India wants peace but is capable of giving a befitting reply if provoked, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday, his first remarks on the border clash between soldiers of the Indian and Chinese army in eastern Ladakh on Monday evening.
The prime minister started his meeting with chief ministers on the Covid-19 with a two-minute silence as a tribute to the 20 soldiers who were killed in action in Galwan Valley this week. As he spoke, it became clear that the message was aimed not just at reassuring the nation but also delivering a sharp message to Beijing.
"I would like to assure the nation that the sacrifice of our jawans will not be in vain. For us, the unity and sovereignty of the country is the most important," PM Modi said. Home minister Amit Shah and defence minister Rajnath Singh were also present in the meeting.
Twenty Indian soldiers were killed in the violent face-off which took place in Eastern Ladakh on Monday. The troops fought each other with fists and rocks. After the clash, the two sides "disengaged" from the area where the fighting happened, the Indian army statement said. News agency ANI quoting sources said four Indian soldiers are in critical condition after the face-off.
On the Chinese side, news agency ANI reported, there have been 43 casualties.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh mourned the death of 20 Indian soldiers. "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," he said in a statement.
"The Nation will never forget their bravery and sacrifice. My heart goes out to the families of the fallen soldiers. The nation stand shoulder to shoulder with them in this difficult hour. We are proud of the bravery and courage of India's bravehearts," the minister further said in the statement posted on Twitter.
These are the first Indian casualties in a border skirmish with PLA since October 1975 when Chinese troops ambushed an Indian patrol in Arunachal Pradesh's Tulung La sector and shot four soldiers dead.