The external affairs minister said it was the commitment of the Indian Army to not allow China to change the LAC unilaterally

NEW DELHI: External affairs minister S. Jaishankar on Monday took a pot-shot at Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and said the unprecedented deployment of Indian troops at the Line of Actual Control to deter Chinese troops from unilaterally changing the Line of Actual Control had been ordered at the instance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was speaking at a conclave organised by a media group. Later in the day, in Parliament, while reacting to Mr Gandhi’s reported comment that Indian soldiers in Arunachal Pradesh were being “beaten up” by Chinese troops, the minister said the word “Pitai” (thrashing) should not be used for our troops.

Speaking at the conclave organised by the India Today Group, the minister said: “The deployment of the Indian Army (is there) on the China border that we’ve never had. It was done to counter Chinese deployments which were scaled up massively since 2020. Now, if we were in denial, how is the Army out there? The Army didn’t go there because Rahul Gandhi asked them to go. The Army went there because the Prime Minister of India ordered them to go.”

He added: “I understand today politics is politics. People will say things. They may not be credible. They may sometimes contradict their own positions, their own behaviour. All that could happen… The proof of the pudding is that the Indian Army today is deployed to counter any attempt to unilaterally change the LAC.”

Later, in the Lok Sabha, the minister said: “The word ‘Pitai’ should not be used for our Jawans,” adding that while the government had no problem with political criticism, one should not disrespect Indian troops. The minister said: “We should not criticise our Jawans directly or indirectly. Our soldiers are standing at a height of 13,000 feet in Yangtse and guarding our border. They should be respected and appreciated, this (criticism) is not appropriate.”

He added: “If we were indifferent to China, then who sent the Indian Army to the border? If we were indifferent to China, then why are we pressuring China for de-escalation and disengagement today? Why are we saying publicly that our relations are not normal.” Mr Jaishankar was responding to Mr Gandhi’s criticism that the government was “hiding facts” on the Chinese incursions and the allegation that it had taken Indian territory along the LAC at India Today’s India-Japan Conclave.

Indian and Chinese troops were engaged in a fresh clash in the Yangtse area of Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang sector on December 9. The incident came amidst the over 30-month border standoff in eastern Ladakh.

The external affairs minister said it was the commitment of the Indian Army to not allow China to change the LAC unilaterally. “I am saying that it is the obligation of the Indian State and that is the duty and commitment of the Indian military that we will not let any country, and in this case China, change the LAC unilaterally,” Jaishankar said.

“I think it is fairly obvious and most people in the country see that. You can make your polemical points. I think people will treat it as politics,” he added.

Asked about Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal’s criticism of the government for increasing trade volumes with China despite the border row, he said that India continues to import from that country because there was no adequate focus on the manufacturing sector. Mr Jaishankar said not much attention was given to the MSME sector and building supply chains as well after India opened up its economy in 1991.

“When somebody says why imports are coming out of China, there are imports coming out of China because for 30 years, you did not give your industry the kind of support and protection you should have,” Mr Jaishankar said. “It is only now in recent years that you have started to do it. Now you cannot reverse in five or 10 years what you have done in 30 years,” he said.

The Lok Sabha, meanwhile, passed the Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill to make special provisions for the repression of piracy on the high seas, with the government adding life imprisonment along with the provision of death penalty for those convicted of the crime. Some amendments moved by Opposition MPs were negated and the bill was passed by a voice vote.

Mr Jaishankar said keeping in mind the observations of the Supreme Court that the death penalty should be in rarest of rare cases and the fact that many nations do not extradite the accused in view of the provision of capital punishment, the government was including the option of life in prison.