On this day last year Indian and Chinese troops were engaged in a bloody melee in the desolate Galwan valley. The Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) formed death squads who were armed with rods, spears, spiked clubs along with an indigenous weapon called Guandao which resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers, including Colonel Santosh Babu [the Commanding Officer 16 Bihar]. The brutal hand-to-hand fighting led to an undisclosed number of casualties on the PLA side as well. This primitive combat set the stage for a near yearlong eyeball-to-eyeball standoff on India’s eastern front and led to some high-altitude mountain warfare operations by the uber secretive Tibetan origin guerilla outfit known as the Special Frontier Force (SFF), who delivered a debilitating blow against the PLA in the high Himalayas, sustaining its first casualties in the process.
The Indian Army witnessed its first anniversary of the Galwan valley clashes today and the army’s Fire and Fury Corps paid homage to the fallen soldiers in remembrance of their actions “in the face of unprecedented Chinese aggression.” Major General Akash Kaushik, Chief of Staff, Fire and Fury Corps, laid the wreath at the War Memorial in Leh earlier today. “The nation will remain eternally grateful to these gallant soldiers who fought in the most difficult high-altitude terrain and made the supreme sacrifice in the service of the nation,” an Indian Army official told Frontier India on the occasion.
Bihar Regiment Veteran’s Revisit Galwan Gallantry
Military historian Colonel Jaipal Singh (Retd), a veteran of 4 Bihar hailed the sacrifices made by the soldiers and officers of his regiment. He said, “The motto of the Bihar regiment is Karam hi Dharam. Col. Santosh Babu died performing his sacred duty in the line of duty. He developed a close rapport with the men that they followed him to the adversary’s camp unarmed. They haven’t laid down their life for nothing.” He went on to say “Being a Bihari Veteran and a Dogra of J&K by birth, I am immensely proud of the act of valour of my regimental officers and men whose gallant act will be etched in golden letters in military history. Col. Babu has earned the heartfelt acknowledgment of the nation posthumously for conspicuous gallantry which is a hallmark of military leadership.”
“It is remarkable and must be taken note that the killing of their CO did not dampen the morale of the few men who were accompanying him. On the contrary, the death of their Commanding Officer (CO) galvanized the Bihari’s to fight a numerically superior opponent empty-handed who possessed improvised death tools,” he iterated. The military author and analyst believes that Col. Babu’s leadership played a major role in inflicting casualties upon the PLA. “Leading from the front has been a significant leadership trait in the Indian Army since long past,” he explained. Following the brutal killing of their CO, the troops were reported to have fought like men possessed, “They fought despite all odds and lost 20 lives. After all paltan, izzat, and trust of the nation was at stake at that moment of time.”
“It is their bold and gallant action that endured our prime minister to tell, not only the opposition leaders so loudly on 19 June 2020, but to the entire world that the Chinese had not managed to claim any land,” added the veteran with a hint of regimental pride. The Indian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence too had lauded the efforts made by the troops who thwarted the Chinese aggression. A report tabled in the Lok Sabha read, “Indian Army is undoubtedly dedicated to preserve national interests, safeguard sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of the nation. In present testing times on both sides of the border, the Army has shown great valour in facing and thwarting the challenges.”
Splitting the Anatomy of the Galwan Bloodshed
Colonel Rajinder Singh Kushwaha (Retd), a former CO of 3 Bihar, military author, and regimental chronicler, had split the anatomy on how the incident played out during a conversation. Excerpts of which have been reproduced:
Col. Kushwaha explained that “On 6 June 2020, an agreement was reached between the Chinese and Indian commanders [Maj Gen. Liyu Lin Commander of South Xinjiang Theatre of China and Lieutenant General Harinder Singh of 14 Corps of India] to appropriately withdraw from present locations. India was to fall back 1.5 kilometers westward and China by 2.5 km eastward. The disengagement was to be completed by 15 June 2020.” He went on to explain, “Indian troops before pulling out wanted to ensure that Chinese too had pulled out. The Information available from various accounts had suggested that the Chinese were still stickling on therefore a patrol of 10 men under a Major from 4 Mahar/16 Bihar was sent to ascertain this fact. They found the tent and burnt it, as they were returning, they were surrounded and captured because the Chinese were fully armed.”
“As soon as CO 16 Bihar, Col Santosh Babu learned this, he rushed to the spot with 30 men to negotiate this. It is learned that the Chinese were on higher ground and the Indian patrol party was slowly climbing. We must know that at 15,000 feet, and so, movement is very sluggish and slow. One cannot rush and climb. One loses breath, also the track was so narrow that one could only move in a single file — one man behind the other. This is why the road to PP-14was constructed,” he further chronicled.
“As Col Santosh’s party was some 60-100 meters from Chinese tent, they shouted at him to come alone if he wanted to negotiate about the patrol. Col Santosh agreed and moved up with two men. It may be noted that the CO and his two men were unarmed, as is the norm in all such flag meetings. After reaching they had a heated exchange for four-five minutes, but the Chinese gave in and agreed to withdraw. As soon as the CO and his men turned, the Chinese attacked him with nailed clubs, and all three fell badly wounded. Seeing this rest of the CO party radioed it to the base and charged towards the Chinese. A hand-to-hand fight began. Indians had bayonets charged to rifles as an answer to Chinese nailed clubs and iron rods. It may be noted that Indians are well trained in close combat and bayonet fighting,” he said painting a picture of the events which took place last year.
Col. Kushwaha during a conversation with the Officer Commanding (Rear) 16 Bihar regiment, found out that Lieutenant Colonel Maninder Nagpal, the unit’s second-in-command, Captain Arjun Deshpande, who been an officer in the Indian army for just three years, and Capt. Manangma who at the time had been in the army for a mere two years have been described by those in the know as having ferociously led their troops to avenge the death of their CO. Another soldier of the Regiment of Artillery, Sepoy Surinder Singh, an Amritdhari Sikh is said to have killed 10 PLA soldiers with his sword before sustaining a head injury following which he was sent for treatment at Leh Hospital.
The actions of Indian troops in Galwan are said to have sent a poignant message to the PLA. One year on and after rounds of marathon military-to-military talks, the geopolitical situation between both nations is still contentious and is expected to be so for the time to come, with Indian troops deeply entrenched along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).