Back army 100%, says Rohatgi

The government's top law officer, attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi, has justified the use of a human shield by an army unit to move through central Kashmir last week, putting a question mark over the fate of the probe the force says it is conducting.

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 18.04.17
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New Delhi, April 17: The government's top law officer, attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi, has justified the use of a human shield by an army unit to move through central Kashmir last week, putting a question mark over the fate of the probe the force says it is conducting.

Rohatgi's defence of the army action came during an interview with CNN-News18 where he claimed there was "nothing wrong" in the decision, given the circumstances in the Valley.

"It was one of those spur-of-the-moment decisions.... If an army major got away without hurting anybody, it's a great job.... There was nothing wrong, considering the circumstances. If it has to be done again, it should be done again. We are 100 per cent backing the army and the major, " he said.

Video footage showed the man - identified as Farooq Ahmad Dar, a 26-year-old embroidery artist - strapped to the front of an army jeep, a tactic apparently devised to deter stone-throwers who had clashed with security forces on April 9 when polling was held for the Srinagar Lok Sabha by-election. The army had said it was probing the incident.

While Rohatgi was on the front foot in his defence of the major, former generals of the Indian Army were clearly divided. The most vocal was Lt Gen. (retd) H.S. Panag, a highly decorated officer who did not mince words in calling out the strategy to use a human shield in a conflict zone he is all too familiar with.

Panag, who has served as general officer commanding-in-chief of the Northern Command, spoke out a day after the video went viral and has since been at the receiving end of keyboard warriors, including some prominent ones like singer Abhijeet and filmmaker Ashoke Pandit.

"Image of a 'stone pelter' tied in front of a jeep as a 'human shield', will 4 ever haunt the Indian Army & the nation!," Panag tweeted on Saturday morning and then had to spend his entire weekend in a pitched battle of words and wits with trolls who heaped invectives.

He was called "Pak supporter", people wished him to be "kicked, beaten and humiliated on the streets of Kashmir", and was accused of being even "stupider than Gurmehar" (a slain army officer's daughter who had spoken up for students' right to protest).

That the retired general is also AAP activist Gul Panag's father was an added sin as he got called "AAPtard-turned-Paki-puppet".

Panag found his fair share of support also as another retired general of equal rank, K.J. Singh, stepped in to speak up for him though he had a different view on the use of human shields.

"I fully endorse Gen Panag as an upright & professional General. Pls respect his experience, commitment & above all right 2 an opinion," Singh tweeted.

On the use of a human shield, Singh - a former Western Army Commander - had said on Twitter earlier: "Junior offrs in CI entitled 2 innovations & omissions. Understand their challenges. Even if omission, minor corrective culd do at Cdr level."

Former army general Bikram Singh chose to see it as an aberration and was confident that measures would be instituted to ensure such things did not happen as this was against the norms of a democratic country.

Contrary to the kind of sweeping endorsement the move got from Rohatgi, the retired chief said in a TV interview: "I do not encourage youngsters to do it. Here is one aberration. It will be taken care of. Our rules of engagement don't permit this. Therefore, I feel, there is a deviation from SOP (standard operating procedure)."

In Kashmir, the Mehbooba Mufti government has formally begun investigations into the April 9 incident that has triggered outrage across the country.

Deputy inspector-general, central Kashmir, Ghulam Hassan Bhat said the police had registered an FIR against 53 Rashtriya Rifles. "A deputy superintendent of police will head the investigation," Bhat told The Telegraph.

"We shall ensure that investigations are taken to logical conclusion so that action is taken," chief minister Mehbooba Mufti wrote on her Facebook page.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT IN SRINAGAR