Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has to realize that the world, and India, are going through major changes. Photo: AFP

MUMBAI – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been urged by his predecessor to watch his words on national security and sovereign territory after a clash with China resulted in the killing of 20 Indian troops.

“We cannot and will not be cowed down by threats and intimidation nor permit a compromise with our territorial integrity,” said Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India from 2004 to 2014, in reference to China’s killings.

“Our government’s decisions and actions will have serious bearings on how future generations perceive us,” he added.

Singh spoke out after Modi declared that China had not made any incursion into Indian territory during the June 15 altercation, which Beijing has said Delhi instigated.

At the same time, Modi told his armed forces to be prepared as the two sides remain pitted in a militarized standoff in a Himalayan mountain border area.

Modi has also said he will dispatch his defense minister to Moscow to discuss ways to “further deepen the India-Russia defense and strategic partnership”, in a not-too-subtle signal to Beijing that he may look to long-time ally Moscow for support.

Modi is caught between a rock and a hard place, with India’s Covid-19 infections rising to the fourth-highest in the world, the economy sliding and the country’s economic dependence on China in sharp relief.

After briefing an all-party meeting on June 19, Modi told the nation there had been no incursion or occupation of any Indian territory by China. However, his claims were questioned by former military generals, opposition parties and even his predecessor.

“China is brazenly and illegally seeking to claim parts of Indian territory such as the Galwan Valley and the Pangong Tso Lake by committing multiple incursions between April 2020 till date,” former premier Singh said in a statement.

“The prime minister must always be mindful of the implications of his words and declarations on our nation’s security as also strategic and territorial interests,’’ said Singh.

“We remind the government that disinformation is no substitute for diplomacy or decisive leadership. The truth cannot be suppressed by having pliant allies spout comforting but false statements.

“The prime minister cannot allow them to use his words as a vindication of their position,” he added. “We stand at historic crossroads. Our government’s decisions and actions will have serious bearings on how the future generations perceive us.”

While the opposition piles on Modi, Russia could emerge as a key player to help defuse tensions, leveraging its friendly relations with both India and China.

Defense Minister Rajnath Singh left for Moscow to attend the 75th Victory Day Parade on June 24. Foreign minister Subramaniam Jaishankar is scheduled to interact with his counterparts in a virtual meeting as part of the Russia-India-China (RIC) group meeting on June 23.

While no bilateral interaction is scheduled, experts expect some easing of tensions at the latter meeting. In a tweet before departing, Singh said the visit to Russia would give him an opportunity to hold talks on ways to further deepen the India-Russia defense and strategic partnership.

India has ordered 33 new combat aircraft, namely 12 Sukhoi and 21 MiG-29s, from Russia for urgent delivery. India’s May 2016 order of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France for May 2020 delivery was delayed because of the pandemic.

Singh is also likely to seek early delivery of ordered S-400 anti-missile anti-aircraft systems from Russia. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the S-400 is among the most advanced air defense systems in the world. 

India, which has already made most of the US$5.4 billion payment for the Russian-made system, could press for its early delivery, the Economic Times said on Monday. China was among the first to acquire it from Russia in 2014.

While Singh, who will be meeting his Russian counterpart, is not scheduled to meet China’s defense minister, talks are scheduled at other levels. Lieutenant Generals of India and China were scheduled to interact on Monday to reduce border tensions and seek ways to prevent more flare-ups.