By N. C. Bipindra
This day a year ago, on June 15, 2020, Indians woke up to one of the worst military news that they have heard in recent years from the non-delineated borders with Communist China-occupied Tibet.
That day, Information trickled in from Ladakh that 20 Indian soldiers had laid down their lives in a hand-to-hand combat with Chinese soldiers in an overnight battle. But that was only half the information.
These brave hearts from the 16 Bihar regiment had inflicted casualties on the Chinese side that was in equal measure, if not more. In that moment, they became the Galwan’s Dragon Slayers.
These Indian infantrymen were actually defending territory in the Galwan River‘s valley that was being illegally retaken by the Chinese soldiers after a disengagement was agreed upon between the military commanders of both the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army earlier that month.
Among the Indian soldiers, who perished in that military battle, was the commanding officer of 16 Bihar infantry battalion of the Indian Army, Colonel B Santosh Babu.
Remember that this is the worst ever casualty that India has suffered in the last 45 years, though minor clashes between India and China have been reported along the 4,058-km long Line of Actual Control, the de facto border between the two nations, since 1962.
In fact, Tibet’s border with India came into dispute in 1950 itself, when China invaded Tibet and captured that territory. Despite, India and China agreeing on the Panchsheel principles in 1954 as the guiding light on their bilateral diplomatic ties, China waged the 1962 war on India, and altered the land border between the two nations.
Since then, the nations that have gone nuclear armed, are still battling it out along the Line of Actual Control, which China has refused to mark on the ground and exchange maps with India for decades now.
This has resulted in a trust deficit between India and China, and hence the military conflict that began in May last year continues even today.
Even gun shots were fired in 2020, the first in 50-odd years, along the Line of Actual Control in Pangong Tso, a boomerang shaped lake in Ladakh, three-fourths of which are in Chinese control.
It was in Pangong Tso’s South banks that India turned the tables on China in Aug. 2020, by occupying key heights on Kailash Ranges, as a tit-for-tat response to the May 2020 occupation of Finger 4 area on the North.
That secret move by the Indian Army formations in southern banks of Pangong lake took the Chinese on the other side of the Line of Actual Control by real surprise. The military manoeuvre by India was something that was unlike India, according to military observers globally.
Obviously, every important global power stood up and took notice of this hitherto unheard-of action against Chinese military by India. India was standing up to the bullying of China in Ladakh. That was an important message, not just to the world, but to Chinese Communist Party leadership, particularly Xi Jinping, who is considered to be the mastermind behind the expansionist moves of China in the entire Asian region, both in the Himalayas and in the South China Sea.
Realising that it had been outmanoeuvred by India in Pangong Tso, Chinese Army commanders agreed to a partial disengagement in the locality and in Galwan Valley areas, which obviously was by then a low hanging fruit. In early February this year, both sides agreed to withdraw from their locations back to where they were in April 2020 in Pangong Tso area.
That agreement was executed in Feb. this year and since then, China has been ignoring calls by India to talk on the disengagement in other friction points along the 1,000-odd km Line of Actual Control in the Ladakh region.
India primarily has concerns over the battle tanks, artillery guns, air defence guns and other such weapons and military hardware that are now deployed in battle-ready mode in Depsang Plains closer to Daulat Beg Oldi and Siachen Glacier in the North and in locations like Gogra heights and Hot Springs just South of the Galwan River. The conflict in Ladakh is still not over and may continue for a long time. For this reason alone, India shouldn’t trust the Chinese for their words, but needs to be vigilant every time and always.
For India, Indians and the Indian Army, soldiers dying in battle is a matter of great pride and honour for the families of the soldiers. India immediately released the names of its 20 soldiers and also recognised them as ‘Gallants of Galwan‘ and named them for gallantry medals in Jan. this year on the Republic Day eve.
China, on the other hand, hid the fact that its army soldiers were killed at the hands of the brave Indian soldiers during that Galwan Valley combat. It refused to even reveal to the world the numbers of its soldiers, who died. It took Communist China till Feb. this year to recognise its soldiers, who were killed in that battle with Indian soldiers, that too partially.
India and its people, on the other hand, will continue to remember the Galwan’s ‘Dragon Slayers’, and honour the 20 ‘Gallants of Galwan’ for years to come.