Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s concluding remarks at the all-party meeting on Friday sparked confusion and invited questions. Neither has anyone intruded into Indian territory, nor has anyone captured military posts, the PM said. This didn’t seem to square with the official communication on External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s phone conversation with his Chinese counterpart in which he told him that Chinese troops’ attempts to erect a structure in Galwan Valley on the Indian side of the LAC reflected an intent to change the facts on the ground. The statement seemed more problematic seen alongside the unprecedented and formal Chinese claim, also on Friday, that the Galwan Valley is located on the Chinese side of the LAC. The PMO clarified on Saturday, saying that the PM’s statement pertained to the situation after the clash of June 15, and the government underlined that the Chinese claim to Galwan Valley was not in accordance with China’s own position in the past. Given the nature of the LAC dispute, its history and, as importantly, its geography, ambivalence over framing it will always be fraught. More so when lives have been lost and tempers are high. That’s why it’s disappointing that in its clarification, the PMO labelled the questioning of the PM’s remarks as “mischievous” and “motivated propaganda”, an “unnecessary controversy” to “lower their (soldiers’) morale”. On the day after, the problem is not just that the PMO’s clarification may not set the questions to rest — but also that it paints the very act of questioning as improper and illegitimate.
That the government held an all-party meeting and that the PM spoke to leaders of the Opposition on the face-off with China speaks of a democracy that does not freeze or shut down in crisis but seeks to handle it through means that only democracies possess — a coming together, a pooling of wisdom and resources, across political and party lines. The soldiers who died on the LAC were fighting for a nation that takes pride in the spaces and freedoms of all its citizens, across divisions and faultlines, to ask questions of, and argue with, their government. It is also because India is an open society that, in this country, the soldiers who lost their lives on the night of June 16 have been given public funerals even as China refuses even to acknowledge, much less to publicly mourn, its own dead.
Ever since this crisis began, leaders of the Opposition have, in fact, showed admirable maturity and restraint, except for the odd exception like Rahul Gandhi’s immature “why is he hiding” and “Surender Modi” targeting of the PM. Leading lights of the Opposition, from Mamata Banerjee to Mayawati to Sharad Pawar, have not given in to the temptation of using a troubled national moment to settle political scores. The government needs to reciprocate — not only by taking the Opposition on board, but also by respecting its right to ask questions, without attributing motives or name-calling. As India frames a response to China’s act of aggression, and prepares for the long haul ahead, national interest is best served by an Opposition that asks questions even as it shows solidarity and support, and by a government that listens — and answers with honesty and civility.
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