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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 27, New Delhi, June 20, 2020

LETTER TO THE READERS - COVID 19 Lockdown Edition No.13

Saturday 20 June 2020

Letter to Readers Mainstream, 20 June 2020 - Lockdown Edition no 13.

Once again blood has been spilt in the High Himalayas, thanks to China’s activities stemming from its expansionist designs against the Indian republic. This happened on the night of June 15th / 16th in the Galwan valley in eastern Ladakh. It resulted in the killing of 20 Indian soldiers including the commanding officer of the patrol party. This was the culmination of the policy pursued by Beijing after the Chinese aggression of India in 1962 (disregarding the 1993 Sino-Indian Bilateral Agreement for Maintaining Peace and Tranquillity on the Border).

As a consequence of the violent face-off between Chinese and Indian soldiers in Ladakh peace and calm have been shattered at 4,200 meters above the sea level. And the geopolitical context gives this incident an ominous dimension. At the same time there seems to be no intention of either side losing face. This is the backdrop in which the all party meeting of 19 June was convened by the Prime Minister of India to apprise the opposition leaders of whatever had taken place in recently on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the India-China border. Prime Minister Modi made his statement at the all-party meeting in which he said: “Na koi wahan hamari seema mein ghus aaya hai aur nahi koi ghusa hua hai, na hi hamari koi post kisi dusre ke kabze mein hain (No one has intruded and nor is anyone intruding, nor has any post been captured by someone)”. He said this in his closing remarks that were carried on television. His official Tweet in Hindi – see https://twitter.com/PMOIndia/status/1274003446195040256 The statement by the Prime Minister contradicts the official Press releases of India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) of June 16 and June 17

The MEA release of 16 June soon after the Galwan incident says: “violent face-off” . . . “happened as a result of an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo there” (https://mea.gov.in/response-to-queries.htm?dtl/32761/official+spokespersons+response+to+media+queries+on+the+situation+in+the+western+sector+of+the+indiachina+border)

The MEA release of 17 June after a telephone call between India’s Foreign Minister and Chinese Foreign Ministry Offcials says:

“[External Affairs Minister] EAM conveyed the protest of the Government of India in the strongest terms on the violent face-off in Galwan Valley on 15 June 2020. He recalled that at the meeting of senior Military Commanders held on 6th June, an agreement was reached on de-escalation and disengagement along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Ground commanders were meeting regularly to implement this consensus throughout the last week. While there was some progress, the Chinese side sought to erect a structure in Galwan valley on our side of the LAC. While this became a source of dispute, the Chinese side took pre-meditated and planned action that was directly responsible for the resulting violence and casualties. It reflected an intent to change the facts on ground in violation of all our agreements to not change the status quo.” (https://mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/32765/phone+call+between+external+affairs+minister+dr+s+jaishankar+and+foreign+minister+of+china+he+mr+wang+yi)

The trigger for the confrontation between Chinese and Indian soldiers on the Himalayan ridges, which took place on the night of June 15 to June 16, remains unknown. There is a wider contextual backdrop here — (1) Donald Trump’s strategy of containment of China and an attempt to openly involve India in this strategy; (2) pinning the blame on China for the Covid-19 pandemic by suggesting that ‘the Virus is Chinese’ as done by the Presidents of Brazil and the US; (3) In the post-August 2019 period top elected officials in India started calling for a military take over the territories of ‘Azad Kashmir’ & Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan and Aksai Chin Region under Chinese administration; (4) also a move by the Indian Government in wake of Covid19 economic slowdown to exclude Chinese firms from foreign direct investment in India; (5) some analysts say that this could be part of moves by China to draw attention away from the crisis on its domestic front, growing labour unrest inside China and a long wave of protests in Hong Kong.

This face-off in Ladakh is the umpteenth in a long series, but it is the first time that there are soldiers killed after decades: the clash in Ladakh has left some twenty dead and over 100 injured on the Indian side and we don’t know the figures on the Chinese side. Unconfirmed reports say several hundred troops were involved in a bloody brawl ‘without the use of firearms’ – apparently due to a protocol in force between the two countries precisely to avoid an uncontrolled escalation, suggests a very high degree of violence. The confrontation happened in the Galwan River valley (around which Chinese troops had captured an Indian defence post in 1962). Unconfirmed reports suggest that there was already a very violent incident on May 5 wherein many Indian officers and soldiers were badly injured and hospitalised.

