Indian General: Chinese Military ‘Hooligans’ Acting ‘Prehistoric’

NEW DELHI, INDIA - JANUARY 12: Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane during the annual
Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Retired Indian General MM Naravane, who served as chief of army staff until last April, lobbed a torrent of insults at the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on Thursday over its latest invasion of India’s northern border, calling their methods “prehistoric” and accusing them of “hooliganism.”

India’s northern border, almost entirely shared with occupied Tibet, has become a hotspot of military hostilities between India and China since 2020, when PLA troops reportedly crossed into India’s Ladakh region bearing rocks, sticks, and clubs wrapped in barbed wire. That incident, in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley, reportedly resulted in about 20 dead Indian troops and 40 dead Chinese soldiers, though the Chinese Communist Party has admitted to only four deaths on that occasion to this day.

Several similar skirmishes have occurred in the following two years, most recently this weekend when Indian officials say Chinese troops illegally invaded eastern Arunachal Pradesh, again bearing rocks and sticks. Both the Chinese and Indian sides agreed this time that no deaths and only minor injuries occurred, but again both sides accused the other of illegally crossing the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the India-China border.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) published an alleged video of the battle this week, showing hundreds of men waving sticks at each other. Indian media outlets estimate that between 200 and 600 Chinese soldiers invaded the country.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has largely abstained from detailed discussion of the incident this weekend. In contrast, the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has gone on the offensive condemning China, facing increasingly loud condemnations from the opposition Indian National Congress party that Modi has not done enough to discourage Chinese border invasions.

The Galwan Valley clash featured only rudimentary weapons as the rules of engagement for both sides forbade border officers from wielding firearms. Those rules of engagement changed after 2020, but troops are still discouraged from firing at the opposing side.

Naravane’s remarks, made on Asian News International’s Podcast with Smita Prakash, add to a growing public outcry in India about China’s repeated violations of the country’s border.

“We would still like to maintain that we are a 21st-century Army. To start going back to clubs and barbed wires is going back to prehistoric times,” Naravane said, criticizing the PLA. “It is a very regressive way of going. We would still like to maintain that in warfare also there are certain rules. It is not that you do whatever you want to do.”

“We would still like to maintain a professional stance. Therefore, rather than resort to wielding clubs, we rather open fire,” the retired general suggested, according to the Times of India. “That is how an army fights by using the weapons at your disposal and not getting into fisticuffs. Are we hooligans or mafia? We are professional.”

“Is that the level PLA has gone down to? Hooliganism and streetfighting? Or they are a professional 21st-century army?” he continued. “On one side they try to show their technological prowess, on the other side they are coming with barbed wire clubs. It is ridiculous.”

Naravane, who was still in active service in 2020, admitted that, during the Galwan Valley battle, Indian troops also refused to use firearms.

“Since we felt that we had the measure of the PLA troops over there, we also countered them in the same way that they were taking action against us which was basically by the use of non-lethal, that is not actually firing, although casualties did occur. They were carrying sticks and we were also carrying sticks,” he said.

India’s victory in that battle, he continued, hurt “not only the PLA itself – it diminished the stature of China as a country in the global eyes. After this clash, we showed that it is possible to stand up to China who tries to bully its smaller neighbors.”

Naravane went on to say that the threat from China against India’s national security was “increasing” compared to the western border, presumably meaning the threat of India’s top geopolitical rival Pakistan.

“We felt the threat from our northern borders is increasing vis-a-vis that is of the western border. Therefore, we need to rebalance some forces,” he explained. “We have always had plans in place where some troops could go from the western front to the eastern front or vice versa.”

The general said that the Indian military had decided to move more troops to the northern border in response to China.

Naravane served in the Indian armed forces for 42 years, ultimately as chief of army staff and acting chairman of the chiefs of staff. He served as chief of army staff during the Galwan Valley battle.

This weekend’s brawl against Chinese troops at the border has become an explosive issue in Indian politics, partially contributing to the Parliament’s paralysis on Wednesday. The leaders of the Congress and several other opposition parties ultimately walked out in protest of both the lack of discussion of gasoline price increases and other social issues. The president of Congress, Mallikarjun Kharge, complained that the ruling party leaders had silenced conversations on border security.

Online, the Indian National Congress quoted the Chinese state propaganda outlet Global Times apparently expressing concern about potential political losses for Modi, asking, “what is your relationship with China?”

Modi has not at press time offered any specific remarks regarding China, though many of his senior officials have. Indian Home Minister Amit Shah asserted this week that India would not give China “a single inch of its land.”

Speaking to the Parliament, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh applauded the Indian military for ending the dispute in a “firm and resolute manner.”

“The ensuing face-off led to a physical scuffle in which the Indian Army bravely prevented the PLA from transgressing into our territory and compelled them to return to their posts,” Singh said, according to the Times of India. “The scuffle led to injuries to a few personnel on both sides. There are no fatalities or serious casualties on our side.”

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