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Moral Turpitude of a Different Kind

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch (Retd)

Moral turpitude is defined as an act or behaviour that gravely violates the sentiment or accepted standard of community, or a quality of dishonesty, or other immorality, examples being homicide, manslaughter, bigamy, spousal-child abuse, paternity fraud, rape, aggravated kidnapping and assault. But something abhorrently even more sinister is happening in the military; levying serious fictitious charges on individuals in own command, physical and mental torture, ruining lives and reputation of individuals and families; all because of self-interests, personal vendetta or appeasing political masters.

An article titled ‘Keeping the Faith’ published in Indian Defence Review in 2014 highlighted how ‘civilian control’ of Armed Forces by bureaucrats (instead of politicians) has invaded institutional integrity of the military, how this has led to senior officers currying favour with bureaucrats for protection against scams, helped promotions, postings and subsequent career avenues. Many question scams in the military, quality of leadership and have written about incompetence, attitude and disdain towards the military by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) exclusively manned by bureaucrats. Others say, if bureaucrats can eat their cake and take it home too, why not the uniformed?

This boils down to whether one considers the military a class apart or not, whether one is prepared to sell one’s soul, speak up for what is right and abide by the Chetwode credo: “The safety, honour and welfare of your country comes first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety comes last, always and every time.”

The January 2018 issue of this magazine carried an article ‘Of Babus and Balls’ described that disdain for the military by politicians and bureaucrats apart, the military hierarchy itself was responsible for the degradation of forces. The article also highlighted how a service chief ruined the career of a Brigade commander because his military police stopped a bureaucrat’s brat from entering the cantonment from wrong end of a one-way road. The chief in question is enjoying his pinacolada for such-like activities, heading a diplomatic mission, while the victim (Brigadier Vikas Saini, then Commander Parachute Brigade) has no hope of redress because rot at the top is contagious and at times gets passed down the line. This is but one example among many.

Recall the retired three-star Tejinder Singh, offering a bribe of Rs 14 Cr related to Tatra Trucks to an incumbent Army Chief in office, Chief reporting the matter to then Defence Minister, Tejinder later jailed with Kapil Sibal getting him out very next day and nothing heard thereafter. The Chief, post retirement, penned in his autobiography that the “pipeline” goes right up to PMO. This is hardly shocking, with the first defence scam in independent India (jeep scandal) by Defence Minister VK Krishan Menon himself in full knowledge of Nehru. Nothing much has changed with “same babus and same system” quoted by Prime Minister Modi albeit in a different context.

But that’s why the Tatra Trucks Scam lies buried since it spans both Congress-led and BJP-led governments. Tejinder didn’t suffer the fate as depicted in Bollywood movie ‘Aiyaary’, but enjoys life freely.  Moral turpitude is defined as an act or behaviour that gravely violates the sentiment or accepted standard of community, or a quality of dishonesty, or other immorality, examples being homicide, manslaughter, bigamy, spousal-child abuse, paternity fraud, rape, aggravated kidnapping and assault. But something abhorrently even more sinister is happening in the military; levying serious fictitious charges on individuals in own command, physical and mental torture, ruining lives and reputation of individuals and families; all because of self-interests, personal vendetta or appeasing political masters.

This goes far beyond currying favour for oneself by ignoring interests of soldiers, widows and disabled. In effect, it is ‘Moral Turpitude of a Different Kind’, which appears to be on the rise. During 1978-1979, some 50 persons were arrested on charges of spying (Samba Spy Scandal); a Brigadier, three Lieutenant Colonels, number of Majors, Captains, JCOs, NCOs, Jawans and 11 civilians, merely at instance of two self-confessed Pakistani spies (Sarwan Dass and Aya Singh) serving as gunners in the army. In December 1994, Sarwan Dass swore an affidavit and also admitted to the media that he had falsely implicated all accused. In December 1990, Aya Singh was shot attempting to cross over to Pakistan. The falsely implicated victims received justice only in December 2000, but not fully.

