Rajat Sharma

Ladakh pullback: Rahul should know the difference between ‘rajneeti’ and ‘rashtraneeti’

AKb (1)As the world watched visuals of Chinese tanks doing a U-turn and moving back near Pangong lake on Thursday, every Indian had reason to smile as the nine-month-long standoff came to an end, except Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

On Friday morning, he called a press conference to allege that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has “ceded a portion of Indian territory to China” after the agreement on disengagement on troops from friction points at Pangong lake. Rahul Gandhi demanded that the status quo ante position in Ladakh that existed in April 2020 must be enforced. He also asked what happened about disengagement of troops from Depsang and Gogra Hot Springs.

Even a layman can answer Rahul Gandhi’s queries. What happened on Thursday was only the beginning of the disengagement process, and more rounds of talks will take place for disengagement of troops from other areas. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh clearly mentioned this in his statement in Parliament on Thursday.

Rajnath Singh said: “The Chinese side will keep its troop presence on the north bank area to east of Finger 8. Reciprocally, Indian troops will be based at their permanent base at Dhan Singh Thapa post near Finger 3. A similar action will be taken on the south bank area by both sides.” It has been decided that, as a temporary measure, pending resolution at the diplomatic levels there will be no patrolling in the Finger area. Before the Chinese intrusion, Indian troops used to patrol upto Finger 8. Probably, Rahul Gandhi is describing this as “ceding of Indian territory”, which is totally incorrect.

Rahul Gandhi must have watched images of Chinese tanks pulling back on Thursday on television. Within two days, the Chinese PLA withdrew more than 200 of its tanks, artillery and armoured vehicles from the southern bank of Pangong lake. The speed at which the Chinese troops pulled back their tanks and artillery was amazing, even for defence experts.

Moreover, Chinese PLA had deployed more than 100 heavy trucks at the northern bank of Finger 8 to pull back hundreds of troops from the frontline “friction points”. The disengagement deal was the outcome of talks between Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jayashankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval with their counterparts in China.

Overall, India has got a good deal, but challenges remain. The deal is significant because China failed to achieve its stragegic goal of asserting its political and military dominance on India. In his statement, Rajnath Singh clearly said, the agreement will see Indian and Chinese troops ceasing their forward deployments in a phased, coordinated and verified manner. The de-escalation which comes after 10 months of standoff will see the Chinese troops presence on the north bank restricted to east of Finger 8.

Rajnath Singh has said that as per the agreement reached, any structures built by both sides since April 2020 in north and south bank areas will be removed and landforms restored. A temporary moratorium on military activities by both sides on the north bank of Pangong lake has also been agreed upon, he said.

The entire disengagement process will take nearly two weeks to complete, and it appears Rahul Gandhi has jumped the gun. One must understand that there is still mutual mistrust as far as the ground situation is concerned and the verification process will be very much tricky.

The overall position is clear. India has managed to make the Chinese troops move back without giving away any inch of its territory. This disengagement process is similar to the disengagement and de-escalation that took place last year at Patrolling Point 14 in Galwan Valley, the scene of bloody clashes in which 20 Indian jawans laid down their lives and an undisclosed number of Chinese troops were killed.

Last year, the Chinese troops tried to transgress into Indian territory in Pangong lake. They had built a road up to Finger 4 and had set up tents, erected structures. It was only then that the Indian army made mirror deployment. Tanks of both armies faced each other. But now the situation has changed.

The Chinese have moved their tanks back from Finger 4 to their old position at Finger 8 in Sirijap sector. Our troops will also pull back to Dhan Singh Thapa post on the northern bank, and none of the troops will patrol the buffer zone. The same pullback with apply for the southern bank for both armies.

A senior commander level talks will take place within 48 hours of the completion of disengagement process. The Chinese side agreed for pullback only after sustained pressures from the Indian side. The Chinese side was told in no uncertain terms that they will have to restore status quo ante than existed in April 2020. When the ninth round of talks began, the Chinese army commander agreed to withdraw troops from Pangong lake. Without foregoing an inch of territory, India managed to persuade the Chinese side to pull back its troops. It was because of this that Rajnath Singh said in Parliament “humne kuch khoya nahin hai” (we haven’t lost anything).

