Modi also visited those injured in the Galwan valley clash in a military hospital during the visit, where he told soldiers engaged in the clash that they gave a “befitting reply” and their valour and the blood they shed would inspire people for a long time to come. The world, he said, was eager to know about the young men, their sacrifice, their training and their excellent level of commitment. “The bravehearts who left us, have not gone without a reason. Together, you all also gave a befitting reply (karara jawab bhi diya hai),” he told the injured soldiers.
In his address to the troops, Modi said that India recognised the value of peace and friendship for the progress of both the nation and humanity, but that peace cannot come from weakness. “The weak cannot strive for peace. Strength is a precondition for peace. If India — in land, air, seas, and space — is increasing its strength, the objective is human welfare. India is now producing modern weapons. It is getting modern technologies for the army. The sentiment behind it is the same. If India is building modern infrastructure, the sentiment is the same...we have always worked to defend humanity.”
When it came to decisions on national security, Modi said he thought of two mothers — Bharat Mata (Indian motherland) and the mothers of brave soldiers. “On this basis, for your honour, for your family’s honour, and for national honour, the country gives top priority to security.”
Commenting on the visit, Lieutenant General (retired) DS Hooda said it was a “clear message to China” that India was taking “very serious note” of what has happened at the LAC and that the continuing stalemate in de-escalation was “unacceptable”. “The PM would also have got a firsthand account of the events that have happened and the operational readiness of the Indian Army. This is absolutely essential when India considers its future options.”
Commodore (retired) C Uday Bhaskar, director of the Society for Policy Studies, too said that the speech exuded a “distinctive resolve” in relation to China and the tensions at LAC.
“The speech is multi-layered and addresses different constituencies. While the domestic audience comprises the troops in Ladakh and the Indian army in general, it also seeks to assuage national sentiment which is bruised post-Galwan. In relation to China, it is firm about not blinking with the window of peace and diplomacy kept open.” The speech, Bhaskar suggested, marks the “beginning of the reset in India’s China policy”.
Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, in a tweet, asked why the PM had not named China as the aggressor. “For the third time in a week, PM did not name China as the aggressor, why? What is the purpose of talking about an unnamed ‘enemy’ to the people of India and the jawans in Ladakh?”
“PM has still not answered our questions about where the violent clashes took place on June 15-16 between Chinese and Indian troops and if the Chinese have intruded into Indian territory at several points,” the former Union minister added.
BJP president JP Nadda said the PM’s speech will act as a morale booster for the forces. He tweeted: “Hon PM @narendramodi’s words give words to the emotion of 130 crore Indians and acts a great morale booster for our armed forces! True leadership in action.”