New Delhi: The government has decided to stand by the Army officer who took the decision to use an alleged stone-pelter as a “human shield” tied to a jeep to steer his unit and Jammu and Kashmir officials and paramilitary personnel on election duty to safety.
The government has taken note of an Army probe into the April 9 incident which concluded that the commanding officer took the decision reluctantly and as the last resort after he realised that his unit had to pass through streets crowded with a mob of stone-pelters who had also taken positions on surrounding rooftops.
The trapped personnel included about a dozen local J&K employees, about 9-10 ITBP jawans, a couple of constables from J&K police and a bus driver.
Defence minister Arun Jaitley is likely to address the issue when he meets Army commanders on Monday. The government has appreciated that the controversial decision was taken in an extraordinary situation where the officer incharge of the unit had a difficult choice to make.
Indicating that the government feels the Army is being made a political target, minister of state for PMO and Udhampur MP Jitendra Singh told a J&K newspaper that “apologetic” Kashmir leaders were guilty of encouraging terrorism in the Valley. He said these leaders had lost the moral authority to make insinuations against Army personnel who they found a soft target while they lacked the the courage to condemn perpetrators of terrorism.
The Army brass is of the view that the unfortunate incident was unavoidable as the unit was surrounded by hundreds of protestors who were bent on violence.
As things turned out, the man used as a human shield was handed over to local authorities and no lives were lost. The video of the incident, released by former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah, went viral and sparked off protests by human rights activists and political parties. BJP has been more muted, saying the incident was being probed but the challenging situation the Army has to deal with on the ground must be appreciated.
The run-up to the byelections was been marked by strongly pro-separatist campaigning by the National Conference with its leader Farooq Abdullah in the fray. In a bid to mop up the “azadi” vote, he played to the gallery and was seen to have backed stone-pelters, leading to some sharp exchanges with J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti.
The bypolls in J&K have been particularly violent with separatists and pro-terrorist groups enforcing a near total boycott of polling.
The EC was forced to order re-polling as Pakistan aligned groups in the Valley seemed determined to thwart the usual scenes of people lining up to vote which was held out by India as a success of the electoral process.
In the wake of prolonged violence last year following the encounter death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, separatists and Pakistani agencies have been keen to ensure that India could not claim validation of the participatory process in elections.