China will withdraw from Indian territory only if “INDIA” advances, the Opposition combine has asserted on the eve of its third meeting, trying to corner Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the subject of territorial integrity and thereby challenge his claim to robust leadership.
“Jaise jaise INDIA aage badhega, waise waise China peechhe hatega (As the Opposition combine INDIA advances, China will start stepping back),” Sanjay Raut of Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena told a news conference in Mumbai, venue of Thursday’s Opposition conclave.
Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole repeated the message, saying: “China will withdraw only if INDIA advances.”
The BJP on Wednesday released a poster that portrays Modi as “Terminator” and asserts he will return to power in 2024. The initiative is an undisguised attempt to reaffirm Modi’s image as a strong leader, an image the Opposition alliance is looking to contest by invoking the Chinese intrusion and the Prime Minister’s silence and inaction on it.
Rahul Gandhi rubbed the message in: “Jo Pradhan Mantri nein kaha hai ki Ladakh mein ek inch zameen nahin gai hai, ye saraasar jhooth hai. Pura Ladakh jaanta hai ki China nein hamari zameen hadap lee hai. Yeh map ki baat toh badi gambheer hai, magar inhone zameen toh ley lee. Uske baare mein bhi Pradhan Mantri ko kuchh kehna chahiye.”
(“What the Prime Minister said, that not even an inch of land has been lost in Ladakh, is an outright lie. The whole of Ladakh knows that China has grabbed our land. The matter of the map is very serious, but they have already taken our land. The Prime Minister must speak on this.”)
The “matter of the map” was a reference to the “standard map” China recently released showing Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin as part of its territory.
Rahul has been publicly expressing concern about the Chinese intrusions in Ladakh ever since the transgressions were reported in mid-2020. He recently returned from Ladakh after interacting with local people, activists, paramilitary troops and army jawans.
If the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) succeeds in raising the Chinese intrusions forcefully, it can deepen the government’s unease at a time it is set to host the G20 summit, which Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to attend.
China’s release of the map reflects its provocative intent, and any failure on Modi’s part to respond forcefully would be ammunition in the Opposition’s hands.
Responding to external affairs minister S. Jaishankar’s mild statement that the Chinese claim was absurd, RJD leader Manoj Jha tweeted: “But the rebuttal should be strong enough so that the message reaches without any ambiguity. Trial balloon diplomacy cannot help our cause particularly with respect to China.”
While China continues to expose Modi’s vulnerability, the government’s decision on Tuesday to reduce the price of LPG cylinders by Rs 200 is being viewed as another indication of the Prime Minister’s nervousness in the run-up to next year’s general election.
Full-page advertisements in newspapers explained the gesture as Modi’s gift to women on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan, but Uddhav Thackeray rebutted the claim.
“Did Raksha Bandhan not happen in the last nine years? The public understands everything. Nothing can save them (the BJP) now,” he said.
“Do some good work, don’t mislead the people. You (Modi) talk about development. Even the British did development. But azadi (freedom) is more precious than development,” Uddhav added.
“Our fight is to save the country from tanashahi (dictatorship). INDIA parties have different ideologies but it is not about politics, it is about the country.”
Asked who would lead the alliance, Uddhav said: “We have many choices. What does the BJP have? The country has seen through Modi. He tried his best in Karnataka, going to the extent of invoking Bajrangbali, but the people rejected him.”
NCP veteran Sharad Pawar said the Mumbai conclave would be attended by 28 parties — two more than the count at the previous meeting in Bangalore.
He said that INDIA had generated enormous curiosity and popular interest and had the potential to emerge as an alternative to Modi.
Asked about the possible induction of parties such as Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM and the Akali Dal, Pawar said: “These decisions will be taken after discussions with the existing allies. Nothing will be done to create complications.”