New Delhi: The Defence Ministry stepped in on Saturday to clarify matters, after it was suggested in social media that the visit of PM Modi to a frontline general hospital in Leh on Friday was 'staged' and had an artificial ring to it. The online criticism, which resonated with a Kolkata-based newspaper, had twin strands: one, that Nimu -- the place that PM Modi visited -- was not a foward post but 35 km from Leh and one would have to travel 200 km in the other direction to reach Galwan. (A forward post is one which is within the range of enemy fire.)
Two, the ward which PM Modi visited to interact with wounded soldiers did not look like a hospital premises, it was alleged. The facility he visited was without any medical equipment -- there were no saline drips, ventilators, medical trays and the like -- the kind one would see in any hospital, it was pointed out. Also, the ambience was that of a conference hall, rather than a hospital. Again, the patients had no visible signs of injuries, they were not bandaged -- as one would expect of soldiers who were recently wounded in a standoff.
They were no wrist bands -- which all patients are obliged to wear -- and were sitting erect as if they were attending a yoga class. The ministry clarified that the soldiers were not in any regular ward of a hospital, but in a hall which is normally used for training. It had been converted into a ward to accommodate the injured brave hearts, who had been kept there since their arrival from Galwan, in view of the raging pandemic. They had been segregated as the hospital has been designated a Covid treatment hospital. The ministry further clarified that the said facility is part of the crisis management exercise and very much a part of the General Hospital complex.
The clarification did not prevent the Congress party from politicizing the visit by pointing out that PM Modi had stopped 230 km short of Galwan valley -- the area where the Chinese have encroached on Indian territory. Senior party leader Kapil Sibal pointed out that Jawaharlal Nehru had visited a forward location, NEFA, during the 1962 war with China; and so did the two other prime ministers, Indira Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri. Sibal said satellite images of the actual intrusion by the Chinese do not lie and wanted the Prime Minister to clarify whether or not the Chinese have captured the Galwan valley in Ladakh, including Patrol point 14 where 20 soldiers of the 16th Bihar Regiment sacrificed their lives.
Have the Chinese also not captured the "hot springs" located in the Indian territory, he asked, charging that the Chinese have come 18 km inside the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the Indian side by capturing the Y junction in Depsong Place, endangering India's DBO airport, which is the lifeline of the armed forces in Siachen glacier. Sibal further pointed out that the local councillors of Ladakh, including the BJP councillor, had sent a memorandum to the PM in February about the Chinese capturing Indian territory. Had the PM acted on this warning on time, India could have stopped the incursion, he said. He urged the Prime Minister to follow the "Raj Dharma" at any cost and tell the Chinese to vacate the Indian territory.