On the first anniversary of Galwan battle, a grateful nation remembers the ultimate sacrifice of ‘Gallants of Galwan’–20 brave jawans of 16 Bihar Regiment—who turned the tables on the PLA whose soldiers tried to reoccupy the Valley on June 15, 2020 in a treacherous overnight operation
-N C Bipindra
Soldiers paying last respects to their martyred colleague who lost his life in the Galwan clash
They are called the ‘Gallants of Galwan’. Indian Army men, led from the front by their leader Colonel B. Santosh Babu of the 16 Bihar Regiment, defended territory at a place now etched firmly in the minds of Indians. The Galwan Valley, a riverine tract that runs from East to West on the Line of Control with China in the strategically important Ladakh region, will ever be recalled for the bravery of the Indian Army men and the 20 soldiers, who gave up their lives for the nation.
A year since that fierce night battle on June 15, a grateful India remembers the sacrifice of the 20 soldiers. But they laid down their lives not before claiming the heads of their Chinese counterparts, including the commanding officer of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) unit that illegally tried to reoccupy a key spot in the Galwan Valley.
The Indian Army troopers were enforcing a peace agreement that the two sides had achieved in their first commander-level meetings in early June 2020. Since that meeting — where Indian and Chinese military leaders had discussed a pull-back of troopers to achieve peace and to diffuse the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation that was in progress since early May that year — much water has flown down the Shyok river that runs parallel to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.
Indian Army did turn the tables on the Chinese troops in the Pangong Lake region by the end of August 2020. If the Chinese crossed into the Indian side of the LAC in May that year to occupy key heights on Finger 4 of the north banks, India in August last year did a tit-for-tat to achieve a tactical advantage over the Chinese by occupying key heights of the Kailash Ranges on the South banks of that boomerang-shaped waterbody, only one-fourth of which India has had in its control since the 1962 Sino-Indian war.
Since June 2020, the military commanders from either side have held 10 discussions on the pull-back and for peace to prevail on the de-facto border. But a breakthrough was achieved in February this year, when the two sides decided to disengage in the Pangong Lake area. While Chinese troopers returned to their May 2020 positions beyond Finger 8 on the East in the North banks, India slithered down the Kailash Ranges, back to its original positions of August 2020 on the South banks.
This agreement and the subsequent disengagement were the first time the two sides had blinked since the conflict began in May 2020. But that was a minor achievement in the LAC-wide confrontation that their armies are engaged in for over a year now. In fact, the goodwill gesture of the Indian Army in February 2021 to give up its advantageous positions on the Kailash Range heights for peace along the entire LAC has not been reciprocated by the Chinese PLA.
Indian Army seems to have given up its advantage for nothing, except a minor tactical retreat by the Chinese from the Pangong Lake area, in the central sector of the LAC. The major security concerns of India with regard to Depsang plains up north much closer to the Siachen Glacier or the Gogra heights on the South of the Pangong Lake are yet to be addressed by the Chinese.
Blogger Lands in Jail for Questioning PLA’s Galwan Claims
Chinese blogger Qiu Ziming was sentenced to eight months in jail for slandering ‘soldiers and martyrs’. The real reason for the punishment is that he disputed China’s official claim that only four PLA soldiers had died in the Galwan clash with the Indian army last June. He was found guilty for being disrespectful about China’s law on the Protection of Heroes and Martyrs. The Nanjing blogger, in his post stated that as per international sources around 45 Chinese soldiers had died. Qui was alleged of “picking quarrels and causing trouble”, a roughly defined delinquency that carries 10 years in jail. This law is frequently used against journalists and activists. Qiu’s Weibo account, which had more than 2.5 million followers, has since been suspended. Russia’s TASS news agency had revealed that 44 Chinese soldiers died in the skirmish with the Indian troops.
Another blogger Chou Ziming was also detained by the police for a similar offence. Chinese authorities issued multiple warnings after noticing a surge in social media posts questioning the number of deaths that happened. One such warning: “On February 22, Public Security Bureau Nanming Branch issued a police report (translated from Mandarin): “At 8 o’clock in the morning on February 21, 2021, the Nanming Public Security Bureau’s Network Security Brigade discovered through an online inspection that some netizens made remarks in the WeChat Moments that slandered and insulted the heroes protecting the border. In response, Nanming Public Security launched an investigation. At 10 o’clock that morning, the netizen (male, 30 years old, from Guiyang) was found in a house in Huaguoyuan, Nanming District. Daimou admitted that he made prohibited comments. According to Article 26, Paragraph 4 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Public Security Administration Punishments, the Nanming Public Security Bureau imposed administrative detention on behalf of a person who violated the law for 13 days. The case is in further processing.”
On February 23, 2021 after noticing the surge in public resentment, China forced new rules to crush digital dissent. The new rules are the tightest restrictions to date on the publication of online content including a short video and social media posts. CCP’s latest escalation of its ongoing crackdown on public discourse that strays from the party line. The country’s internet watchdog, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), has issued new regulations requiring bloggers, influencers and content creators on social media accounts, known as “self-media,” to get permission from the government if they want to publish anything related to a host of sensitive issues including government communication. Other social media categories such as trending charts, hot search lists, push notifications and short video platforms will also be impacted. The CAC did not, however, provide detail on what kind of punishment will be doled out for violators.
In fact, since the February tactical pull-back by both sides, the Chinese have not shown any keen interest in continuing the commander-level talks regarding disengagement and redeployment to pre-May 2020 positions at other friction points along the LAC. Indian Army continues to await a word on its request for a meeting, though diplomatic engagements between the two sides on the border question have continued even after February 2021.
