Reminding nation, leadership of Galwan is no insult to army

Actor Richa Chadha invoked memories of the clash where 20 Indian soldiers had died

“Galwan says Hi,” her quote tweet, invoked the tragic incident on June 15, 2020, in which 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese soldiers died in a clash, though no shots were fired by either side. More than 70 Indian soldiers were injured. An equivalent number was taken captive by the PLA as the Indian side was surprised by the ferocity of organised Chinese violence. No PLA soldier was in Indian captivity. The last lot of 10 captive Indian soldiers was released by the PLA 48 hours after the clash. Months later, PLA-supporting Twitter handles released images and videos of Indian officers and soldiers in Chinese captivity that were resolutely ignored by the Indian media.

Though gallantry awards have been given to some of the soldiers involved in the clash and a war memorial built for the fallen soldiers in eastern Ladakh, the Indian side has never provided its official version of the incident. The specific details remain shrouded in ambiguity, allowing full play to imaginative minds to run wild in the cause of a nationalist agenda. In surprise, strength and organisation of Chinese military action, and the Indian evasiveness to share authentic information, the Galwan clash is a microcosm of the ongoing border crisis in Ladakh. The current army chief, Gen Manoj Pande, has been the most forthcoming in publicly providing details about Ladakh, but the political leadership remains committed to burying the truth under the cloak of national security. Stalling any questions, discussion or debate in Parliament, the ruling party wants the country to forget that it has been unable to safeguard India’s territorial integrity in Ladakh.

Four days after the Galwan clash, PM Narendra Modi made his infamous statement at an all-party meeting that neither had any outsider entered our territory nor was anyone still in it. That was patently untrue, for it meant that Indian soldiers had died in Chinese territory. He has been silent since. After having made boastful claims in Parliament on August 5, 2019, of giving his life to wrest back Aksai Chin from China, Home Minister Amit Shah suffers from amnesia about Ladakh, though the ITBP, which is responsible for the China border, functions under him. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s belligerent speeches are only directed toward Pakistan. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar deploys euphemisms like “friction points” to cover-up for areas where Chinese troops have come into territories earlier controlled by the Indian side. In a recent statement, he profusely praised PM Modi for taking “strong action” by deploying the army in Ladakh. He forgets that it was the bare minimum.

Those three words from Chadha, whose grandfather fought in the 1962 war with China, did not insult the army or mock the soldiers. They threatened to unravel the designs of the political leadership whose supporters thus hid behind the so-called honour of dead soldiers to bully the actor. It was also meant to send a message to others to stay away from raising this subject, which puts the political leadership in an uncomfortable position. These designs would fail miserably but for the active collaboration of large sections of mainstream media, which has reduced itself to act as either social media trolls or political propagandists.

In any case, these so-called defenders of the army’s honour have no interest in the welfare of the soldiers or the strength of Indian military. For more than two years during the Ladakh border crisis, not a single soldier was recruited in the army under the guise of the pandemic while political rallies and religious events continued unhindered. The shortage of soldiers placed the existing troopers under greater stress but was never a cause celebre for those attacking Chadha. Nor have we heard them speak when the IAF leadership talks of an urgent need for another five or six squadrons of fighter jets, as its strength has shrunk to 30 squadrons against the authorised 42.

No Indian Navy jet has landed on an aircraft carrier since 2021, and the government has refused to sanction a third carrier; the navy is down to 130 ships against its original vision of 200. After Gen Bipin Rawat’s untimely demise, the post of Chief of Defence Staff was vacant for eight months. The five-yearly refixation of ‘One Rank One Pension’ was to be done in 2019 but a veterans’ organisation had to approach the Supreme Court to force the government to do it by this month. How many questions on these issues have been asked of the government? This is the story of a lot willing to do nothing for the military except deploy it as a shield for their favourite politician.

Even if Chadha was questioning the army, there was nothing wrong in it: no institution in a democracy is above critical examination. For healthy democracies, unpleasant debates are less damaging in the long run than deference inhibiting oversight of the military. The military as a collective institution can be heroic, but Generals are still real people, with all the flaws of human beings. Those who believe that blind adulation for the military and its leaders is sine qua non for a strong country need only look towards Pakistan. Such behaviour begets a military that is more likely to keep going to war, and to keep losing them. India deserves better than slipping down that slope.

P.S. – Under incessant attack, Chadha apologised and deleted her tweet. But a TV news anchor did a primetime show targeting her, where all the images of her used were in swimwear. This was ostensibly done to defend the honour and pride of Indian soldiers who died in Galwan. Those soldiers deserve better.