Major Gogoi or Army chief, every move in Kashmir is now a part of BJP's iron-fist approach
What explains the Indian Army's unprecedented alacrity in explaining, justifying and upholding its conduct in the “human-shield” incident?
After all, it is not every day that an officer addresses media, explains his conduct in an operation and asserts that his “idea” saved lives.
Equally rare is it for the Army chief to give interviews only to defend the conduct of one of his officers.
This reach-out should ideally be welcomed because it brings out the Army's perspective and stand on the incident very clearly.
The man at the centre of the storm, Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi, believes that his act of tying Farooq Ahmed Dar to a jeep “saved many people's lives”. His video testimony to the media shows him saying the “idea” of tying Dar to the vehicle struck him after a petrol bomb was hurled at his party.
Gogoi also says that all violence ceased after using Dar as a human-shield and has used that to justify his claim that his “idea” was indeed a life-saver.
Quite conveniently, Gogoi ends his statement, chants “Jai Hind” and gets up without taking any questions.
If he had continued, maybe someone would have asked him if Dar was used only to get out of that particular situation, why was he paraded on the jeep for hours and across many villages?
Court of inquiry a sham?
In the quagmire that Kashmir is, this is not the first time that an Army unit found itself in a life-threatening situation. This was also not the first time the Army took a step purportedly life-saving but deeply violative of human rights standards, at the same time.
Indeed, the Army has, in the past, been accused found guilty of far more sinister allegations, like rapes (Kunan-Poshpora) and fake encounters (Machil).
The latter is possibly the most significant one in the entire history of the claims of the Army's excesses.
Forced by a public outcry and a judicial notice, the Army first set up a court of inquiry and then initiated court martial proceedings against the six accused officers. The Northern Command eventually handed down a life sentence to all the six personnel, including a former commanding officer.
Once again, a court of inquiry has been ordered but, sadly, Army Chief Bipin Rawat appears to have pre-empted it by rewarding Major Gogoi and also saying publicly that there is “no reason for major action to be taken against him”.
Whose truth is it anyway?
Gogoi's media statement has absolutely necessitated a thorough probe, because there is a huge conflict between his and Dar's sides of the story.
Gogoi has called Dar a stone-pelter and a possible “ring leader” who was instigating the assembled crowd to violence.
Dar, on the other hand, has called that a lie, denying that he was pelting stones and asserting that he had voted in the by-poll just that morning.
However, there is little doubt left now as to whose version will the Army probe eventually accept. Can an army court of inquiry be expected to go against what the Chief of Army Staff has already concluded?
Not just that, getting an accused officer to address the media while a court of inquiry is still on would ordinarily be way out of place.
Also, Dar has reportedly said that it has been over a month since the incident and he is yet to be called by the army for his version of the events.
Doesn't that make the probe essentially a sham?
In his interview, General Rawat has made it absolutely clear what is the meaning of the entire episode of using Dar as a “human-shield” and rewarding Major Gogoi for it.
“The message,” he says, “is to the rank and file of the Army operating in a difficult environment in the Valley...Under the circumstances, he took the right call. To ensure the confidence level of the officer and others operating in similar environment, he was, therefore, conferred with the award.”
The Army chief has categorically stated that “the message is not for the people” and that he is concerned only with his “rank and file”.
Essentially giving Gogoi a clean chit, he has added that the court of inquiry “will come to its conclusion but what I have learnt is that he has not committed an offence that will necessitate disciplinary action”.
Shockingly, he has also asserted that even if Major Gogoi is found guilty, “no major action will be taken against him”.
To General Rawat's credit, he has also stated that this incident won't come under gallantry, admitting that it is difficult to defend the officer's action within the boundaries in which the Army is expected to operate. The idea, he explains clearly, is to “encourage” those officers who “operate in a similar environment”.
The officer's conduct, Army his media statement, the Army chief's reward and his assertions are all in sync with the policy decision that the Narendra Modi-government appears to have taken in dealing with the unrest in Kashmir.
This is an iron-fist approach with no room for any leniency, lest statesmanship be mistaken for political weakness. This will involve transgressions on many fronts but all of them will be defended and, if need be, repeated.