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Government mustn’t abandon the soldier

Harsha Kakar |

Recent reports say that over 350 officers and men of the army, have approached the Supreme Court jointly to challenge the way one of its benches has begun pressurising the CBI to speed up its investigation of the alleged Manipur extra-judicial encounters filed by the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association.

The court had summoned the CBI director and given him a specific time-frame to act. Subsequently, a charge sheet has been filed against a serving army officer.

There have been cases of army personnel approaching courts in individual capacities on personal issues, whether they be against court martial verdicts or promotion cases, but not as a body.

The most recent case was filed by Col Karamveer in support of his son, Major Aditya, against whom Mehbooba Mufti had ordered the lodging of a FIR in the Shopian incident where three youth, pelting stones against an army convoy, had died in retaliatory firing.

This hearing is still in progress, with the discussion moving towards the legality of filing a FIR without seeking the consent of the centre. In Aditya’s case, the Central government stated that the state cannot lodge a FIR against army personnel under section 7 of J and K AFSPA, without prior sanction. The state government is contending that it can.

Thus, it would seem that while one bench of the court discusses if a FIR can be filed without Central government permission, another bench orders the filing of charge sheets, without prior sanction.

In another judgement, in a case pertaining to a civil servant, the J and K high Court stated on 5 August, that government sanction for the prosecution of a civil servant is a must. The bureaucracy and armed forces are protected by similar laws. Apart from the common statute, armed forces personnel are also protected by AFSPA in specific regions.

The present petition filed by the officers and men states that the court’s action is ‘resulting in an indirect influence to investigating agencies’. Those who have filed the case had served in Manipur during the peak of insurgency. These personnel had been sent as part of the army’s deployment, on orders of the government to subdue the rising insurgency in Manipur.

Since the case presently in the courts challenges government directives passed to the army, including implementing AFSPA to bring insurgency under control, the government should have been involved in challenging the directions of the court.

After all the court has questioned the power of the legislative. The government inducted the army, gave it requisite powers as also the end state which must be achieved, which was to terminate the insurgency, establish control of the state and restore normalcy.

The government now dumping those whom the army deployed to fulfil its task is a sad reflection on its attitude. When the Central government challenged the FIR against Major Aditya, claiming sanction of the Centre had not been taken, why is it silent at this moment? Army HQs cannot directly challenge court orders in support of its personnel without government sanction, which possibly is not forthcoming.

Manoj Joshi writing on the case stated in a contemporary newspaper last week that for this court action the army is to be blamed for multiple reasons, including not acting against those guilty. The army has punished many to whom the courts have subsequently given relief.

The court ignored internal investigations conducted by the army on each human rights and fake encounter case by directing the CBI to do its own, thus indicating that it does not trust the army. This is a sad reflection on the most trusted and dependable institution in the country.

Joshi also claims that the army personnel have begun to feel victimized. It is not the army alone; any service which is not provided its dues, either in terms of equipment, recognition, rights and respect, would feel the same.

The army more so, since it is always at the forefront, handling crisis after crisis, often caused by government apathy or failings. If those who acted in good faith and in national interest face the court’s fury, while the government remains silent, then they are justified in feeling victimized.

Joshi also blames poor civil-military relations for this impasse. The MoD comprising only civilians without basic military knowledge makes it the only such organization in the developing and developed world.

It results in the army being controlled by the bureaucracy, not political leadership, as is the constitutional mandate. Fears of a coup have compelled the government to maintain status quo. Thus, the atmosphere itself leads to distrust which can only be removed by the political leadership, if it so desires.

Joshi claims the most successful counterinsurgency campaign in history was of the British in North Ireland. He may have forgotten the ‘Black Sunday’ incident in Derry on 30 January 1972, where 28 innocent civilians were targeted during a peaceful protest march by the elite British para-commandos.

David Cameron apologized for it in 2011. Any insurgency which concludes is a success, while those that continue are failures. India too has had its share of successes, Mizoram and Punjab being examples, with Nagaland likely to join this list soon.

Ignoring the present court case, without challenging it, would impact the nation in multiple ways in the future. It would weaken national security as the provisions under which the army operates in difficult conditions, AFSPA, is eroded for eternity. Such an action by the court would automatically impose caution and restrict the pace of operations being undertaken.

The government cannot be a bystander when those whom it ordered to restore normalcy are being treated as murderers ignoring the very provisions under which they were tasked to operate. The approach to the court by serving and veterans is not a good sign.

It is an indication of an increasing level of distrust between army personnel and the government. It also reflects poorly on the attitude of the government towards the soldier. It is time the government acts.

The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.