PM Modi’s surprise visit to Ladakh is a game-changer: Experts
A range of experts and analysts believe that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Ladakh, and his speech to troops in the frontlines of the stand-off at the Line of Actual Control, is a possible “game-changer”, an expression of India’s “resolve” to beat Chinese aggression, a clear articulation of Indian redlines, and a message to China that since Beijing broke the relationship, it will have to fix it.
Brahma Chellaney, a strategic analyst, suggested that after a period “a concerted government effort to downplay the Himalayan border confrontation and obscure China’s encroachments”, Modi’s visit to the Ladakh front had helped shine a spotlight on the “war-like situation” India confronts.
“His speech underscores India’s resolve to beat back the Chinese aggression. And his reference to ‘expansionism’ echoes the mounting international concern over China’s imperial overreach under Xi Jinping, who has simultaneously opened multiple fronts.”
In a reference to the PM’s speech at an all party meeting where he had appeared to suggest that there was no external intrusion (subsequently clarified by the Prime Minister’s Office as only pertaining to the situation in Galwan valley), Chellaney said, “By going to Ladakh, Modi has made amends for the confusion he sowed with his June 19 televised speech on the border situation.”
Lieutenant General (retired) Syed Ata Hasnain said that the visit was a “game-changer”, and a part of India’s continuous “strategic messaging”.
“Measures to convey a strong resolve through economic and other domains get hugely supplemented when the PM personally appears at the frontlines. The PM spoke of India’s pursuit of peace and development but that should not be construed as lack of resolve to defend its territorial integrity. Besides the morale boost to troops, the visit will force a Chinese review of its strategy of coercion it has adopted.” Hasnain added that it was a message to the world to stand up to “China’s hegemonistic ambitions”.
The message of the speech, Sushant Sareen of the Observer Research Foundation said, was clear. “The door to diplomacy is open and every effort will be made to solve the situation peacefully. At the same time, a redline has been drawn. The PM’s address was a statement of resolve to not back down in face of Chinese bullying, threats and intimidation.”
Sareen also saw a longer-term shift in India’s posture in the speech. “Most importantly, it is clear that the PM, who invested a lot in trying to win over China, has now given up. India-China relations are broken, even if this situation gets resolved. It will now take a lot to bring normalcy in the relationship and, as far as India is concerned, all heavy lifting will have to be done by China because it is responsible for damaging the relationship. They broke it, they must fix it.”
But there were also voices which suggested that there must be a more cautious reading of the speech and what it represented.
Christopher Clary, assistant professor of political science at the University at Albany, State University of New York and a scholar of South Asian security, said that the PM gave a “boilerplate speech”.
“His praise for the sacrifice and bravery of India’s jawans, while heartfelt, was also the least he could do after the events of the last two months. His assertion that the age of expansionism was over perhaps suggests his earlier assurances that China had not expanded into Indian territory were incorrect.”
But, he added, that by going to Leh, the PM made “a modest implicit commitment”. “While he did not promise to avenge the fallen, as he did after the 2019 Pulwama attack, his speech would make any further Chinese encroachments on the frontier somewhat more embarrassing. This was not a game changing speech, nor was it a concession that the game was over.”