Three generals and a few officers have split open the Indian Army’s tale of intrigue and deception, crime and corruption. The recent affidavit by the Chief of Army Staff General Dalbir Singh Suhag accuses former Chief, General V K Singh now a minister in the Modi government, of trying to scuttle his promotion with a show cause notice.

 

The story revolves around a triple murder in Dimapur and a dacoity in Jorhat. The motives could be anything from crime to cover-up to even determining the line of succession at the top. But the pattern is eerily similar to the innumerable state-sponsored killings and extortion that the army has got itself involved in at least the country’s northeastern region where they get away under the immunity of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

 

The incidents go back to 2010. Newspaper reports record PhijamNaobi, a Manipuri boy who was allegedly picked up from Shillong and brought to Dimapur, the headquarters of 3 Corp of the Indian Army. He had flown to Guwahati from Imphal and went to Shillong by road. When his room was searched, there were tickets found of two women who had accompanied him. The women later disappeared. Either they were used to honey trap him, or maybe they were eliminated as well. Nobody yet knows. Two others were killed with him.

 

In a writ petition filed by Phijam’s brother in the Manipur High Court, it named Lt Gen Dalbir Suhag as a respondent in the alleged fake encounter. Gen Suhag was the then head of the Rangapahar based 3 Corp (he joined much later but the incident came to light when he took over). Amongst the other respondents and a lead character in this story was a Colonel then Officer Commanding 3 Corps Intelligence and Surveillance Unit (3 CISU) alleged to have carried out the operation in which three persons were killed.

 

The petition stated that three bodies “bore extensive torture marks all over including large nails being driven into their heads and deep burn holes in the bodies akin to those made by highly inflammable substances like blue flame torches or acetylene torches. This could not have been passed off as a case of mistaken identity as is pleaded by security personnel in cases of stray firing or encounters.” 

 

What finally gave them away was another questionable operation: the Jorhat robbery or what they said was a raid on the house of a Gogoi, who was a successful businessman and a surrendered ULFA militant. ULFA insiders allege that they would give this intelligence unit name of potential targets. The unit would go and extort, and if need be, eliminate. One fine day, they went to Gogoi’s house to pick him up. They wanted to pick him up and hand him over to ULFA and make money who would have in turn demanded a ransom. This is the kind of racket that is believed to be going on in the name of counterinsurgency operations. Abduct, extort and kill for the greed of money, promotions, citations and awards. Everyone knows about it, but too many are involved in the mess.

 

Gogoi, unfortunately for this army team, was not at home that night. To begin with, this unit—an intelligence unit—had no business carrying out a search and cordon operation. Secondly, this was not even the area under the jurisdiction of 3 Corp.

 

What we know for sure is this: The woman and her team entered with their faces masked and ransacked the house. They tied up Gogoi’s family and stole everything from laptop to money to pistol to a mobile phone. The woman leading it gave away a clue, as she revealed her face once, by which she was later identified.

 

As they came out of the house, they were accosted by a police patrol, but they revealed their identity and said they were carrying out area domination and looking for the ULFA leader Bijoy Chinese. The police left the team, and the case was almost closed. Not long afterwards, though, a call was traced from the stolen phone to a number in Haryana. The havildar was calling home from the stolen phone. He had changed the SIM card, but the phone could be traced through International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number. This was reported to the Superintendent of Police (SP) of Jorhat.

 

It was proven that the army carried out the theft and attempted abduction. The same Colonel got implicated; his call records showed that he was in touch with the Punjabi lady officer before and after the raid. They finally returned everything they stole from Gogoi’s home, except for the cash.

 

Gogoi approached the Guwahati High Court. The army promptly cited AFSPA, but the High Court ordered a court of inquiry that directed a court martial, which till today hasn’t happened. A summary trial was conducted, and the woman was let off with a ‘reprimand’, the brother was let off with ‘displeasure’, and the havildar was given six months imprisonment. The incident was brushed off as a mobile phone theft by a havildar.

 

What a tangled web of lies the army has got itself into, particularly in the conflict zones but this insidious tale raises fundamental questions about human rights and national security. The government should ensure that there is more transparency and above all justice. The armed forces cannot be above the law of the land, and it shouldn’t be allowed to be run by the whims of a few generals.

 

  Kishalay Bhattacharjee is a senior journalist and author. His most recent book is Blood on my Hands: Confessions of Staged Encounters (Harper Collins       2015).  The views expressed here are his own.