A day after it became known that he had been awarded a commendation certificate by the Army chief, Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi, who has been at the centre of a row ever since he instructed his troops to tie a Kashmiri to a jeep bonnet as a shield against stone-pelters on April 9, said his action “saved many peoples’ lives” because “had I fired, there would have been casualties… there were women and children in the crowd”.
Speaking to reporters at Beerwah in Budgam district of J&K — it is rare for an officer engaged in counter-insurgency operations to appear before TV channels — Gogoi said about 1200 people had surrounded a small group of security personnel at a polling booth in Utligam village on April 9 and if he had ordered firing, there could have been casualties.
He said he had gone with a Quick Reaction Team to that polling booth after a “distress call” from an ITBP officer that ITBP personnel and some polling staff had been surrounded by a big crowd of about 1200. The crowd, which included women and children, was threatening to set ablaze the polling booth, he said.
He said a man who appeared to be “instigating” the stone-pelters and could have been “their ringleader” at Utligam. He said the idea of tying the man, who was identified as Farooq Ahmad Dar, to the jeep struck him suddenly as a means to evacuate the polling staff and the ITBP personnel.
He said after Dar was tied to the jeep, the stone-pelting stopped for some time, providing “a window” to them to leave that area safely. “This thing I have done only to save the local people. Had I fired, there would have been casualties… With this idea, I have saved many peoples’ lives,” he said.
On Dar, Gogoi said, “He tried to flee on a bike but somehow, despite intense stone pelting and getting hurt, we caught hold of him.” He said after catching Dar, the troops moved towards the polling station with the help of a mine-protected vehicle.
“Once we got inside, I rescued four civil polling staff, seven ITBP personnel and one J&K Police constable,” he said.
According to Gogoi, while they were leaving the polling station, their mine-protected vehicle got stuck in the mud. “On seeing us, the mob again resorted to stone-pelting. At that time, an announcement was made… The civilians had started gathering and they were more violent. They even threw a petrol bomb at us but somehow the petrol
bomb did not explode,” he said.
Gogoi said he ordered his men to somehow take out the vehicle from the mud, which they managed to do. “In the meantime, again I announced through my megaphone that give us a safe passage so that we can move out from the area but the crowd was not listening to us.”
“At that moment, suddenly the idea of tying him (Dar) to the vehicle came to my mind. As soon as I ordered my boys to tie him up on the vehicle, the stone-pelting stopped for a while and that was a fraction of the moment where I got a window to come out safely from that place and immediately I informed all my boys to get inside the vehicle and we moved out from that area,” he said.