Major Nitin Gogoi faded from the limelight after the army and the Advocate General justified his action of taking Farooq Dar as a supposed ‘human shield’ to save lives of election officials and some policemen on 9 April.
By Syed Ata Hasnain
Major Nitin Gogoi faded from the limelight after the army and the Advocate General justified his action of taking Farooq Dar as a supposed ‘human shield’ to save lives of election officials and some policemen on 9 April. He has returned all guns blazing, with the army’s decision to allow the media to directly interact with him and also award him an army chief’s commendation.
Even as the incident allowed extreme ideologues of the right and the liberal camp to take aim at each other, the reality of sub-conventional hybrid conflict isn’t easily understood. The situation in Jammu and Kashmir has many grey areas, even if it seems black or white to most people. Let me explain.
In 2008, when the Amarnath Shrine Board land case triggered street turbulence no one had much idea how to handle it. In the initial days of the agitation the army imposed restrictions on movement of all its vehicles except as part of large convoys. But someone erred somewhere.
A small three vehicle convoy was stopped by a mob near Khunmoh. Just like Gogoi’s case, this was not a copy book situation. The mob looked menacing and was armed with missiles including petrol bombs. The havaldar had the choice to open fire, kill a couple of local citizens and bash his way through to the nearest army or police camp. Instead he left one vehicle to the mob, withdrew into the remaining two vehicles, turning them around and making haste to an army camp a kilometre away.
The vehicle, a large truck, was gleefully burned by the mob. My superiors were livid at the ignominy of an army vehicle being burnt and soldiers withdrawing in the face of threats. I refused, however, to order an inquiry or chide the havaldar.
For people who have lived these situations all their lives it is second nature to look for out of the box solutions, right or wrong. There is little room for procrastination. By his action the havaldar achieved minimum possible loss to the state and did not embarrass his superiors into defending possible killings. The issue was played down in the media but a stern message to the people of Khunmoh was passed through local police that a repetition would invite tough reprisals.
Armchair warriors are good people. But they know nothing about how such situations pan out into the most awkward threats at different levels. There are no neat, black and white solutions. If Major Gogoi is telling the truth – and i see no reason why a professional soldier will choose to lie – then all his actions fall in the zone of grey.
Like my havaldar he chose to prevent loss of life but by an ingenious method, which many senior veterans and highly educated people say amounts to gross violation of dignity and human rights of an Indian citizen. As an educated military leader with full awareness of the necessity of following the rules of engagement i will always work towards maximising human rights, but never at levels even close to absolute because that is practically never possible in a conflict zone.
This is because i know that i am mostly dealing with people who are not adversaries but acting on behalf of them. If they have chosen to take public order in their hands then they have abrogated certain rights too. Gogoi respected almost all those rights except the right to dignity of Farooq Dar, whose innocence or otherwise from stone throwing has yet to be established. In such situations there are no ideal solutions.
Was putting Gogoi in front of the media incorrect? What the army did not take into account was the unnecessary raking up of an issue that had receded. To announce an award when an individual is under investigation is not something which even i, an ardent army loyalist, find easy to defend.
Grey is the colour of decision making in hybrid conflicts. The security forces should know it, as should the political leadership and media. It will save everyone much embarrassment. For now, putting this affair behind it is the best option for the army.
Times of India, June 1, 2017