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Regular-article-logo Sunday, 26 May 2024
Centre bid to create leverage in China talks

Ram Madhav attends SFF soldier's funeral, tweets, later deletes

The government has virtually 'outed' the secretive force raised by India by allowing a lot of visibility to the cremation

Anita Joshua, Muzaffar Raina Srinagar, New Delhi Published 08.09.20, 01:52 AM
BJP leader Ram Madhav (in Nehru jacket) and party MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal at the funeral of Special Frontier Force soldier Nyima Tenzin in Leh, Ladakh, on Monday.

BJP leader Ram Madhav (in Nehru jacket) and party MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal at the funeral of Special Frontier Force soldier Nyima Tenzin in Leh, Ladakh, on Monday. PTI

Nyima Tenzin, a Tibetan soldier from a secretive force raised by India, was on Monday given a funeral with full military honours, wrapped in the Tibetan flag and the Tricolour, in Ladakh.

In attendance was BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav, who tweeted a message with four pictures before deleting it within hours and without explanation.

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Company Leader Tenzin, 51, was part of the Special Frontier Force (SFF). He was killed on the night of August 29-30 in eastern Ladakh when he stepped on a 1962-vintage landmine near the southern bank of the Pangong Tso.

The Chinese army’s Western Theater Command late on Monday issued a statement accusing Indian troops of crossing the Line of Actual Control on the south bank of Pangong Lake and firing warning shots, reports our special correspondent in New Delhi. “Chinese border defence troops were forced to take counter measures to stabilise the situation,” the Global Times, the mouthpiece of the communist party of China, tweeted. The Indian Army had not reacted till late on Monday.

The public nature of the event and the presence of Madhav, not to mention the tweet and its deletion, suggested that the Narendra Modi government was trying to play the Tibet card to create some leverage in talks with China at a time tensions had escalated on the frontier.

The government has virtually “outed” the SFF, hitherto kept under wraps, by allowing a lot of visibility to the funeral without taking ownership of what is being seen as “deliberate stagecraft”.

The SFF was raised in 1962 with Tibetan refugees for covert operations behind Chinese lines. This was the first time a soldier of the special force was given such a public funeral although there was no official word. Earlier, SFF men killed in operations were given a quiet funeral away from the public eye.

On Monday, as soldiers in SFF uniform gave the last salute, chants of “Bharat Mata ki jai” and “Tibet Desh ki jai” rent the air along with slogans of the Vikas Regiment, as the six battalions of the 5,000-strong force is known.

Video clips of the funeral — including the movement of the cortege through Leh — were widely circulated, revealing the official sanction.

Madhav’s tweet included four photographs of the crowds that had gathered for the funeral. It said: “Attended d (the) funeral of SFF Coy Ldr Nyima Tenzin, a Tibetan who laid down his life protecting our borders in Ladakh, and laid a wreath as a tribute. Let d sacrifices of such valiant soldiers bring peace along d Indo-Tibetan border. That will be d real tribute to all martyrs.”

No explanation for the tweet’s deletion had been offered till Monday night. Madhav was in Ladakh on a two-day visit ahead of elections to the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council. Residents saw in his presence at the funeral a gesture aimed at pleasing the 20,000-strong Tibetan population in Leh district.

Neither was there any response from the external affairs ministry on whether the publicity for the funeral was a signal to the Chinese. The defence ministry and the army, too, remained silent.

The SFF is part of the RAW (the external intelligence agency) set-up but when it is deployed with the army, it is under the military’s operational control. However, the army prefers to keep the relationship under wraps.

Swaran Singh, a professor with JNU’s Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament, said: “Our increasing willingness to advertise their (SFF) contributions seems part of giving greater visibility to Tibetans in India, (it) being our leverage vis-a-vis the Chinese.”

Singh said neither side could afford a military solution and that the diplomatic channels would have to painstakingly find a new equilibrium.

“The limited focus on maintaining peace and tranquillity in the border regions that began in 1988 evolved methods and mannerisms that have lost their efficacy and new ones need to be evolved,” he said.

Christopher Clary, non-resident fellow at the Washington-based Stimson Centre’s South Asia programme, posted a tweet in reaction to some of the visuals of the funeral: “There is an element of deliberate stagecraft when you produce a very elaborate production for a soldier that reportedly died in a landmine accident. This is not to minimise the risks Indian soldiers face, but such risks are everyday occurrences. This is not.”

In Beijing, asked for an update on five missing Indian youths from Arunachal Pradesh, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian reiterated Beijing’s position.

“China’s position on the east sector of the China-India boundary, or Zangnan (the southern part of China’s Xizang), is consistent and clear. The Chinese government has never recognised the so-called ‘Arunachal Pradesh’. I am not aware of the situation you mentioned.”

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