Updated: June 25, 2020 7:59:49 am
Senior Congress leader and former defence minister A K Antony speaks to MANOJ C G about the situation in Ladakh and his assessment of the way forward.
As former defence minister, what is your assessment of the situation in Ladakh?
The Chinese army is still there in the Galwan Valley area. Their constructions are there. Even though they are not doing anything more, their constructions are still there. They are yet to be dismantled. Chinese army is there in the Pangong Tso lake area too and every day they are fortifying. They are there in Hot Springs also. Galwan Valley was never a point of dispute. Over the years, the Indian Army and Chinese army have identified more than a dozen disputed areas. But Galwan Valley was never a disputed area. It is Indian territory. Our sovereignty was undisputed. During UPA II, we started constructing the road to Galwan Valley. At that time, there was no objection from the Chinese side. Suddenly, they have come in large numbers and pushed into the Indian area, which ended in the tragic martyrdom of 20 brave soldiers.
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China, you said, did not object to construction of the road. So, what in your view is the reason for the present standoff?
Even though from 1962 onwards, all along there had been incursions along the more than 4000-km-long India-China border. Incursions happened during the period of all governments. But 1975 onwards, we also started strengthening infrastructure on the Chinese border. Successive governments strengthened the infrastructure. Infrastructure was strengthened the most during UPA I and II. UPA I and II spent the maximum amount on defence. From 2006 onwards, we more than doubled the defence expenditure. We constructed more roads, more bridges, purchased hundreds of Sukhoi aircraft, MiG 29, we decided to form strike corps based in Panagarh in Kolkata, raised two more mountain divisions in Tezpur and Rangapahar. We bought transport aircraft like C-17 and C-130… Now the Indian armed forces are well equipped and can face any challenge.
There were incursions during the UPA period too.
I told you… incursions had been taking place since 1962 because the border is unsettled. A serious incursion took place during the UPA period in Depsang in 2013 and then in Chumar in 2014. It took 21 days in 2013… they had come in large numbers… put tents and everything… there was face to face scuffle… but after 21 days… after military and diplomatic-level discussions they went back. Status quo ante was restored. In 2014… Chumar also… after military and diplomatic-level discussions… they went back. The status quo ante was restored.
What went wrong this time?
First of all, nobody imagined there would be a betrayal from China in the Galwan Valley area. The whole country was under the euphoria of the Mahabalipuram discussions with the Chinese President. Galwan Valley was never a point of dispute. It is a betrayal by China. It is for the government to see to it that our sovereignty is protected.
What could the government have done to avoid the bloodshed?
When both the armies were discussing disengagement, they attacked us. It is betrayal. Now we have to think about the future. Strengthen the armed forces. The ultimate aim should be that status quo ante should be restored.
BJP president J P Nadda has said that during UPA time, 43,000 km of Indian territory was surrendered to the Chinese and between 2010 and 2013 there were some 600 incursions?
Totally false. Incursions were there all along since 1962. Even before 1962, there were incursions. But this kind of major incursion did not take place during our time. In Depsang and Chumar, status quo ante was restored.
How do you deal with China?
India of today is not India of 1962… Now the armed forces are well equipped to meet any challenge. In UPA II, I found some change in Chinese priority. That is why in Depsang and Chumar… they came into our territory and after persuasion they went back. At that time, their priority was their conflict in the South China Sea. They were trying to completely bring it under their control. They were more concerned about Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang. But again, suddenly they have changed their priority. That way this is unprecedented… attack on a territory which is undisputed. During UPA II, whenever there was a dispute they used to go back to their original position… were willing to have a peaceful settlement… but now they have changed their priority suddenly. There is something deep which we have to assess. The government needs to study this deeply.
The BJP says the Congress is against Narendra Modi and not China… how did the Congress sign an MoU with Chinese Communist Party?
Earlier, only the Congress was going for the Chinese Communist Party meetings. After the Modi government came, they (the BJP) also started sending their representatives. Both the BJP and the Congress are friendly with Chinese Communist Party. Everyone forgets that the only chief minister in India who was invited to China four times was Narendra Modi. He met the Chinese President 18 or 19 times. The Congress has categorically said that we are one with the government and the armed forces when it comes to protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country. We will do everything to support the armed forces. That has been the Congress tradition.
Also Read | Why India claims Galwan belongs to them
What next for the government?
The country is watching… whether at the end of the conflict, the government is able to restore status quo ante. And it was the Prime Minister who said there are no outsiders in Indian territory. It was a shock to me and to the whole country. The Chinese army is still in the Galwan Valley and their construction is there. They are there in Hot Springs… They are there up to Finger 4. Every day they are fortifying. Even now the military-level talks are only on Galwan Valley. They are not saying anything about Pangong Tso. The Indian Army has told them that the Chinese must vacate from all the occupied areas and the PM has made such a statement. It is the duty of the PM to come out with a categorical public statement that the government will do everything to restore status quo ante. Let him publicly and categorically say that.
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