Modi made an unannounced visit to Ladakh Friday to get first-hand information about the LAC situation. He was accompanied by Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat and Army Chief Gen. M.M. Naravane. He was briefed on military preparedness by top Army brass, including Northern Command chief Lt General YK Joshi in Nimu.

The visit was at a time when the border stand-off with China, because of Chinese aggression, continues. Through this visit he sent out a symbolic and political message, both within and outside the country that India will stand up to defend its territorial integrity, in all circumstances.

Modi’s Ladakh visit is also seen as a message to his domestic critics who criticised his alleged weak approach towards China despite reports of its unrelenting aggression at the LAC and belligerence in the Galwan Valley. It is also a huge morale booster to the armed forces that the government and the people of the country are fully backing them.

In his address, Modi remembered all the “proud sons of Mother India” who made the supreme sacrifice at the Galwan Valley, adding those who were martyred belong to all parts of the country and “epitomised our land’s ethos of bravery”.

By repeatedly highlighting the bravery of soldiers and honouring them, the PM was preparing the Indian armed forces, as well as the rest of the country, for the challenges that may lie ahead. And by acknowledging Ladakh as India’s pride, the people of Ladakh as patriots, and the sites of Ladakh as having witnessed Indian bravery, he was laying an unequivocal claim to the region — all of it — as Indian territory, which is not up for negotiation. PM Modi has made it clear that while India hopes for the latter, it is prepared for the former.

PM stressed in his speech, without naming China, that the “era of expansionism is over” and this was the “era of developmentalism”, which is both an opportunity and will serve as the basis of the future.

“In centuries gone by, expansionism has tried to destroy humanity. Whenever an expansionist mindset has dominated someone’s worldview, it has posed a threat to world peace. But history is also witness that such powers have got destroyed, or have been forced to mend their ways. This has been the collective global experience. And on the basis of this experience, the world has made up its mind. Today, the world is committed to developmentalism and welcomes competition for development.”

Modi also visited those injured in the Galwan valley clash in a military hospital during the visit, where he told soldiers engaged in the clash that they gave a “befitting reply” and their valour and the blood they shed would inspire people for a long time to come. The world, he said, was eager to know about the young men, their sacrifice, their training and their excellent level of commitment. “The bravehearts who left us, have not gone without a reason. Together, you all also gave a befitting reply (karara jawab bhi diya hai),” he told the injured soldiers.

Modi’s visit not only sent a signal to China that India will not surrender its territory but also assured the local people. 

 “Ladakh is the head of the country. This is the symbol of pride for 130 crore citizens of India. This land belongs to the people who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice,” said Modi. 

Recalling the greatness of Ladakh’s culture as well as the noble teachings of Kushok Bakula Rimpoche, the prime minister described Ladakh as a land of sacrifice and a land that has given several patriots.

A range of experts and analysts believe that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Ladakh, and his speech to troops in the frontlines of the stand-off at the Line of Actual Control, is a possible “game-changer”, an expression of India’s “resolve” to beat Chinese aggression, a clear articulation of Indian redlines, and a message to China that since Beijing broke the relationship, it will have to fix it.

Shyam Saran, former foreign secretary and senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, said that the PM adopted a “more defiant posture” in his speech. “His remark about this not being an age of expansionism but of development is clearly directed at China though it has not been mentioned by name. This presages a tougher posture towards China and preparedness to confront its challenge for the long haul.”

Saran added “His visit underlines the seriousness of the security threat India faces and conveys a sense of confidence that the country is more than capable of dealing with it.”

Lieutenant General (retired) DS Hooda said it was a “clear message to China” that India was taking “very serious note” of what has happened at the LAC and that the continuing stalemate in de-escalation was “unacceptable”. “The PM would also have got a first-hand account of the events that have happened and the operational readiness of the Indian Army. This is absolutely essential when India considers its future options.”

 

Lieutenant General (retired) Syed Ata Husain said that the visit was a “game-changer”, and a part of India’s continuous “strategic messaging”.

“Measures to convey a strong resolve through economic and other domains get hugely supplemented when the PM personally appears at the frontlines. The PM spoke of India’s pursuit of peace and development but that should not be construed as lack of resolve to defend its territorial integrity. Besides the morale boost to troops, the visit will force a Chinese review of its strategy of coercion it has adopted.” Hasnain added that it was a message to the world to stand up to “China’s hegemonistic ambitions”.

 

Congress Party’s reaction on Modi’s visit to Ladakh 

Calling China a “modern day devil”, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Ladakh visit will “invigorate” the armed forces but demanded that the government acknowledge Chinese intrusion into Indian Territory. The Bengal Congress leader said the Modi government should not be in “denial” over the incursion by the Chinese military into Indian Territory.

China’ reaction

Hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Ladakh amidst the ongoing stand-off between the Indian Army and China’s PLA (People’s Liberation Army), Beijing said negotiations are on between the two countries and no party should engage in any activity that could escalate the matter.

China also said artificial blocks to bilateral cooperation would harm India’s interests and that the two countries should work together to uphold peace in the border region. “Beijing will take necessary measures to uphold the rights of Chinese businesses in India,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a news briefing.