Nobody can “show an eye” to India and get away as the country is fully determined to protect every inch of its land, the defence minister said after paying glowing tributes to the Indian soldiers who inflicted heavy casualties on the Chinese military in the battle of Rezang La on November 18, 1962.
The defence minister also dedicated a revamped war memorial in the high-altitude region and said it is a tribute to the “bravehearts” and a symbol of India’s preparedness to protect its integrity.
“The renovation of the memorial is not only a tribute to our valiant armed forces but also a symbol of the fact that we are fully prepared to protect the integrity of the nation,” Singh said.
“This monument symbolises the government’s stand of giving a befitting reply to anyone who threatens our sovereignty and integrity. India is no longer a weak nation. It has become a powerful country,” he said in a brief address in presence of Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat and several other top military officials.
His comments came on a day India and China held another round of diplomatic talks on border affairs that focused on resolving the nearly 18-month-long border row along the Line of Actual.
Singh also said he will continue to visit Rezang La to pay homage to the fallen soldiers till he remains the defence minister.
The battle of Rezang La is largely considered as the finest moment for the Indian Army during the 1962 war with China as over 100 Indian soldiers pushed back a large number of Chinese troops, displaying raw courage and indomitable spirit.
The defence minister said India has never intended to occupy the land of any other country but it has given a befitting reply to anyone eyeing the country’s territory and that Indian soldiers are capable of protecting every inch of the nation.
Singh described the memorial as an example of the determination and indomitable courage displayed by the Indian Army that he said is not “only immortal in the pages of history, but also beats in our hearts”.
The defence minister said the “battle of Rezang La is considered one of the 10 greatest and most challenging military conflicts in the world.
“The historic battle of Rezang La, fought at an altitude of 18,000 feet, is difficult to imagine even today. Major Shaitan Singh and his fellow soldiers fought till ‘last bullet and last breath’ and wrote a new chapter of bravery and sacrifice,” he said.
“I am saluting the 114 Indian soldiers who made supreme sacrifices in the 1962 war after reaching Rezang La, located amidst the inaccessible hills of Ladakh,” Singh said.
The memorial was constructed in 1963 in the Chushul plains right at the India-China border to honour the troops of Charlie Company of 13 Kumaon Regiment, who were involved in the battle.
The decision to renovate the memorial was taken by Singh when he had visited Leh in June.
The renovated complex includes a double-storied museum, a mini-theatre to screen a special documentary on the battle, a large helipad and various other tourist amenities.
The Rezang La Memorial, located very close to the Pangong Lake in Ladakh, is set to become a major tourist attraction in the coming years, the defence ministry said.
The battle of Rezang La began at around 4 am on November 18, 1962, and lasted till around 10 pm during which the ‘C’ company of 13th battalion of the Kumaon Regiment led by Major Shaitan Singh not only stood their ground but inflicted heavy casualties on the Chinese despite being outnumbered by the adversary.
Major Singh was later posthumously conferred with Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest military decoration.
“It was a saga of unparalleled bravery as Major Shaitan Singh and 113 soldiers had made the supreme sacrifice, fighting one of the world’s rarest ‘last man, last bullet’ battles,” the defence ministry said.
Defence Minister Singh also met Brig (retd) R B Jatar who was part of the battle of Rezang La.
“I am overwhelmed by the feeling of respect for him and I salute his courage,” Singh said.
The revamped war memorial has been thrown open at a time India and China have been locked in a bitter border row in eastern Ladakh for nearly one and half years.
The Indian Army had occupied a number of mountain peaks in the Rezang La region in August last year following China’s aggressive posturing and failed attempt to intimidate Indian troops.
The eastern Ladakh border standoff between the Indian and Chinese militaries erupted on May 5 last year following a violent clash in the Pangong lake areas and both sides gradually enhanced their deployment by rushing in tens of thousands of soldiers as well as heavy weaponry.
The tension escalated following a deadly clash in Galwan Valley on June 15 last year.
As a result of a series of military and diplomatic talks, the two sides completed the disengagement process in the north and south banks of the Pangong lake in February and in the Gogra area in August.
Each side currently has around 50,000 to 60,000 troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the sensitive sector.