MUMBAI – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s highly anticipated public statement on Friday proclaiming that China has not intruded on any Indian territory would appear to bring the two Asian giants back from the brink of a possible confrontation.
The Indian leader’s televised address said that the nation was “hurt and angry” at China’s killing of 20 Indian soldiers in a Himalayan border area on June 15, an altercation that many feared could lead to a tit-for-tat military escalation in the contested mountainous border area.
Predictably, opposition leaders and retired military generals have accused Modi of being acquiescent to Beijing. Opposition stalwart Rahul Gandhi wrote in a tweet that Modi had “surrendered” Indian territory to “Chinese aggression” while demanding to know why and where the Indian soldiers were killed.
Those criticisms come against the backdrop of rising calls for India to boycott Chinese-made products and sever economic ties with Beijing in retaliation for the killings. Neither is apparently forthcoming judging by Modi’s somewhat conciliatory Friday address, which followed on a three-hour “all-party” meeting.
On Friday, local media reported that China had freed 10 Indian troops it had captured during the June 15 clash after several rounds of bilateral talks. China later denied it had detained any Indian troops.
Modi, twice elected on a nationalistic wave, now arguably faces the toughest challenge of his strongman rule. For a leader accustomed to riding roughshod over political opponents and ramming through controversial policies, China’s threat has nudged him towards political pragmatism.