Public funeral for soldier of secretive force in Leh
The funeral of SFF company leader Nyima Tenzin, killed in a landmine blast in an operation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) during August 29-30, was held at Leh in the union territory of Ladakh.Updated: Sep 08, 2020 05:51 IST
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ram Madhav’s presence at the official funeral of a Tibetan soldier from the secretive Special Frontier Force (SFF) on Monday created a flutter in diplomatic and political circles amid the border standoff with China.
The funeral of SFF company leader Nyima Tenzin, killed in a landmine blast in an operation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) during August 29-30, was held at Leh in the union territory of Ladakh. The funeral cortege was joined by scores of cars and motorcycles and people waving the Indian and Tibetan flags.
Tenzin’s coffin, carried in an army truck, was draped in the Indian tricolour and Tibetan flag, which were handed over to his widow at the funeral. Experts noted this was probably the first time an SFF personnel who died in action was given a public funeral, complete with military honours and a volley of shots by a ceremonial guard.
BJP national general secretary Madhav posted photos of the funeral and paid tribute to Tenzin on Twitter but subsequently deleted the tweet. Screenshots of his tweet, which were widely shared, showed he had posted: “Attended [the] funeral of SFF Coy Ldr Nyima Tenzin, a Tibetan who laid down his life protecting our borders in Ladakh, and laid a wreath as a tribute. Let [the] sacrifices of such valiant soldiers bring peace along the Indo-Tibetan border. That will be [the] real tribute to all martyrs.”
People present at the funeral shouted slogans such as “Bharat Mata ki jai”, “Tibet desh ki jai”, “Vikas Regiment zindabad” and “We salute Tenzin”. SFF is also known as Establishment 22 and Vikas Regiment. Banners put up at the funeral site by SFF ex-servicemen described Tenzin as a soldier who “sacrificed his life to protect his second homeland India fighting common enemy China”.
Madhav spoke to the media at the funeral, saying in Hindi that he hoped Tenzin’s sacrifice “will bring peace to the border” and that “efforts are on to end the tension”. He added, “We hope peace will be restored soon.”
People familiar with developments said Madhav hadn’t attended the funeral as a representative of the government. On Sunday, Madhav began a two-day visit to Ladakh, a union territory that was carved out of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, whose special status was scrapped in August 2019.
However, the move marks a shift from the government’s reported decision in early 2018 asking officials and leaders to skip events which were being organised at the time to mark the Dalai Lama’s 60 years in exile. As the government worked to improve ties with China, especially through the mechanism of informal summits, the Tibet issue was largely sidelined.
SFF was raised with former Tibetan guerrillas in 1962 and went on to see action during the 1971 war with Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh and the 1999 Kargil conflict. It is led by army officers and most of its personnel are men of Tibetan origin.
Amitabh Mathur, a former special secretary in the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) who advised the government on issues related to Tibet, said it made sense for India to use a force such as SFF in the current scenario because of the special skills of its personnel. “They are used to operating at high altitudes and it would be an enormous waste if they are kept away from the terrain where they are most useful,” he said.
However, he said the Indian side will have to ensure that their use is followed up with other messages that reach the overall Tibetan community and a consistent policy. “There has to be some sort of gesture, an overt sign and this message should reach the Tibetans in Tibet,” he added.