BJP, amit shah,Manipur
Home Minister Amit Shah informed the attendees that he had been in constant communication with Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding the situation in Manipur I File photo

Tawang clash: Govt rejects Parliament debate, Shah and Cong trade political barbs

What should have been a discussion in Parliament over the recent clash between the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang sector swiftly descended into a familiar trading of political barbs and muck-raking between the ruling BJP and its principle rival, the Congress party, on Tuesday (December 13).

As both Houses of Parliament convened on Friday morning, a united Opposition vociferously demanded suspension of listed business to discuss the volatile situation evolving along the LAC at Yangtse since December 9 when around 20 Indian soldiers suffered minor injuries trying to fend off an attempted intrusion by the Chinese PLA into the Tawang sector. While presiding officers in both Houses – Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Rajya Sabha deputy chairman Harivansh – disallowed all adjournment and suspension of business notices submitted by various Opposition MPs, the Centre rejected the demand for an immediate discussion in Parliament on the “Yangtse incident”.

Defence Minister’s statement

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not present in Parliament, Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh read out a brief statement in both Houses. Though conceding that the PLA troops tried “to transgress the LAC in Yangtse area of Tawang Sector and unilaterally change the status quo”, Singh asserted in Parliament that the Indian Army “compelled them to return to their posts”.

Also read: Tawang clash: Oppn walks out after Rajnath address; fighter jets deployed at border

The defence minister said that there were no casualties reported on the Indian side and that none of the Indian soldiers sustained any severe injuries. He added that the local Commander of the Indian Army held a Flag Meeting with his Chinese counterpart on December 11. The “Chinese side was asked to refrain from such actions and maintain peace and tranquillity along the border. The issue has also been taken up with the Chinese side through diplomatic channels,” Singh said.

Not satisfied with the defence minister’s statement, the Opposition MPs in both Houses demanded clarifications and further discussion on the issue but these were disallowed, forcing a number of Opposition MPs to stage a walk-out. However, the stage for a stalemate between the Centre and the Opposition over the Tawang clash had been set even before Singh made his statement.

Amit Shah targets Congress

The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha had both been informed that Singh will be making his statement in the two Houses at noon and 12.30 PM, respectively. However, in the brief period during which the two Houses were adjourned before noon, Union home minister Amit Shah chose to speak to the media on the Tawang clash and the Opposition’s demand for a discussion on it.

Shah, predictably, glossed over details of the actual incident and dragged, yet again, the late Jawaharlal Nehru into the controversy while also alleging a nexus between the Congress party and the Chinese government.

The home minister accused the Opposition, in particular the Congress party, of “disrupting Parliament and forcing adjournment of the Question Hour for no reason”, claiming that both Houses had already been informed that the defence minister will be making a statement on “the incident that happened in Arunachal on the night of December 8 and December 9”. He said he was “surprised” at the ruckus created by the Opposition but then “saw the questions listed for the Question Hour (in the Lok Sabha)… question number 5 asked by some Congress MPs was about the FCRA licence cancellation of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF); I understood why the Congress was nervous.”

Shah said the RGF had received “Rs 1.35 crore from the Chinese embassy in financial year 2005-2006”. The donation was received in violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, Shah alleged, adding that in pursuant to legal procedures the RGF was served a notice and subsequently the home ministry cancelled the foundation’s registration. Shah said the RGF claimed it had got the donation to conduct research on India-China trade relations and wondered, “did their research include how China grabbed thousands of hectares of Indian land in 1962… did they research how India’s permanent seat at the UNSC was sacrificed due to Nehru’s love (for China)”. The home minister also asked if the RGF analysed “how China laid claim to parts of Arunachal in 2006 when the UPA government was in power” and also studied who in the Congress party was “hosting the Chinese for dinner when Indian soldiers were being martyred in Galwan (in June 2020)”.

In a nutshell, Shah’s tirade was a repetition of the BJP’s charges against some real and many imagined lapses by the erstwhile Congress governments, from the time of Nehru till Dr Manmohan Singh. What the home minister stayed clear of commenting on were the lapses on part of the Modi government that supposedly paved the way for transgressions by the Chinese PLA into Ladakh’s Galwan region in June 2020 and now in Arunachal’s Tawang sector.

Just as Modi had, in the aftermath of the June 2020 killing of Indian soldiers by the PLA in Galwan and subsequent Chinese occupation of Indian territory in the region, denied any intrusion or usurping of Indian land by China, Shah too claimed “not an inch our land can be grabbed by anyone till the country has a BJP government led by Narendra Modi”.

Congress takes on Shah

The Congress, scorched by the home minister broadside, questioned why Modi continued to remain silent on Chinese transgressions under his watch while criticising Shah for “diverting the issue” and speaking out of turn on an issue over which the defence minister was slated to make a statement in Parliament.

Gaurav Gogoi, Congress MP in the Lok Sabha, also questioned why Singh had not bothered to inform Parliament of the clash in Tawang sector during the sittings of December 9 or December 12. “The clash occurred on the night of December 8 and 9. The Parliament is in session, it was in session yesterday but the defence minister did not inform Parliament about such a serious issue concerning national security and sovereignty. Had the media not reported about the clash, perhaps this government would not have made this statement at all,”

Gogoi said it was obvious that even two years after the violent clashes between the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA in Galwan and the subsequent usurping of Indian territory by the Chinese in Ladakh, no lessons had been learnt by the Modi government. “Clearly the disengagement talks between the Indian and Chinese sides over Galwan have been a failure, this government’s diplomatic and economic strategy vis-a-vis China has been a failure… what else would explain the Chinese transgression into Arunachal,” Gogoi asked.

The Lok Sabha MP from Assam’s Kaliabor accused Modi of “placing his personal image above concerns of India’s national security and sovereignty”, while Congress media wing chairman, Pawan Khera, alleged that the BJP and its ideological parent, the RSS, had vested interests in turning a blind eye to Chinese transgressions.

Khera claimed that following the Galwan clashes, the Modi government had banned use of 59 Chinese Apps in India but claimed that a number of Chinese companies continued to benefit from bilateral trade ties, tilted in China’s favour at Modi’s behest. Maintaining that accounts of the RGF were “a matter of public record; we have nothing to hide”, Khera insinuated that the PM-CARES fund, set up by Modi during the peak of the COVID pandemic to hefty monetary contributions, had received undisclosed amounts from various Chinese companies.

Also read: India-China army clash: 10 points on what happened in Tawang

Opposition questions BJP’s tactics

Many in the Opposition believe that by dragging Nehru and the Congress’s past dealings with the Chinese government, the BJP is, yet again, trying to turn the conversation away from the immediate and evident concerns India faces over its national security and sovereignty from China.

“These are tactics typical of the BJP. The demand for a debate on Chinese transgressions in Galwan and Tawang has not been raised by the Congress along but by the entire Opposition. The government is answerable to all of us, not just to one Opposition party. This fake narrative of ‘Modi will not allow an inch of Indian land to be grabbed’ and to accuse Nehru for everything can’t go on forever; how much more of our territory do we have to sacrifice to China before the BJP is held accountable,” a senior Rajya Sabha MP told The Federal. He added, it is “crucial for the Opposition, including the Congress, to not fall into the BJP’s trap… we have to stay focussed in demanding answers about what is happening in Galwan and Arunachal.”

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