It isn’t often that India’s top English newspapers unite in censuring Narendra Modi. But that is what happened on Monday: upset with his recent remarks about the Ladakh clash, the four leading dailies, in their editorials, questioned and condemned the prime minister.
On June 19, Modi held a meeting with all major political parties to discuss the . More than the meeting, Modi’s concluding remarks stole the limelight, and sparked a storm: he denied any Chinese intrusion into Indian territory.
“Neither have they intruded into our border nor has any post been taken over by them,” Modi was , referring to China. “Twenty of our jawans were martyred, but those who dared Bharat Mata, they were taught a lesson.”
The remarks sparked a controversy, leading to the Prime Minister’s Office issuing a clarification the next day. “The prime minister’s observations that there was no Chinese presence on our side of the LAC pertained to the situation as a consequence of the bravery of our armed forces,” the read, and denounced the controversy as a “mischievous interpretation”.
This didn’t go down well with the English press, which took the prime minister to task for his remarks. Here is what the four leading dailies had to say in their editorials on Monday.
The Indian Express
Titled “Unlike China”, the newspaper’s editorial argued that the PMO’s clarification “paints the very act of questioning as improper and illegitimate”. It noted that the prime minister’s remarks denying any Chinese intrusion were inconsistent with foreign minister S Jaishankar’s official communication with his Chinese counterpart, and appeared to back the Chinese claim that the Galwan Valley, where the intrusion happened, was on their side of the Line of Actual Control.
The editorial, however, lauded Modi for convening a meeting with all major parties, arguing that it offered a stark contrast between India’s democracy and China’s one-party regime by showing only democracies possess “a coming together of, a pooling of wisdom and resources, across political and party lines”.
Most opposition leaders, in this spirit, have shown “admirable maturity and restraint” since the crisis began, the daily commented, and the government should respond by not only taking the Opposition on board but also respecting its right to ask questions “without attributing motives or name-calling”.
Taking issue with the PMO’s clarification, the daily’s editorial, titled “Lost in clarifications”, emphasised that Modi’s remarks weren’t in sync with the ground reality, which is that “Chinese troops still remain present on Indian territory elsewhere in Ladakh, including on the northern bank of Pangong Lake”.
The prime minister did not choose his words carefully, the editorial complained, enabling the Chinese state media to portray them as an endorsement of Beijing’s claim that its soldiers had not crossed the LAC.
That Modi’s remarks needed to be clarified twice made it clear that there were “serious problems” with his messaging, the editorial argued. It also underlined the government’s “poor communication”, questioning its silence on the standoff for six long weeks when the crisis was unfolding. In the absence of timely and credible information from the government, only speculation and alarm will ensure, it warned. Though late, the all-party meet was a step in the right direction, the newspaper acknowledged.
As India faced its “biggest national security challenge since Kargil”, the government could not remain in denial or try to obscure facts, the daily warned. The first step towards finding a resolution to the problem was acknowledging its nature and magnitude, it added.
The Times of India
The editorial of India’s largest circulated English newspaper, titled “A Long Game”, had a cautious undertone to it. While questioning the Modi government’s claims about the conflict, the daily maintained that what had transpired along the LAC was still “murky”.
It noted inconsistencies in the different versions of the clash provided by government and BJP spokespersons, specifically whether the Indian soldiers were armed. “Probability points to the latter”, the editorial opined, explaining that the soldiers would not have refrained from using firearms if carried any.
As to what the Modi government should do to resolve the crisis, the editorial argued that any decision must be made after calculating the “balance and disposition” of the military and diplomatic forces. “It’s important here to be strategic, not emotional,” it said.
The Hindustan Times
The daily urged the prime minister to issue a fresh statement on the standoff. “Restoring India’s case, credibility”, as the title suggests, was the focus of its editorial. Like the Hindu, the Hindustan Times noted that Modi’s remarks contradicted India’s earlier positions on the LAC, and even the situation at the Pangong Tso lake. The remarks, therefore, could provide “diplomatic ammunition to China”. They could send out a message to India’s friends that the country was ready to concede territory.
Irrespective of the reasons or motivations, Modi’s remarks sent out “an ambiguous signal”. He must, therefore, speak again, and categorically, about three issues. First, Chinese aggression along the LAC in recent months. Second, whether Beijing is trying to change the facts on the ground. Third, the current status in the Galwan Valley.
In international politics, there is sometimes value in strategic ambiguity, the daily wrote, “but this isn’t one of those”. A fresh statement would help restore India’s stand, the daily emphasised.
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