The Commanding Officer of 16 Bihar, Colonel Santosh Babu, and his fellow men lost their lives in a medieval-era clash, complete with stones and nail-studded clubs, with Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) at Galwan on Monday evening, but their blood has triggered a turning point in India-China relations.
Despite being outnumbered by PLA troops with reinforcement reserves coming from behind, Col Santosh and his men struck back at the adversary, killing or critically injuring 43-50 PLA troopers. Unlike in the past, the Colonel had confronted his Chinese counterparts and asked them to follow the agreed June 6 disengagement rules.
The aggressive Chinese PLA had left him with no options. The Indian side had pulled back as part of de-escalation but the Chinese PLA was staying put at the stand-off site on Patrolling point 14.
While most Indians are worried about the escalation in eastern Ladakh, the skirmish has shattered the “peace and tranquility” myth perpetuated by Chinese rulers since the 1950s. The Galwan face-off has clearly revealed that the “peace and tranquility” doctrine is just a Chinese PLA ruse to force their cartographic expansion agenda in Ladakh sector to strengthen the logistics route of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The military nibbling by the PLA towards the Chinese claim line in eastern Ladakh, particularly in the Daulet Beg Oldi sector, is part of this strategic plan. Already, there are reports that Xi Jinping’s PLA is supplying at least four armed drones to Pakistan to protect the CPEC route and should be seen in action against the restive population of Balochistan.
The past 70 years of contemporary history teaches us that Beijing, while mouthing restraint, will ostensibly offer speeding up of boundary resolution by the two Special Representatives with a promise to handle the bilateral trade deficit in a focused fashion. This means that Beijing will keep the nearly $ 100 billion bilateral trade insulated from the border skirmishes, a tactic used by the Chinese leaders in the past to resuscitate relations. So basically China wants border and bilateral trade on its terms by trying to impose its military might against India. Even at the cost of losing his life, Col Santosh challenged this might by refusing to allow change in the ground situation in Galwan.
That also means that India should not let the execution of the border infrastructure upgradation plan slow down. Certainly not in the Galwan Valley where one part of the Chinese effort has been to stop India’s border road project.
In the coming days, we will see the PLA’s psychology operations playing out in full strength. That could include TikTok videos of bodies of Indian soldiers lying in the Galwan river and that of soldiers, injured or held captive. This could be accompanied by images of PLA troops, artillery guns, surface-to-air missile batteries. There may also be videos of armed drones to create doubts in indian military minds over retaliation to the violent face-off.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and the military brass assess the situation, the Galwan face-off is a slap in the face of the Wuhan and Chennai understandings with Chinese paramount leader Xi Jinping. The answer to the skirmish does not lie in mere economic retaliation but standing and facing the PLA on the ground to have them honour the June 6 military resolutions. And till that time, any rapprochement with Beijing should be ruled out.
While a section within the Indian government advises diplomatic resolution of the June 15 face-off, the only answer to the PLA’s belligerence is standing up to them and holding the territory. The PLA must learn to respect the Indian army. This is the path Colonel Santosh Babu has shown us.