Happenings in between were testimony to horrors of wrongful convictions based on torture-led investigation. Media referring to one of the wrongly accused on February 14, 2018 reported, “Havildar Ram Swarup was thrown onto the road near Delhi Cantonment. The Army stance was he had died of drug overdose. Thirty-three years later, the delayed post-mortem revealed the body bore 44 injury marks and signs of electric burns.” Wasn’t the Army’s intelligence and justice system sacrificed by rushing into a well-laid ISI trap just because higher ups wanted to benefit from the so-called bust of the decade? Where is the accountability for dozens of lives ruined?

The manner in which UPA II orchestrated shutting down Army’s Technical Support Division (TSD) which was giving ISI sleepless nights (http://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/2013/oct/06/The-great-betrayal-523409.html) and moulded perceptions through disinformation would put Cambridge Analytica to shame. TSD was officially sanctioned by MoD when General VK Kapoor (VK Singh’s predecessor) was Army Chief. The ‘mobile interceptors’ around which the TSD shutdown was cooked up were neither procured nor held by TSD. These were imported by DG DIA Tejinder Singh (who post retirement offered Rs 14 Cr bribe to an Army Chief) functioning directly under Defence Minister AK Anthony. Leaking classified military intelligence to media by MoD, couldn’t have been without Anthony’s indulgence.

Deployment of mobile interceptors in Delhi couldn’t have been without orders of Anthony, Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi. The story of bugging Anthony’s office was cooked up to deflect the ‘mobile interceptors’ narrative. Whether higher ups were under ISI blackmail due to hawala transactions or narcotics mafia, the entire episode amounted to high treason involving highest level political dispensation. Recall a Rajya Sabha MP tweeted in 2013 that 15 Indian politicians were in the net of Dawood Ibrahim. The TSD was shut and proceedings began to prosecute personnel posted in TSD including the CO, Colonel Hunny Bakshi.

Army eventually was forced to drop all charges against Hunny Bakshi because the GCM was impossible without letting him cross-examine witnesses, which would have brought out scores of skeletons. For the same reason, he was also not provided copies of document used against him, not even copy of the board of officers implicating him – which he was authorized by law. Bakshi’s wife, Aparna Bakshi told media it was not just her husband but she too faced problems because of two former army chiefs. No doubt UPA II used the army hierarchy to shut the TSD but the worst part was Army hierarchy willingly acquiescing to the political maneuvering despite adverse impact on Army capability and national security. In the case of Lt Col PS Purohit too, army let him be tortured by goons in khakhi without a murmur.

The ongoing case of Brigadier LI Singh who had earned a Yuddh Seva Medal in Kargil Sector as a Colonel, is one of vendetta;  deliberately implicated in a case for merely signing the covering letter of a show cause  notice issued to a Corps Commander by the then Army Chief. LI Singh won his case with full redress from the Delhi High Court in 2013 but then the AFT stepped in. The AFT, after protracted hearing (2016-2019) by two different benches, ruled on February 6, 2019 in which the OA 85/2013 was partially allowed but in effect the same was dismissed without considering that statutory provisions were not complied during the C of I, by not providing One Man Inquiry Report and directing disciplinary proceedings to continue without examining issues raised by of malafide intentions, bias, irregularities, tampering of evidence and violation of Army Rule 180 & 184 (2).

Aggrieved by AFT ruling, LI Singh approached Supreme Court, who granted interim stay on the AFT ruling on May 10, 2019. But even after LI Singh retired on April 30, 2019 and despite the stay order passed by Supreme Court, he continues to be confined, separated from his family and is being charged about Rs 550.00 per day for accommodation and food. He has not been paid full retirement benefits because of the ongoing case. The maneuvering is same as was with Hunny Bakshi – don’t provide copies of documents to accused under which he is charged and keep dragging the case. The military hierarchy is well aware of the case but perhaps the machinery gets aligned when vendetta is involved. How long this case will drag remains unknown.

