As tensions continue to run high between the Indian and Chinese governments, Prime Minister Modi had on various occasions spoken about unnamed enemies standing against the country. But on Tuesday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh did not mince his words, naming names and talking about India's "boundary issues" with China.
Speaking before the Lok Sabha on the second day of the Monsoon Session of Parliament, Singh noted that "China does not accept customary and peripheral alignment of Sino-India border". Since April, the Minister said, India officials had seen an increase in troops and weapons deployment along LAC in Ladakh.
"China tried to change status quo while talks were on...we are engaging with China diplomatically and militarily," the Defence Minister said. He noted that Indian forces were determined to protect security and sovereignty of the country.
But beyond the words, Singh's comments were also significant for the fact that they differed in tone and content when compared against previous comments on this Indo-China border issue.
1. For one thing, the naming of China is significant, simply because earlier comments had shied away from it. While Prime Minister Modi had on many an occasion spoken about the border tensions, even visiting a forward post in Ladakh after the Galwan Valley clash, he had never actually named the neighbouring country. And while many have argued that this is a conscious effort to not give China undue acknowledgement, others state that the Prime Minister has avoided the topic simply because Chinese leader Xi Jinping has avoided it. But Rajnath Singh - one of the country's top Ministers - did not seem to have any such qualms on Tuesday noting that "China continues to be in illegal occupation of approximately 38,000 square kilometres in Ladakh".
2. The usually stoic Singh on Tuesday, while being collected and coherent, also seemed rather stern. He did not mince words, and seemingly even addressed some of the claims that have been bandied by the Chinese media. "Troops are accordingly being provisioned with suitable clothing, habitat and required defence wherewithal. They are capable of serving at forbidding altitudes with scarce oxygen and in extremely cold temperatures, something that they've done over last many years on Siachen and Kargil," he noted.
3. But while many interpreted Singh's words as being both reassuring and a stern warning to China, his comments did not offer much by way of new information or clarity. The Defence Minister acknowledged the situation, but did not go into any specifics about what the resolution process would involve or what exactly was the ground level situation at present. "In the past too, we've had situations of prolonged stand-offs in border areas with China which were resolved peacefully. Even though situation this year is very different both in terms of scale of troops involved and number of friction points, we remain committed to peaceful resolution," he said on Tuesday.
4. Amid the ongoing border tensions, there have been questions and allegations thrown around by both ordinary citizens and the political leaders representing them. But on Tuesday, Singh's comments were akin to a call for solidarity, as he urged the house to pass a resolution. "I request this house to pass a resolution that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our armed forces who are guarding our borders to safeguard India's sovereignty and integrity," he said.
5. It is unclear what exactly comes next. While Singh noted in the Lok Sabha that "China's violent conduct along LAC is in violation of all existing agreements", Opposition leaders contend that there is not enough clarity. On Tuesday, the Congress MPs staged a walkout from the Lok Sabha demanding discussion on the issue. "Our leader AR Chowdhury wanted to send a message of solidarity with our troops and to send a stern warning to China that they should not test our patience. Unfortunately, the government feels as if only they can speak in support of the army," news agency ANI quoted Gaurav Gogoi, the Deputy Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha as saying.
This Session of the Lok Sabha had commenced on September 14 and will continue till October 1, including Saturdays and Sundays.