Dear Amarinder, you’re a civilian now. Would you like to be a human shield?
If it is absolutely necessary for Captain Amarinder Singh to speak his mind about the Beerwah incident in Kashmir, he should carefully watch the entire footage first.
More so, he shouldn't really be speaking out on the issue at all in the first place since the Army's court of inquiry is ongoing.
But if he still wants to jump the gun, Singh must refer to the video.
In it, a man in a pheran and jeans can be seen tied to the bonnet of a moving olive green jeep. A voice, on loudspeaker, declares that this is the fate that stone pelters will meet. The man on the jeep, later identified as Farooq Ahmad Dar, had reportedly gone to cast his vote in an assembly bypoll when the Army allegedly rounded him up, tied him to the jeep and paraded him for hours at a stretch across half a dozen villages.
Dar has been mistakenly projected as a “human shield” that the Army purportedly used, to protect its men from stone pelting.
Prima facie, this is far from being a “human-shield” incident. This is a case of using a human being to send out a message. It is akin to making an example out of a human, an innocent one at that. What else explains the loudspeaker announcement going on along with the moving caravan?
It is clear that the Punjab Chief Minister is making several assumptions about the incident. Most of those assumptions are misplaced.
First is the belief that the Army officer responsible for the incident, Major Nitin Gogoi, used Dar as a “human shield to protect his men from a stone-pelting mob”. As the accompanying announcement shows, the intention was not to use Dar as a mere “human-shield”.
Second, Singh says Major Gogoi was “simply reacting to a tough situation in a dangerous environment”.
The Army is familiar with the volatility of Kashmir and is expected to be prepared to face any eventuality at all times. Dar later told reporters that stone-pelting was not taking place in the area from where he was picked up by the Army. In any case, the intention to use him as an example proves that this was a premeditated action, not a reaction to a perceived threat.
Third, Singh assumes that this “timely” action by the Major “probably” saved the lives of many of his men. Note Singh's use of the word “probably”, thereby admitting it to be mere speculation. It’s not like the “men” Singh refers to were in the middle of a crossfire. This act had nothing to do with immediate danger.
Singh has deployed a classic tactic of creating an incorrect narrative and then forming his arguments based on the inaccuracy.
“Does an Army officer not deserve a reward for saving lives?” Singh asks.
Of course he does, but nothing of that sort happened in this incident. In fact, the Army officer actually endangered the life of Dar, whom Singh so dismissively refers to as, a 'civilian'.
Not just that, this conduct of the Army demeaned a private citizen, by illegally detaining him and allegedly beating him up.
Apart from the multiple illegalities involved, what message did this act send out? That the Indian Army, and by extension the Indian state, does not care for even an average Kashmiri who is one among the 2% of the people in the state who came out to vote.
The 98% who did not turn up at the polling booths were probably telling India that they did not have faith in its processes any more. A mere 2% decided to repose this faith and look at what the Army did.
Singh's arguments appear to be guided purely by a bias towards the Army and a disdain for those taking a critical look at its actions. Note how the former Army veteran identifies the officer by his name and rank in the very headline of his op-ed but does not bother to mention even the name of the man at the receiving end. He only refers to Dar as a “civilian”, as if it was an expression of contempt.
Singh's political calculation
Singh's pro-Army tirade fits in with the hyper-nationalist narrative that Narendra Modi-government is trying to propagate. By doing that, it flies in the face of what his party and most other parties in the opposition are saying – that the Modi government at the center and the Mehbooba Mufti-government in J&K have failed miserably in bringing peace to the Valley.
Indeed, the “muscular” approach that BJP has adopted towards the protests in Kashmir is not yielding any results and is aggravating the crisis in the state with every passing month. This approach intrinsically includes lauding the Army and standing by its side, no matter what it does. So, in speaking the same language as the BJP, is Singh trying to endear himself to the party?
He has been accused of practicing “competitive nationalism” earlier too. The allegations surfaced when he refused to meet the visiting Canadian defence minister in India, calling the latter a 'Khalistani sympathiser'.
However, his stand on matters concerning the Army is consistent. He is known to have spoken out against revocation of AFSPA from J&K, even if that meant, sometimes, going against the stand off his party.
However, Singh will do well to realise that being in politics and being a chief minister, he himself is a 'civilian' now. Soldiers do not have the luxury of critically assessing orders when they are serving. They must grab that opportunity when they retire and most certainly when they enter politics, to serve people and to serve peace. Singh can learn from Lt Gen H S Panag.