Bereaving hearts of Galwan heights

Hand-to-hand combat without weapons was indeed the goriest of gory affairs on the dominating ridges of Galwan Valley. For the unarmed Indian soldiers, climbing along ridgelines, narrow gorges and reentrants must have been slow and difficult. The more time it took, the bigger target they presented; sitting ducks with no fire cover.

If I could only imagine this massacre on a narrow ledge, it seems a re-enactment of a scene from Iron Age Warfare, where death was brutal, torturous, slow and painful. No soldier in any army of the world deserved such a hike into the valley of death. In mountains, every assault is frontal. That unarmed Indian brave hearts did so is a mystery in military articulation and stratification of command.

But it has happened and leaves serious question marks on Indian military psychology and sociology. Has the Indian army lost that edge in military corporatism and exclusivity it inherited as part of the British Indian army? Has it been permeated by political motivations? Are its commanders more loyal to political masters than the spirit of soldiering? How true is it that in the past two decades, RSS has swollen in Indian military ranks? Such questions not only agitate all military minds.

On the Indian side, casualties including a battalion commander are reported to be over 22. Four officers and six soldiers are captured. The tales of casualties are horrifying. Most combatants were bludgeoned to death while some fell off the steep cliffs.

For a country boasting modern warfare at six levels, warfighting capabilities primarily developed against China, nuclear weapons and demonstration of space defence capability, the inception, planning and execution of this minor operation baffles military professional logic. How could a field brigade, divisional or a corps commander even approve such an operation against a hostile and aggressive adversary challenging common military sense. Sending unarmed soldiers into a hostile environment is a criminal act that reflects the psyche of the chain of command in Ladakh. No military commander would wish his hapless soldiers to die so brutally and foolishly as they did. Who passed these orders and who was responsible; that is the question facing India.

The entire build up in Ladakh by the adversaries, occupation of dominating features by the Chinese and knee-jerk reactions by the Indian military command indicates a wide gulf between the armed forces and the policy imposed by the political leadership.

For sure, the Indian armed forces are not structured to act as a policy instrument for the grandiose political ambitions of BJP. The gulf has created dynamics that the fickle military chain of command is unable to tackle.

It appears that the political pressure being exerted on field commanders compounded by ideological splits in military command down the lines have led to such a humiliation. No one challenges the bravery of unarmed soldiers to climb up a ridgeline dominated by the enemy. Someone must have given a motivational talk. Least, foolhardiness is something military commanders must be held accountable for. As a series of blunders indicate, a complete paralysis even before the first shot is fired is evident.

In a case of a dysfunctional civil-military structure, and to add insult to injury, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh donned as a soldier tweeted: “The loss of soldiers in Galwan is deeply disturbing and painful. Our soldiers displayed exemplary courage and valour in the line of duty and sacrificed their lives in the highest traditions of the Indian Army.” His statement is ironic because when an unarmed soldier willingly walks into a hornet’s rest, no questions can be raised on his courage and valour. Sacrifice however is another aspect. Wasteful and ill-conceived sacrifices due to criminal neglect are treachery in the spirit of soldiering.

He went on to rant, “The nation will never forget their bravery and sacrifice. My heart goes out to the families of the fallen soldiers. The nation stands shoulder to shoulder with them in this difficult hour. We are proud of the bravery and courage of India’s breavehearts.” I do not know if the choice of word ‘breavehearts’ was intentional or an error. When soldiers have to contend with such a brand of leadership, they are indeed bereaving hearts.

Donning an air force uniform for a photo shoot does not make an insensitive man raised through the RSS ranks, a good inspirational defence minister. He is playing politics over dead bodies as indicated by another rant, “under the leadership of Prime Minister Shri @narendramodi, India is committed to work towards strengthening security, peace and stability in the world”.

A tribute such as this to the butcher of Gujarat, mastermind of hate and violence against religious minorities, unchecked proliferation of RSS commissars and cow vigilante groups and barricading of Kashmiris since August 2019, use of pallet guns and wailing on the pretext of soldiers who died in vain for no cause reflects a criminal and distorted mind-set. It reflects the muddled pool into which the BJP has immersed itself with total apathy and lack of concern for human life. According to the karma thesis of Modi and his ilk, every death and reincarnation is preordained and thus does not matter. The game goes on.

As reports indicate, China has reinforced its defences on frontal slopes of dominating ridges (fingers) hundreds of meters away from highly vulnerable Indian posts in depressions. There are also reports that heights East of Daulat Beg Oldi that dominate Siachin have also been occupied.

Meanwhile India continues to hype its posturing and media. Air assets patrol the skies as a show of force. Post humiliation, Indian media is hyping up the treacherous and sly enemy. Such adjectives may pacify domestic audiences but never win wars.

With its soldiers consumed like fodder, the Indian army in Ladakh stands humiliated. What message this apathy sends down the rank and file shows in the morale of soldiers. Cognisant of organisations where such blunders take place and no one owns up, commanders will be removed. Court of inquiries will be ordered and blames affixed. Then it will be ‘all is well’.

But the biggest question remains. How will India and its armed forces redeem honour and prestige? There is but one way. Launch military operations and wrest back lost territories. But can India do it?

India cannot do it. As a conclusion I will repeat what I have asserted time and again.

The Ladakh stand-off between India and China has once again highlighted the political and strategic muddle that India has deliberately framed for itself. This was bound to happen when Indian policymakers willingly fell into the trap of grandiose designs without factorising their capabilities and vulnerabilities. To impress it was a superpower, it evolved a non-functional war fighting strategy below a nuclear threshold, annexed occupied territories and challenged China and Pakistan. Abrogation of Article 370 opened legitimate options for China and Pakistan.

India has fallen into its own trap. The BJP has imbalanced the entire strategic template. The scars and wounds will take a long time to heal.

The writer is President of the Insaf Labour Wing and patron of the Insaf Jafakash Labour Federation.

No soldier in any army of the world deserved such a hike into the valley
of death.

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