Recall the situation that prevailed in October-November last year. Fighter jets were carrying out sorties in the skies of Ladakh, our new Rafale fighter aircraft had been deployed, more than 50,000 Indian troops had been deployed with tanks, artillery and armoured vehicles. It appeared as if the Indian armed forces were ready to give a big strike back, if the Chinese PLA miscalculated and committed aggression.

Our PM had gone to Ladakh to state clearly that “the martyrdom of our valiant jawans will not go in vain”. On the other hand, the Chinese government, true to its colours, was issuing threats and deploying more troops, tanks and jets overlooking Ladakh. But the Indian side did not bat its eyelid. The Chinese side was told in clear terms that a pullback was the only path towards restoring peace and tranquility. The Chinese army will have to withdraw, because it had entered no man’s land and claiming ownership. All the machinations from Chinese side had reached a dead end.

Let me explain, in simple words, the result of the latest agreement. In April last year, our troops were deployed at Finger 3 and 4 and had been patrolling upto Finger 8. The Chinese troops were deployed at Finger 8, and they used to patrol up to Finger 4. In May last year, the Chinese army crossed Finger 8 and deployed tanks, artillery and armoured vehicles. Concrete structures were erected. India protested, but when the Chinese did not relent, Indian troops came face to face with the Chinese troops.

The Chinese side had not expected the Indian side to react so strongly. After nine months of continuous diplomatic and military negotiations, the Chinese finally relented and agreed to a withdrawal. With Wednesday’s deal, the Chinese troops will now full pack from Finger 4 to Finger 8, where they were positioned earlier. The zone between Fingers 4 and 8 will become a buffer zone, a sort of no man’s land, where there shall be no patrolling.

The defence ministers of both India and China have announced that there has been an agreement, but Rahul Gandhi is unwilling to accept that. On Thursday, he promptly tweeted: “No status quo ante – No peace and tranquility. Why is GOI insulting the sacrifice of our jawans and letting go of our territory?” On Friday morning, he hurriedly called a press conference and said in his tweet “Traitors have cut off our Bharat Mata and handed over a piece to our enemy”. At the press conference, he alleged that Modi did not muster the courage to demand from the Chinese they returned from our territory which they had occupied in April last year.

I am surprised over Rahul Gandhi’s consistence in making absurd remarks. For the last nine months, he had been alleging that China has occupied several thousand sq. kilometres of our territory and Narendra Modi is afraid of even naming China.

On Feb 1 this year, he wrote, China has occupied Bharat bhoomi and martyred our jawans. A day earlier, he wrote, China is carrying on with occupying our territory, and “Mr 65 inch” has not even named China. Since May last year, Rahul has posted more than 40 tweets on the India-China standoff. In each one of his tweets, he alleged that China has occupied our territory.

It is very difficult to understand what Rahul Gandhi is trying to prove. Does he want to say that our jawans could not stop the Chinese? Is he raising questions about the valour of our jawans? Those brave jawans, who gave the supreme sacrifice to protect each inch of our land. I remember the date 8th of July, 2017, when Rahul met the Chinese ambassador and other officials secretly in Delhi, and at the same time, in Doklam, our jawans stood rock solid to prevent the Chinese from committing aggression. Rahul was taking a cue from the Chinese envoy, and questioning our own government and army. Since then, Rahul has been constantly questioning our government over India-China border issues.

The surprising part is that even while China is admitting that it has withdrawn its troops, and the visuals were flashed across the world, Rahul is still adamant. He is not ready to accept that the Chinese troops are pulling back.

Rahul is well within his rights to oppose Modi, but he must not forget ‘Rashtradharma’ (duty towards nation). At least on issues concerning national unity and integrity, and on issues concerning our armed forces, the whole nation must speak in one voice. This has been our tradition through centuries. When rajneeti (politics) and rashtraneeti (state policy) clash, he should give preference to ‘rashtraneeti’ over ‘rajneeti’. This has been Modi’s credo for the last six years.

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