The status quo that governed this disputed section of the Line of Actual Control between China and India in this area stands altered. Chinese troops seemingly now occupy an area earlier patrolled by the Indians – estimated at approximately 60 square kilometres in the Galwan valey. The Chinese have taken over key tactical positions overlooking a strategically important road under construction by India along the Indo-China border, close to Aksai Chin, under Chinese control that India claims.
After the confrontation between Chinese and Indian soldiers in the Himalayas on June 15 and 16, activists from the organizations of the Hindu Far-right Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) including some elected officials in the Government have been calling for a boycott of goods from China. Any such call for a boycott is misplaced, represents a xenophobic instinct and is out of place in the globalised world we live in. Such a boycott will hurt Indian consumers and business interests more than Chinese interests. However, what is more, worrying is the retired Generals sitting in TV studios who are calling out for war. We must alert all democrats and Indian citizens at large to steer clear from any moves towards war. Peaceful negotiations are the need of the hour to avoid any escalation. War is very dirty business and our society must be made aware that it will have to pay a heavy price, not the warmongers.

The Prime Minister’s statement at the all party meeting has caused alarm and left people wondering: Why all the fuss if nothing happened? Why the military to military dialogue of June 6, Why talk military disengagement, if there were no incidents? What was the cause of violence if no incident happened; How did the 20 soldiers die if the Chinese never came into Indian Territory? Did the Indians stray into Chinese Territory? Were the claims by the former top commander of the Indian Army Lt. Gen Panag of the Chinese intrusion into Indian territory hogwash? (https://youtu.be/tU8nvAEl26c). Why did the former National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon consider the Prime Minister’s statement “ill-considered and inaccurate” “that concedes territory and the gains of aggression.” (The Wire, 20 June https://thewire.in/security/modis-no-intrusion-by-china-claim-contradicts-indias-stand-raises-multiple-questions)

What is pretty amazing is that soon after PM Modi’s tweet and clip on TV saying no one has intruded into Indian territory, the TV clip with remarks in Hindi was translated by the Chinese TV and broadcast to millions. Official Chinese communications have been very swift. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has given a counter account – a blow by blow account of what happened. And the Chinese Embassy in Delhi has issued a statement.
In a very unusual development on 20 June the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) issued a clarification on what the Prime Minster said the day before - the fact that PMO is having to clarify the Prime Minister’s statements speaks volumes about our official communication skills — See Prime Minister’s Office Statement on All Party Meeting of 19th June 2020 by PIB Delhi - 20 JUN 2020 1:40 PM (https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PMO=3&PRID=1632856)

A prominent defence journalist whose Op-Ed just appeared in The New York Times is suggesting that India seems to have ceded territory to the Chinese and doesn’t want to lose face. And therefore the PM ‘saying nothing has happened, move on’. This is a cover-up job. The Congress party leader and India’s former Deputy Foreign Minister Shashi Tharoor has said that China has "de-facto annexed disputed territory" and that "the restoration of the status quo ante (the previously existing state of affairs) is now impossible unless the Chinese withdraw," (See https://www.thequint.com/news/india/congress-leader-shashi-tharoor-on-india-china-clash-tensions-pm-modi-statement-ladakh-galwan-valley) It must also be noted that current President of the Congress Party Sonia Gandhi had stated that the people “are still in the dark about many crucial aspects of the crises” she asked several questions in this regard and eventually queried: “Did our External Intelligence Agencies not report any unusual activity”, Did Military Intelligence not alert the Government? … In the Governments considered view “Was there a failure of Intelligence?”.

Leaders of all Opposition political parties must call on the Government to reveal the truth on what happened in Ladakh and vociferously demand so in the days ahead. The world is watching with keen interest — India’s Defence Minister is attending the Russia China India interaction in the coming days. Let us see what comes of that. Only one point needs to be highlighted: satellite images have shown Chinese troops being amassed on their side of the LAC before the latest Sino–Indian clash.

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FIRs have been filed by the police in Uttar Pradesh against Supriya Sharma an acclaimed Indian journalist, a recipient of the coveted Chameli Devi Award for journalism and the editor of the online newsportal scroll.in for doing a story on a poor family that lived through a situation of near starvation during the lockdown period in Varanasi — which is the Parliamentary constituency of the Prime Minister. The charges brought against the journalist are under the draconian SC/ST act under which no bail is allowed. This is very clear yet another move to intimidate journalists who write stories on the poor. We must remember that the poor and the underprivileged are the majority in our country, it is the duty of the media to provide coverage to issues to do with the poor. The media in India ought to stand in solidarity and reprint the story in question as an act of defiance. We hope the readers and citizens will stand with us.

Civil society activists continue to face the ire of the Uttar Pradesh Govrnment of Yogi Adiyanath. Many were taken under house arrest in Lucknow in the third week of December, 2019 when nation wide protests against Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens were on, yet they were charged with instigating violence and had to spend a month in jail. Even before they could be proved guilty by a court of law, all accused have been served notices for recovery of damage to public and private property caused due to violent incidents in parts of UP. We are astonished to hear that many respected socially committed citizens of Lucknow that include a prominent human rights lawyer, Advocate Mohd. Shohaib, a very senior Retired Police Officer Mr S.R. Darpuri and several others have has been served notice by the UP govt. to pay a sum of Rs 64 lakhs or face seizure of property within a week. This is a matter of serious concern.

June 20, The Editor

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