Leh, Ladakh: Ladakh’s top governing body chairman Gyal Wangyal has claimed that “all is well” in the conflict-ridden Union territory even as border tensions continue to simmer after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a clash with Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan Valley.
In an interview to ThePrint, the Leh administration chief dismissed allegations of ignoring red flags from local leaders about the increasing Chinese presence in border villages.
The BJP’s most significant face in the Ladakh government also echoed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s controversial statement at the all-party meet on 19 June, saying that there have been “no incursions” by the Chinese, “no territory has been lost” and India is only paying the price of trusting the Chinese.
Further, he called Covid-19 a bigger crisis in the UT at this point than China.
Wangyal is the fourth chairman of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Leh, and was elected in 2019 after Jamyang Tsering Namgyal was elected to the Lok Sabha. BJP has a majority in LAHDC-Leh, the top body in the UT, with 17 of the 24 seats.
‘Everything is fine in border villages’
Speaking to ThePrint, Wangyal said there was nothing wrong at the border villages along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). “Villagers are safe and are continuing with their agricultural activities. They are not scared and everything is fine along the border villages.”
However, Leh locals who hail from villages along the LAC told ThePrint that communication lines in these areas have been down since early May.
Earlier, Wangyal himself told news agency ANI, two days after the violent face-off in Galwan Valley, that several areas along the LAC, including Changtang, Durbuk and Nyoma, have been completely cut off and there has been no communication with even local councillors.
On Tuesday, however, he said, “Galwan Valley is at least 100 km away from the last village along the LAC, so there’s nothing to fear. My executive councillor has just come back from the area recently and everything is fine. I am in constant touch with local leaders and everything is fine.”
‘Red flags not ignored’
Several local leaders in the border villages claimed that the administration ignored red flags about Chinese incursions. BJP’s Urgain Chodon, Nyoma Block Development Council chairperson, had put up a series of Facebook posts flagging Chinese activity in the area in April.
Konchon Stanzin, executive councillor, LAHDC-Leh, told ThePrint that there had been small flashpoints in frontier villages. “There have been small flare ups like putting banners, flags in Indian villages in the past few months in Chushul, Chumur and others, but they have been short-lived,” he said.
When asked about local leaders flagging Chinese build-up along the border villages, Wangyal dismissed the claims.
“We have not ignored any red flags. These leaders and councillors belong to Nyoma while Galwan falls under Durbuk. I don’t know how they have made such claims,” said Wangyal.
“My source reports don’t claim any such instances. PM Modi too has said there has been no territory claimed by the Chinese and we should believe him,” he added.
‘No administrative failure, only betrayal by China’
Wangyal also denied any failure to act on local inputs that may have led to the loss of lives in the Galwan Valley.
“We have not failed our soldiers in any way. The fact is that the Chinese betrayed us. Now questions are being raised about whether the soldiers were prepared, whether they were trained, whether there was information. But Bihar Battalion (Regiment) has been deployed there for a couple of years and they are well trained. It’s the Chinese betrayal that’s cost us,” he said.
Wangyal also said that instead of focusing on what went wrong, the media should focus on how the soldiers gave a befitting reply to the Chinese. “India is not the same country it was in 1962. Media is only talking about how 20 soldiers died but even Chinese media is reporting that their soldiers also died,” he said.
Asked if Ladakh was let down by the administration, including its new MP Namgyal, who has not given a statement to the people in over a week now, Wangyal said, “Whether it’s me speaking or the MP, it’s one and the same thing. He’s our bridge with the Centre and he’s working hard.”
Economic package for Ladakh
Apart from a conflict with China along its borders, Ladakh is also dealing with a second wave of Covid cases. Shops and businesses have been shut in what is usually peak tourist season, leaving a major dent in the local economy.
“We have written to the L-G (Lieutenant Governor R.K. Mathur) and requested for an economic package to tide over this difficult time so people can get some relief. The package will come sooner or later, so Ladakhis have nothing to worry about,” he assured.
“Whether it’s 1962 war or 1971 or 1999 or the present conflict or even coronavirus, people of Ladakh are brave and will fight against all odds to defeat any adversity. But at this point, coronavirus presents a greater danger to Ladakh than the Chinese,” he said.