Old Stories at the new Change of Guards

By Donn Morgan Kipgen

Don’t speak ill of the deads nor about the present, or so it was said. And sure could one assumed it safely as: you can make a positively critical statements of the past but not of the present. In view of the Universal Media Ethics, one can make a full remarks and critical observations based on official service records and first hand informations, plus most reliable sources. Until one has been transferred or retired, there could be no final judgement according to “Morgan’s Law of Comparative Judgement”, which is technically similar to “Murphy’s Law of Nature”. In her Majesty English, this means: Say it all, say them all to the fullest with both sides of the coin showing in all its boldness assailing. This in turn is applicable to present the known records and achievements of all the officially departing top military commanders and their junior sidekicks, plus their wisely methodical spin-doctors who stood proudly tall in the hard fought wars of words in the bloody CI Ops.

With the formation of all-powerful HQ IGAR (S) at Mantripukhri under the cool, resilient and a brilliant media friendly Commander, Maj Gen Bhupender Singh Ghotra and his PRO, Col. AM Mathur, the Liaison officer (SO1) Maj Arun “Hurry” Devgan Brig Kayashta and the C-GSO, Col Thimayya, plus the public-friendly Col SK Salkar, then CO of 32nd AR, a brand new chapter of the much maligned had begun since 2005. It took a year period to directly command and control all highly independent Assam Rifles battalions and their rampaging “Satraps”. The big problem was that most of those dirty untouchable AR officers were as competent as they were ruthless. They were simply not accountable to all those dirty cases of molestation, indiscriminate firings, random arrests, illegal detentions and diabolic torturings, open physical assaults and routine ransackings. Even the DIG-AR, Brig Sabharwal, Dhawan and EJ Kochekan (now all Maj Gens) were not in direct control nor properly aware of the high degree of Lawlessness and Despotism enforced by their boys.

Whereas the 17th AR & 4th AR menacingly ruled the capital town areas along with the 8th AR independently, the 21st AR, replaced by the equally high-handed 14th AR, enforced their politico-military suzerainty in the proper Sadar Hills areas with utter disdain, though the 2nd AR, 31st AR and the 28th AR were no armed angels either, as were the 19th and 34th AR Bns Col W Shakespeare, the founding father of the Assam Rifles, would have surely wished deep in his grave that Col Jagmohan’s 17th AR boys had not flirted with a lady named Th Monarama nor Col Mark Pillay’s 28th AR boys illegally buried without St Mark’s prayers. Col Shakepeare would also have earnestly wished that Col Bishnoi’s 14th AR boys used the theatrical brain of his illustrious namesake, i.e. The Bard of Avon, when they laid low 9 KNF (MC) cadres in a one-sided encounter while reportedly on “combined” local area patrol on the night of 13th Sept 2003 at Turibari.

The past high handed conducts and unmilitary legacies of Majs Samir Jha (21st AR), Rajneet Singh, Bhopari Lal, Kaushik Ghosh, Capt Dinesh Nautyal (all from the frightening 14th AR, now replaced by 36th AR) and one Capt Akash (now Major) of the 17th AR were few examples of as to how a highly discipline military officers nonchalantly tarnished the otherwise proud image of AR for their very own interests. There have been countless episodes of the rampaging AR jawans using their boots, rifle butts, hands and weapons instead of their well-trained mindset & target-recognition drills. Yes, indeed, all law enforcement agencies abused and misused their powers and weapons in many outrageous incidents but they were atleast accountable and thus openly punished in the Court of Law, just like genuine criminals and not a cover-up protective trials. It was quite amazing that the then wily PRO/Army Maj (now Col) SD Goswami successfully handled the repeated misadventures of the AR without a PRO!!! The methodical Col Goswami (14th Assam) made it clear that cases were rushed to press if and only when AR units concerned directly informed him with details, or otherwise controversial cases and unlawful incidents simply did not happen officially.

Only after when some bold unarmed Manipuri ladies tried to “physically molest” the pride of the AR at the Western Gate of 17th AR’s HQ at Fort Kangla much to the shocking fright of heavily armed AR jawans breasted with bullet-proof vest, things swiftly started rolling at the double. Gun battle talks without accountability had to be replaced by Gun-talk Diplomacy with full accountability to be directly led by a higher authority to work as one fighting unit/formation. The days of record loving “disgruntled AR officers”, as the more discipline regular Army’s officers dubbed them, had been numbered; counted down by 2005-2006 year-period. Things changed radically thenceforth.

In the volatile olden days, AR company commanders ruled with free-hands like medieval feudal chiefs of an extravagant princely State (read: BN HQ) with similar interrogation system. Search Warrants were their combat-uniforms and Arrest Warrants were their intimidating gun-barrels. The 24 hours detention period was “48 hours”, regularly extended upto “72 hours” for genuine UG militants, but more often than not a desirable release or hand over ended up tragically in fierce encounters or indiscriminate firings. Police commandos were not lagging behind in these dramatical plays with real weapons in the capital town areas. Even today things are not as rosy as they look, and UG militants are also still doing their bloody jobs. When the then HQ DIG AR, Brig Sabharwal, left Fort Kangla things still remained unaddressed as they controversially were, even during the reign of Brig Dhawan. There was no combined operations nor direct communication channels between the Army/AR with the State civil administration, nor even with the CRPF and BSF. The GOC, 57th Mtn DIV, naturally hold the rein as the highest authority as the senior most military Commander. There was no known major joint military operation carried out by the Army and AR in 25 years of CI Ops in Manipur. Things went awry when the regular Army was pulled out of CI Ops during and after the Kargil War Maj Gen Dwevidi, as GOC, 57th Mtn DIV, was the last general officer to personally conduct military operations as field operation commander in the Operation Karang in 2004.

Then came Maj Gen BS Ghotra to directly command all the AR units as IGAR (S) to be assisted by strategically located Army units and to work alongwith the State police as well as the CRPF which successfully continues upto this period as tactically designed. His tenure as the all powerful military Commander in Manipur’s new CI Ops was eventful. Gen Ghotra was lucky enough to have the lifting of the AFSPA in the main valley areas and then the signing of Suspension of Operations with CHIKIMs’ UG outfits when time and extra resources were needed most. He remarkably reined in all high flying AR and Army Commanders in a short time period. He maintained aggressive peace in the hill areas by leaving the hot headed CHIKIM UG outfits as they be, with close and permanent observations as much as he could. But most unfortunately, his departure as IGAR (S) was soon followed by the bloodiest ever factional rivalry and inter-factional clashes amongst the CHIKIMs’ UG outfit.

The 2007-2008 period completely changed the course of Kuki insurgency movement when the new guards opened the bloody flood gates for a short period of unnecessary politico-military diplomacy. The money-ridden one-sided diplomacy was never going to work and it didn’t work out as wishfully expected. The honourable legacy left behind by Gen Ghotra was tragically dented as the bloody gun battles amongst Kuki UG outfits were left unattended by the HQ IGAR (S) for methodical purpose. Now, silence and peaceful atmosphere are in the wind once again but the much avoidable factional clashes of highest price will never be justified or forgotten by the helpless general public. One could only hope the new change of guards leave avoidable things as they be, without politico-military misadventures of the 2007. This is not to say that Maj Gen BK Chengappa made a wrong move during his otherwise eventful tenure as IGAR (S); he was as competent as Gen Ghotra in military matters. Only if Gen Chengappa had kept a closer relationship with media persons and the general public whole heartedly as done by Gen Ghotra. There is always a room for improvement.

Source: The Sangai Express

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About Zou Sangnaupang Pawlpi Delhi

Zou Students' Association Delhi Branch
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