India wants peace but, when provoked, has the capability to respond appropriately, Prime Minister Modi declared in no uncertain terms on Wednesday. He added that integrity and sovereignty were at the top of India's interests.
"The sacrifices of our soldiers will not go in vain," he said before observing a two-minute silence, along with chief ministers of several states at a virtual meeting to discuss India's preparations and policy of fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
Modi was speaking for the first time since the Indian Army released a statement late on Tuesday night confirming the deaths of 20 soldiers in "violent" clashes with Chinese forces in Ladakh's Galwan valley. In his three-minute speech, Modi spoke about India's "integrity and sovereignty" three times.
"We have always tried to see to it that differences don't turn to disputes. We don't ever provoke anyone but we don't make any compromises on our country's integrity and sovereignty," he said. "Whenever time has come to defend the integrity and sovereignty of the nation, our forces have demonstrated and proved their capabilities."
Modi added that sacrifice and determination were part of India's character.
"But at the same time, valour and bravery are also as integral parts of our national identity. I want to assure the nation -- the sacrifices of our soldiers will not go in vain. For us integrity and sovereignty is topmost and nobody can stop us from protecting India's integrity and sovereignty."
As far as securing India's integrity was concerned, Modi said, "Nobody should not have any doubts or suspicions. India wants peace but on being provoked certainly has the capability to respond appropriately. Of our martyred soldiers, the country should be proud. They went down while fighting."
Modi has called for an all-party meeting on Friday to discuss the deteriorating situation at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and to plan a response to the death of at least 20 soldiers in the clashes after opposition leaders goaded him for his silence. Presidents of various political parties will participate in the meeting at 5pm on June 19 via videoconferencing.
Modi's statement came shortly after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh paid homage to the slain soldiers. “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 bravehearts,” he said.
Sources have told News18 that the political establishment has asked all the three forces "to be prepared for the worst". The Army, Navy and Air Force are on the highest level of alert and there is a forward movement of assets. The sources said a complete free hand to the local commander has been given. They have been told if there are hostilities, "give a befitting reply irrespective of what SOPs say".