Updated December 20th, 2023 at 12:22 IST

Tensions at LAC: How Ex-Army Chief Naravane's decisive leadership after Galwan crisis averted war

Gen’s memoir unveiled the tense night at India-China LAC, detailing the high-stakes decisions amidst escalating tensions, that averted a large scale conflict.

Former Army Chief General MM Naravane.
Former Army Chief General MM Naravane. | Image: PTI

Tensions at the Line of Actual Control: 'Jo ucchit samjho woh karo'

Did I really want to start a war?: As tensions between India and China escalated at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, a sequence of events unfolded on the night of August 31, 2020. In his memoir 'Four Stars of Destiny,' former Army Chief Gen MM Naravane chronicles his conversation with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, shedding light on the intensity of the situation and the weight of responsibility placed on military leadership following the confrontation between the troops of the People’s Liberation Army and India.

According to Naravane's recollection, Singh's instructions to him were explicit yet open-ended, “‘Jo ucchit samjho woh karo' (Do whatever you deem appropriate)." This order, as detailed in the memoir, made Naravane the one who had to make ‘the’ decisions all by himself. The gravity of the situation was tense amidst the backdrop of an escalating standoff between the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) and Indian forces at Rechin La mountain pass. Hence, as the former Army Chief had a lot of thoughts and feelings going on in his mind because of this.


Naravane contemplates war amidst pandemic woes and economic uncertainty

"I was in my den at Army House, with the map of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh on one wall, Eastern Command on another. They were unmarked maps, but as I looked at them, I could visualise the location of each and every unit and formation. We were ready in all respects, but did I really want to start a war?" writes Naravane, depicting the intensity of the moment.

Reflecting on the complexities at hand, Naravane thought of the broader implications beyond the immediate confrontation. "The country was in bad shape, reeling under the Covid pandemic. The economy was faltering, global supply chains had broken down." He struggled with questions about sustained military action amidst these challenging circumstances.


How Former Chief’s resolve averted 'the war'

Faced with the prospect of an escalation, Naravane opted for a cautious yet assertive stance. "We cannot be the first ones to fire," he stated, acknowledging the consequences of initiating hostilities. Instead, he instructed the positioning of Indian tanks at the forward slopes, creating a powerful deterrent that halted the advance of the PLA tanks.

Detailing the subsequent movements and reactions of both the Indian Army and the PLA, Naravane's account depicts the ‘high-stakes’ nature of the standoff. As tensions escalated and the situation was on the brink, Naravane navigated the delicate balance between maintaining a defensive posture and preventing further escalation. “This was no war game being played in a sand model room of the Army War College, but a life and death situation,” the former Chief said.



Naravane's strategic decisions secure temporary respite

The memoir further highlights the tense exchanges and the flurry of communications between military and political leadership as the night wore on. With the rapid developments on the ground and the imminent threat of conflict looming, Naravane sought clear directives and guidance from the top government officials.

At a critical juncture, a communication from the PLA Commander, Maj Gen Liu Lin, proposed a temporary halt in movements, suggesting a meeting between local commanders to defuse the situation. Naravane conveyed this development to Defence Minister Singh and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

However, the danger still persisted, with reports of PLA tanks resuming their advance mere metres away. Amidst the tense standoff, Northern Army Commander Lt Gen YK Joshi recommended the use of Indian artillery to halt the PLA's progression.

Naravane's narration in the memoir captures the intensity, the weight of responsibility, and the razor-thin margin between a peaceful resolution and an escalation into conflict. The careful manoeuvring and strategic decisions made that night averted an immediate confrontation, offering a glimpse into the intricacies and complexities of managing such high-stakes military standoffs.

As dawn approached, a temporary respite was secured with the proposal for a meeting between local commanders.


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