Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi, who is alleged to have ordered a Kashmiri man to be tied to a jeep bonnet on April 9 to deter stone-pelters from targeting his troops and election staff, has been awarded a commendation certificate by Army chief General Bipin Rawat, military sources in New Delhi said. The award, a senior officer said, was given “for sustained efforts on counter-insurgency”.
Confirmation of the award to the officer came hours after BJP MP and actor Paresh Rawal tweeted that author Arundhati Roy should be tied to an Army jeep instead of a stone-pelter, a reference to the Kashmir incident.
“Instead of tying stone pelter on the army jeep tie Arundhati Roy!” Rawal tweeted, taking a swipe at the author while ostensibly reacting to reports by Pakistani websites which claimed she had made remarks against the Indian Army on a recent visit to Srinagar — sources said she has not been there in many years.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Rawal said: “I know it is harsh. I meant it to be harsh. That’s why I got the desired effect — it has called the attention of the nation to what she (Roy) has been saying and a debate will start now.”
Sources, meanwhile, said the decision to award the Chief of Army’s Staff Commendation Card to Major Gogoi was made after a court of inquiry hearing his case exonerated him, saying his actions were justified by circumstances. The findings of the court of inquiry are expected to be made public in days, sources said, but the documents and testimony used to arrive at the conclusions were unlikely to be released.
A separate criminal investigation by the J&K Police remains ongoing, though the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act bars it from prosecuting military personnel without the consent of the Union Government.
“The officer deserves it,” Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said in a tweet, welcoming the decision to give Major Gogoi the commendation, a point he had made in a piece in The Indian Express last week.
According to the Army’s website, the Chief of Army Staff’s Commendation Card is given for “individual acts of gallantry or distinguished service or devotion to duty performed either in operation or non-operational areas which are not of a sufficiently high order to qualify for a higher gallantry award or for which the higher award is inappropriate”. It states that the card is given for “a specific act of bravery or distinguished service or special service”.
However, Army sources declined to comment on the specific act for which Major Gogoi was being given his commendation.
Though Major Gogoi has had the support of much of the Army’s mid-level officers, as well as a large swathe of retired personnel, the Army’s decision has disturbed some retired personnel, who say it may set a bad precedent.
Key to their concerns are worries that young officers may read the commendation as a go-ahead to resort to disproportionate force, or violate counter-insurgency protocols designed to avoid inflaming crisis situations.
“Even if one accepts the argument that Major Gogoi was faced with an extraordinary situation,” former Northern Army commander Lt General H S Panag told The Indian Express, “the fact is that there are protocols in place to handle it. Hostage-taking and human shields are not among them. What can I say — the Army must have taken this into account.”
Meanwhile, the BJP distanced itself from its MP’s remark on Roy. Union Minister Smriti Irani, reacting to Rawal’s tweet, said: “Nowhere will we, in any way, support any violent message by anybody, against any individual of the country.”
Irani, who was addressing a party press conference, however, added that she had not seen his tweet and any answer she has given will not be fully “correct and knowledgeable”.
Attacking Roy, Rawal said: “She is an armchair critic. She sits in AC rooms and writes against the Army. If she has the freedom of expression, why can I not have the freedom to express what I want to say?”
“When she is condemning the Army, demoralising Army and criticising the Kashmir policy, she is humiliating the country. Well, you can criticise the Prime Minister, the ruling party and the government. But when it is on the Army, she should understand that it is not alone. The entire country is behind the Army.”
“No one is going to tie Arundhati Roy to the jeep. Army is not going to punish her. But with my tweet, I got the desired result,” he said.
His tweet drew condemnation from many users on the social media platform with some accusing him of inciting violence.
Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh hit out at the BJP, asking, “Why not (tie) the person who stitched PDP-BJP alliance?”