A day after it became known that he had been awarded a commendation certificate by the Army chief, Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi, who on April 9 instructed his troops to tie a Kashmiri to a jeep bonnet as a ‘human shield’ against stone-pelters, 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 “around 1200 people had surrounded” security personnel and polling staff at a polling booth in Utligam on April 9 morning and were “trying to burn down the polling station by hurling petrol bombs”.
He said he went there with a Quick Reaction Team after a “distress call” from an ITBP officer. “…They were hurling stones, boulders from the rooftops… I made repeated announcements on a megaphone that were here to just rescue the polling staff and ITBP personnel stuck in the polling station. The crowd was not listening.” “I saw a person, a short person, standing at distance of 30 metres… I immediately told my QRT boys to catch hold of him. We ran towards the stone-pelter who we found later was the person who was instigating them… might be the ringleader. On seeing us, he started running… he got on a bike and tried to flee… despite intense stone-pelting and getting hurt, we caught hold of him. His name was Mr Farooq Ahmad Dar,” Gogoi said.
He said “I rescued four civil polling staff, seven ITBP personnel and one J&K Police constable” from the polling station. “We started moving towards the road. In the meantime, the mine-protected vehicle got stuck in mud. Stone-pelting started again and an announcement was made at a mosque and civilians began gathering. They were more violent. They threw a petrol bomb at us but somehow the petrol bomb did not blast… I announced again on the megaphone to give us safe passage… the crowd was not listening.”
He said “suddenly, in my mind, the idea of tying him (Dar) to the vehicle came… I ordered my boys to tie him to the vehicle. Seeing this, the stone-pelting stopped for a while. At that fraction of moment, I got a window to come out safely from that place. I told my boys to get inside the vehicles and move out of the area.”