The report in short:
Col. Harvinder Singh Kohli is ordered by his superiors to bump off the five militants his men had taken into custody in an encounter. He chose to hand them (of the Assam Commando Group) over to the civil authorities. This was not on:
Kohli's bosses would not relent: his immediate superior, a brigadier, told him that "kills" in encounters were important and this is what mattered. If he could not kill anyone, then at least a "fake" encounter should be staged. An NDA cadet and brought up under the culture of obedience, Kohli made, what it seems now, the mistake of his life.
He dressed up five men and made them lie down on the ground. They were sprayed with ketchup and pictures were taken of them. The bosses were happy, so was Kohli. He did not have to kill anybody and his superiors were contented with pictures of the purported kill. Now the bosses, in order to keep the name of the regiment high, cajoled Kohli to recommend gallantry awards for his men (not for himself).
Before we go any further in this bizarre tale, we must understand the dynamics here. Kohli was being obedient. It just shows how these hierarchies work. More importantly, if militants are usually released to the civil authorities, then he was doing his duty. I fail to see the sympathy evinced about his innocence. Is he innocent of handing over the militants, which is what the government expects? Is he innocent of not being the person who wanted to carry out the fake encounter? If it was fake and no one was killed, then he is innocent.
The real issue is not of innocence but of culpability and connivance with the authorities under the garb of obedience and this army discipline we keep hearing about. Someone squealed about the ketchup. It was probably taken from the army rations and there wasn’t enough left for the burgers. Kohli was court-martialled and then dismissed.
The obedient Kohli did not reveal the name of the brigadier. There was more drama. A lieutenant colonel who assisted him told him if he pleaded guilty he would be let off with loss of two-year seniority. He confessed, but the other side did not keep their end of the bargain and he was dismissed.
Actually Kohli was fooled: he was given to understand that there was plea-bargaining, but on the records of the court-martial proceedings there was no mention of this.
There would not be. A Force that wants ‘kills’, that watches as a colonel sprays ketchup and pictures of live corpses are taken is unlikely to put all this on record.
Feeling cheated, he finally named names. The Brigadier S S Rao had ordered the fake encounter with the knowledge of his boss Major General Ravinder Singh, general officer commanding, 57 Mountain Division. Colonel Kohli presented taped conversations he had with the brigadier as evidence.
I am flummoxed. If kills are so important then why did the brigadier not get a junior officer to just shoot some guys? It is not unusual and has happened several times. Are we talking about the sensitive face of the Indian Army? The nice guys who are happy with the colour red but not a bloody mess? Who will twirl moustaches and present the image of braggadocio?
Did the incident create such a deep bond between Kohli and his senior that he could tape conversations? Was the brigadier so naïve that he would repeat his dramatic little outing and put his reputation at risk before a junior? Why was Kohli taping the conversations? Was it before his court-martial or after? If it was before, he was canny enough to anticipate trouble. If it was after, then the brigadier must be tried for foolhardiness rather than anything else.
Of course, after the investigations he had to forfeit five years of seniority and a reprimand. The major suffered a similar fate. Kohli was not reinstated. The matter reached the Army headquarters and the Defence Ministry after years, which is surprising. It has been proved that he acted on orders of his superiors and has “no personal interest in the matter”.
An army colonel ought to have a great deal of personal interest, in that it is his professional duty to arrest militants, not stage fake encounters and, if forced to do so, report to the authorities.
Unfortunately, the army is a ghettoised institution with regiments working in isolation and the pecking order deciding what came first and who comes last. The fact that there is plea bargaining in an institution that is the defence front of the state exposes it to all manner of falsification and skulduggery.