By Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia, PVSM, AVSM, SM (Retd)
New Delhi. 25 June 2020. The premeditated, preplanned assault on Indian troops by PLA at Galwan on 15 June, challenges the fragile Peace and Tranquility along the 3488 km India -China Line of Actual Control (LAC). The PLA troops laid a deliberate ambush, not only breaching the agreed-upon protocols but employing primitive warfare tools like spiked clubs to attack Colonel Santosh Babu and his patrol who had gone to check on the agreed-upon disengagement in Galwan. There have been many analyses and narratives on the sequence of actions and the consequences. The fact remains that India lost 20 brave soldiers in an unheard-of assault with spiked clubs etc by a so-called modern army. More importantly, the questions which troubled the nation as also all military and nonmilitary experts was simple, were our soldiers carrying weapons? If so who stopped them from using these weapons and firing at the PLA when facing grave danger and threat to their lives? The apprehensions of many that they were either not carrying arms or were under strict orders not to fire, need to be answered laid to rest.
A personnel weapon like an assault rifle is an appendage of a soldier’s body, and when deployed he carries it with him on all occasions when moving outside the post. A statement to this effect was also made by the EAM Shri Jaishanher. Irrespective of the statement, let me assure all that every patrol along the LAC is armed and carry weapons, as was this patrol under Col Santosh Babu, Commanding Officer 16 Bihar who was directly responsible to ensure the execution of his task of ensuring Chinese had disengaged at Galwan as agreed to during the 06 June Meeting and equally important the safety of his men. The orders and SOPs are categorical Quotes” Use of weapons will not be resorted to during normal Faceoffs”
The face of at Galwan can not be considered normal under any circumstances and the leaders on the spot had the option to open fire as per SOP besides anyone and repeat anyone has the right to fire in self-defence. If they did not, let us respect their decision. Colonel Babu a thorough professional must have assessed the situation, despite the Chinese preplanned ambush, displayed unmatched courage and leadership in mustering his resources to give a befitting reply, thus overpowering the PLA and causing more than double the casualties, though it is not a balance sheet and own loss hurts.
Some military men have also failed to comprehend the treacherous terrain at over 4600m where space is limited as hand to hand combat took place on a knife-edge ridgeline. A number of casualties on own side also occurred as soldiers fell off the cliff, a few in the Galwan river resulting in hyperthermia, a common cause of fatality in high altitude. At these altitudes the temperatures are low and tempers are high, despite that the leaders and soldiers demonstrated extreme discipline, commitment to the task at hand and professionalism. Breathing is difficult and climbing a herculean effort.
Both The PLA and own troops were in very close contact, hence how could anyone fire without ‘A Blue On Blue” ie avoiding fire at own soldiers. The ethos of the India army, unit and soldiering needs to be understood, you NEVER EVER FIRE IN CASE IT CAUSES HARM TO YOUR BUDDY OR OWN SOLDIERS, even at the cost of sacrificing your own life. This is exactly Col Babu and his men abided by the soldiers’ credo NAAM NAMAK NISHAN.
Let us all respect the decision of the leaders who were in contact and not question their intentions or actions. The governments and the armed forces decision to review the rules of engagement are the result of this incident at Galwan , but need to be seen in the correct context of the changing environment and now a lack of trust.
We need to appreciate rather Question the actions and decisions of the Commanding officer who leads from the front and is fully in control of the situation. Salute the Braves for their gallantry.
(Lt. Gen Vinod Bhatia (Retd.) is Director CENJOWS and former Director General of Military Operations(DGMO) Indian Army. The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)