Modi warns of retaliation amid military buildup

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said ‘India knows how to maintain friendships, but it can also look someone in the eye and retaliate.’ (File/Reuters)
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Updated 29 June 2020

Modi warns of retaliation amid military buildup

  • New Delhi strengthens missile defense systems as tensions with China grow

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that India “knows how to retaliate” amid reports of a military buildup on its disputed border with China in the Himalayan region of Ladakh.

“India has given a befitting response to those who dared to eye her territory in Ladakh,” Modi said, referring to June 15 clashes that claimed the lives of 20 Indian soldiers at the Galwan Valley in Ladakh — the first such incident between Indian and Chinese troops in 45 years.

“India knows how to maintain friendships, but it can also look someone in the eye and retaliate and give an apt reply,” the prime minister said in his monthly radio address.

The comments come as reports suggest New Delhi has deployed the advanced quick-reaction surface-to-air missile defense system Akash to the border.

“As part of the ongoing buildup in the sector, the air defense systems of both Indian Army and the Indian Air Force have been deployed in the sector to prevent any misadventure by the Chinese fighter jets or the People’s Liberation Army choppers there,” a local news agency reported, quoting  government sources.

Manoj Kewalramani, of the Bangalore-based think tank Takshashila Institution, told Arab News it is clear that “there has been a change in the status quo from April, with the Chinese army establishing new positions in areas where it didn’t have them earlier.”

He added: “There has also clearly been a buildup on both sides despite talks continuing. It’s a tense situation, and it seems it will be protracted in nature,” he said.

According to political analyst Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli, of Jawahallal Nehru University, “the entire border from Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh to Ladakh is active now.” 

Tensions escalated in early May when Indian troops accused China’s military of hindering their patrols along the Ladakh and Sikkim border.

In return, Beijing blamed its southern neighbor for building road infrastructure in the Fingers region around the Pangong Tso Lake and Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh.

Violence broke out in the Galwan Valley on June 15 when both sides were supposedly negotiating de-escalation measures.

Three days later, Modi addressed the nation, saying “no one has intruded” into Indian territory.

He has since been accused of failing to tell the truth by the main opposition Congress Party and former army generals, who said that satellite images showed a Chinese buildup on the Indian side of the border. 

“The prime minister should address the nation and tell the truth that the Chinese have encroached on our land. Otherwise the Chinese will use his statement to their advantage,” Congress spokesperson Kapil Sibal said on Saturday.

However, according to Kondapalli, the government is unable to reveal strategic information.

“The previous Congress regime did not do that,” he said, adding that transgressions on the undefined border occur every day.

Border tensions have led to a campaign to boycott Chinese goods in India.

China has major investments in the Indian economy, accounting for $5.5 billion until last year. China’s exports to India amounted to $57.86 billion in 2019, compared with imports that stood at $16.32 billion. China’s smartphone companies also hold a 75 percent share of the Indian market. 

“The boycott campaign reflects public sentiment,” economist Amit Bhandari, of the Mumbai-based think tank Gateway House, told Arab News.

“Trade links with China have developed over the past 20 to 30 years, and what has been there for so many years cannot be undone in a few days or months. It would be massively disruptive,” he said.

“The purpose of the boycott is that you want to impose a disproportionate amount of financial damage to the other side. China is vulnerable in its investment in the technology sector.”

However, Manoj Kewalramani argues that instead of a “knee-jerk reaction,” what is needed is “a nuanced re-evaluation of the Sino-Indian economic relationship to reduce strategic vulnerabilities.” 

He added: “We are entering a new phase in the bilateral relationship that will require new rules of engagement.”

Religion, no bar: Muslim group cremates Hindus as virus fear grips Mumbai

Updated 15 min 4 sec ago

Religion, no bar: Muslim group cremates Hindus as virus fear grips Mumbai

  • Officials say a majority are under lockdown or afraid to perform last rites

NEW DELHI: Pratamesh Walavalker was always proud of living in a well-connected area with neighbors and relatives who look out for each other.

However, the resident of Dombivali East, nearly 70 kilometers from India’s financial capital Mumbai, experienced a harsh reality check on Thursday.

None of his neighbors or more than 100 relatives responded to his calls for help when his 57-year-old father died of coronavirus-related complications.

Help, he said, finally arrived in the form of Iqbal Mamdani and his group of Muslim volunteers, who took his father’s body to a cremation ground for his last rites.

“No one came to our help, not even my close neighbor. There is so much panic among people about COVID-19 that our own don’t come near us. The Muslim volunteers helped us in this hour of crisis,” Walavalker, 28, told Arab News.

That same night, 50-year-old Mamdani and his group of volunteers helped another family perform the last rites of an 80-year-old Hindu woman who had also fallen victim to the disease.

The group was formed in late March after a local civic body said: “All dead bodies of COVID-19 patients should be cremated at the nearest crematorium irrespective of religion.”

After reports of a Muslim man being cremated in the Malwani area of the city angered the community, several members met with the authorities and managed to revise the order.

Since then, Mamdani said members of Mumbai’s Bada Qabrastan — the largest cemetery in the city — have extended their services to other communities as well.

“We get calls from different hospitals and people, and they seek our help in taking bodies to their final resting place. We decided to help the victims at this hour of crisis when there was chaos and panic in the city with the number of coronavirus cases increasing every day,” he told Arab News.

So far, the group has buried 450 Muslim bodies and cremated over 250 Hindu bodies.

He said their efforts would have been impossible without the Jama Masjid Trust, which oversees the Bada Qabrastan.

“On our request, the government allowed us to bury the dead bodies in seven burial grounds in the city,” he said.

There was one problem, however.

“No one was willing to come forward to collect dead bodies from the hospital and bring them to the cemetery,” Mamdani said.

Through word of mouth, Mamdani said seven Muslim volunteers quickly offered to help out.

The first challenge the group faced was a lack of ambulances, due to a shortage in supply as a result of the pandemic.

At first, they tried renting a private ambulance, “but the owner would not rent their vehicles for carrying COVID-19 victims,” Mamdani said.

With no other option left, the group decided to pool their resources and buy abandoned ambulances.

Mamdani said: “We managed to get 10 such vehicles from different parts of the city. With the help of mechanics and other resources, within eight days we managed to roll out the ambulances on the road.”

When the volunteers began gathering Muslim bodies from the hospital, they realized that several Hindu bodies had been left unclaimed, as their relatives “were too scared to perform the last rites.”

Mamdani said another factor behind unclaimed Hindu bodies was quarantine. The lockdown forced relatives to stay indoors and avoid the cremation grounds.

Experts have praised the efforts of the group.

“The Muslim volunteers have been really great support. They started working at a time when there was total chaos and panic in Mumbai,” Dr. Sulbha Sadaphule of Cooper Hospital, Mumbai, told Arab News.

Of the 820,000 COVID-19 cases in India, 100,000 are in Mumbai, where around 5,500 people have lost their lives from the nationwide fatality count of around 22,500.

“The morgue was overflowing with bodies because of a lack of ambulances and staff. When hospital staff and health workers were short in numbers they were helping us and the people,” added Dr. Sadaphule.

Mamdani said they would not have done it any other way.

“India is a country of religious harmony and we believe there should be no discrimination on the basis of religion. With this motto we decided to perform the last rites on behalf of the Hindu families with the support of the police and relatives,” he said.