Presently, media is full of reports about an ongoing case in northeast against Lieutenant Colonel Dharamvir Singh. Having reported on posting to HQ 3 CISU at Dimapur on June 30, 2016, he was asked by his CO to report to No 2 Field Intelligence Detachment (FID) at Imphal. On June 30, 2018, Lt Col RP Nanda took charge of 2 FID from Dharamvir. Dharamvir was arrested on July 1, 2018 and was taken to Dimapur on a written complaint by Nanda to CO 3 CISU. The same day (in absence of Dharamvir), illegal arms and ammunition were recovered from M sector for which too Dharamvir was charged. Same day, Dharamvir’s wife registered an FIR with  Imphal police alleging illegal arrest and detention and also filed a missing person writ petition at High Court, Manipur. On High Court’s directive, Dharamvir was produced before High Court but 3 Corps officers maintained Dharamvir was never arrested.

Dharamvir has filed an affidavit before the High Court, claiming he was framed and victimized by some rogue senior officers, because he wrote to his CO on September 9, 2016 informing him about involvement of officers in extra judicial killings and extortion activities including the Jorhat Robbery in 2011. All in all 10 charges have been framed against Dharamvir including keeping arms illegally but the whole conspiracy of false allegations collapsed like a pack of cards with two admissions by Nanda: one, that he wrote to his CO making accusations against Dharamvir on directions of the Brigadier Administrative and Brigadier Intelligence of 3 Corps, and; two, official records connected with illegal arms and ammunition in M sector, for which Dharamvir was accused, were destroyed by Major BS Rathore of same unit. Significantly, CO 3 CISU had not sent any report to higher HQ (3 Corps) nor investigated the allegations made by Nanda but merely forwarded his comments on the allegations to HQ 3 Corps on September 19, 2018, that too when asked by HQ 3 Corps to do so.

Above indicates that the whole case against Dharamvir was cooked up directly between HQ 3 Corps and Nanda. For fear of being exposed or because of directions from higher up, the BGS (Intelligence) and Brig A decided to throttle Dharamvir. Dharamvir wasn’t a whistleblower, but quite fed up with the goings only wanted to be posted out of northeast after completing his tenure in 2 FID. If he wanted to be a whistleblower, concurrent to his writing to his CO in 2016 about activities of some rogue officers, he could have quietly released those names to media. When extrajudicial killings and robbery in northeast involving 3 CISU had hit media in 2011-2012, the then Chief had issued a show cause notice to the Corps Commander (covering letter of which was signed by Brig LI Singh) and placed a DV ban on him. But the Corps Commander rose to become Chief. His BGS at that point of time, rose to become Army Commander at Jaipur but ‘managed’ to shift to Kolkata only after 5-6 months because the issue of extra judicial killings involving 3 CISU had re-emerged in media in 2017, with multiple NGO representatives coming to New Delhi to meet the President. It is quite possible that he passed instructions to fix Dharamvir in a manner that he goes to jail.

The Army Commander at Kolkata has since changed but Dharamvir’s trial can be expected to linger on and on because as mentioned earlier the military machine somehow gets aligned when vendetta is behind it, fear of skeletons being the other reason. Whether Dharamvir will get humane dispensation of justice and get exonerated from false accusations is open-ended question. Ironically, Dharamvir is a decorated officer who before joining military intelligence served in a Para (Special Forces) Battalion also participating in operations in Sri Lanka and northeast. He is recipient of COAS Commendation Card and GOC-in-C Commendation Card during his service till now but probably will be wasted out like Col Hunny Bakshi who decided to leave the army even though fully exonerated. How deep this moral turpitude has afflicted the Army, is there any cure and what beyond is something that needs to be seriously examined.

Author’s Email: prakashkatoch7@gmail.com