The Indian Army’s first combat casualties in decades along the LAC with China in Ladakh have put the ruling BJP in a spot over making good its promise of muscular nationalism while controlling its jingoist reflexes, both of which have been the party’s calling card to differentiate itself from domestic political competition.
BJP leaders, who have been asked to avoid commenting on China and making provocative remarks, now project the standoff as the result of a display of India’s assertive stance on its borders since Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 and the recent spurt in India’s attempts to build border infrastructure infuriating China.
BJP president J P Nadda has treaded cautiously on the issue, but tried to assure cadres that the borders are safe under BJP rule. Addressing a virtual rally in Kerala earlier on Tuesday, he said, “We have lost our brave Army men. I pay homage to them. I can assure you that under the leadership of PM Modi, India’s territorial integrity will not be compromised. We now have the political will and our Army is fully equipped to take on any adversary.”
He tweeted later, “The borders of India are and will remain intact under the prime-ministership of Shri @narendramodi…”
While party leaders maintain that the BJP has decided to observe “strategic restraint on its communication” on this issue, they invoke the 2017 Doklam face-off to assert that the Modi government will not blink.
This was evident from tweets by B L Santhosh, general secretary (organisation). “The Indian forces have engaged in an unprecedented face off with Chinese troops in Galwan valley & Pangong Tso in Leh region. Indian efforts at building infrastructure in a never before scale increased Chinese worries…,” he tweeted earlier in the day. “Now the efforts are on to defuse the situation holding onto our stand & continuing our road building efforts. As a country it’s time to stand with our forces & Govt. Rest everything can wait.”
For the BJP, which is bracing to face Opposition criticism, allowing the government to handle the situation in a mature way is the best option, said a party leader.
A BJP functionary said, “We will maintain a strategic restraint in our communication on this issue until it is resolved.” He recalled that “we maintained similar restraint for about 70 days during Doklam”.
BJP leaders said the party was conscious of Opposition barbs about summit-level talks with Beijing, but that would not lead the party to deviate from its commitment. They also asserted there will be no concession from the government until the pre-April situation is restored.
“There will be a tit-for-tat on the ground irrespective of our exchanges at the summit level. Any violation of understanding on the ground will be rebuffed with full power,” said another BJP functionary about the broad guidance shared with party leaders.
“Diplomacy is a continuum. So, there is nothing unusual in those exchanges at the highest level. But, at the ground level, there will be no compromise,” said a BJP leader.
“Modi will not blink. This government will not blink,” said the party functionary.
Meanwhile, the BJP has eschewed jingoism, with communication from the leadership during virtual rallies against jingoism against China. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Home Minister Amit Shah, who addressed virtual rallies last week, avoided raising the pitch against China even as they invoked the surgical strikes.
“Within his first term, Modiji made India’s pride touch the sky… The air strike and surgical strikes happened, and they entered Pakistan’s home and punished them. Throughout the world it was felt that attacking India’s boundaries is not child’s play…,” Shah said, addressing party workers in Odisha, avoiding references to the stand-off in Ladakh.
“I can say with confidence that we will not do any sort of compromise with our national pride,” has been Rajnath’s refrain on the LAC issue at his rallies, underlining that both sides have agreed to find a solution through military and diplomatic talks.