The Chinese may not have acknowledged the number of casualties that their army suffered in the overnight battle in Galwan Valley on June 15 last year and may have even taken a year to honour just a few of its soldiers who lost their lives in that bloody incident. But Indians will have no reason to forget their ‘Gallants of Galwan’ for years to come
India, though, has been keeping a watch on the development over the LAC, with cautious trepidation, as China carried out its summer military exercises in the depth areas closer to the LAC in Aksai Chin, a 37,244-sq km territory that is half the size of Arunachal Pradesh and double the size of Nagaland, occupied by the PLA during the 1962 war.
Chinese Communist Party to Honour PLA Soldier Died in Galwan Valley Fight
The Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee will honour one of the Chinese soldiers who lost his life during a faceoff with brave Indian jawans who were posted on the Indian border to repulse Chinese incursions in the Galwan Valley in June 2020. This is the first time that China is naming its Galwan war hero, though, under public pressure, it had reluctantly acknowledged the deaths of many of its soldiers in the Galwan skirmish, months later. However, China is yet to reveal the exact number of causalities on its side during the Galwan faceoff.
According to a report in a Chinese official media outlet, CPC will issue ‘July 1 Medal’ to Chen Hongjun, a PLA soldier who “held his post in the plateau for 10 years and died safeguarding China’s territorial integrity against Indian provocation in the Galwan Valley in June 2020”. Although there were more casualties, it is not clear why CPC has singled out Chen Hongjun for the honour.
Although India readily came out with the number of causalities on the Indian side, China was fighting shy of revealing causalities on its side. Indian Army sources had claimed that China suffered more causalities than India. However, taking lack of clarity on the Chinese casualties as an opportunity to mount an attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, certain Opposition leaders, Left-liberals in the media and some ‘independent’ commentators and so-called defence experts had dismissed the Indian Army’s claim that PLA had also lost an equal number or more lives in the border faceoff.
Along with Chen, 28 others will also be awarded July 1 Medals for their contributions to various fields on CPC’s 100th founding anniversary this year.
The Somdurung Chu conflict of 1986-87 in the Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh had lasted for nearly a year, but the Ladakh conflict has exceeded those timelines and may well become the longest military conflict between India and China in the last 50 years.
It is not very often, rather never, in the last 45 years has one heard of either Indian soldiers or Chinese military personnel having been killed in the frequent border clashes that happen every summer. That peace record between the ‘blow hot-blow cold’ nuclear-armed rivals in the Asian region has been unfortunately broken last year. Another over 50-year record of not firing a single gunshot too has been breached during this year-long conflict since May 2020. Though no life was lost in thosegun shots being fired, the history pages have now been turned.
China’s Numbers Do Not Add Up
China has so far revealed the identities of only four its soldiers died in the Galwan misadventure. However, its claim was questioned by international media, independent observers and Chinese nationals. There were reports that the PLA’s initial silence over casualties had triggered upheavals in the country and there was a clamour for honouring the soldiers who died for the nation.
Within hours after the clash, Indian army revealed the identities of 20 soldiers who were martyred in the clash. A week after the clashes, China admitted there were few casualties on their side too but said the numbers were not too high. It also argued it’s holding back the numbers to avoid the flaring up of sentiments. China never discloses anything about its military whether its budget, casualties or modernisation plans.
Chill Factor Acted Against Chinese
The Chinese troops were found wanting as far as fighting in high altitudes is concerned. They were unable to bare the vagaries of hostile weather and extreme wind chill factor which makes survival at these heights extremely difficult. The PLA’s emphasis has been to fight in a digital environment avoiding contact battles least realising the logistics and physical problems of a super high altitude warfare. Thus, the PLA soldiers’ morale was in their boots despite claims of providing them with centrally heated habitat. Indian soldiers, on the other hand, beat their adversaries hands down and were seen to be by their counterparts as very agile, alert and aggressive. Conscription in the Chinese Army and their young soldiers being the product of one-child norm were other contributory factors. There was tremendous pressure back home from their parents and PLA veterans to pull back from the area.
India and China currently have had over 50,000 troopers, battle tanks, artillery guns, air defence guns, fighter jets, gunships and a whole lot of other military hardware facing each other along the LAC during the entire summer and winter of 2020. That grim situation may well continue for a longer while. The Indian Army says it is quite prepared for such a long haul.
When Indians Bet Chinese in Battle of Nerves
Credit needs to be given to the Indian negotiators both military and diplomatic for their perseverance, patience and persuasion. Backed by an unambiguous political directive of not ceding even an inch of territory to the Chinese, the negotiators refused to wither down or get fatigued due to prolonged negotiations, tactics used by the Chinese to tire and wear down the adversary and succumb to the Chinese pressure, a manifestation of the Chinese strategy of “Winning without Fighting”.
They stuck to their aim and in the process convinced the Chinese of the futility of confronting a determined India which was in no mood to bow down before the expansionist and revisionist ideology of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under its all-powerful leader Xi Jinping who is seeking to fulfil the “China Dream” by 2049, the centenary year of the Communist rule.
The Chinese may not have acknowledged the number of casualties that their army suffered in the overnight battle in Galwan Valley on June 15 last year and may have even taken a year to honour just a few of its soldiers who lost their lives in that bloody incident. But Indians will have no reason to forget their ‘Gallants of Galwan’ for years to come.
(The writer is a New Delhi-based defence and national security journalist with over 20 years of experience writing on military affairs)