TODAY -

From war hero to outcast I

Yambem Laba *



When Brigadier LI Singh was given the sensitive and prestigeous post of Deputy Director General-A of the Indian Army's Discipline and Vigilance Directorate, he thought he'd made his mark, for all those who had held the post earlier were Lieutenant-Generals or had retired at that rank, his elder brother having achieved that position too.

Commissioned into the 13 Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry as a subaltern at the age of 20 in 1983, he saw action in India's many undeclared wars with Pakistan in the high-altitude Siachen areas in 1985-86 and 1990-92.

He had also served on a UN Peacekeeping assignment in Somalia in 1994. He was soon made Commanding Officer of his own 13 JAK LI and led from the front during Operation Parakaram after the Kargril war from November 2002 to October 2004 and was succesful in reoccupying six posts and Point 5608 overlooking strategic Shingo Valley in Pakistan which could not be taken earlier by the Indian Army during the Kargil operations.

He and his soldiers were also able to destroy two huge fuel dumps on the Pakistani side making the Karakoram range akin to a volcanic eruption. For his action he was awarded the Yudh Seva Medal by then President of India, the late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.

His citation read, "The officer through ingenuity, aggressiveness and well concieved plans executed operations with personal leadership resulting in occupation of six tactically dominating features besides inflicting heavy casualties on enemy personnel and materials."

Singh's unit suffered four deaths and seven injuries but it accounted for 52 Pakistani dead and 20 injuries, apart from destroying 115 Pakistani bunkers and setting ablaze three kerosene oil dumps and five SRP shelters. The citation further read, "A sterling performance. His Battalion affected total domination of the Line of Control in the Bimbat Area of Drass in Operation Parakram."

The then Chief of Army Staff wrote him a DO letter congratulating him and all his soldiers. In 2007, Colonel LI Singh was moved to the North-eastern region where India has been fighting another proxy war against insurgents and was appointed Colonel General Staff of HQ 21 Mountain Division, which was then launching Operation Rhino-II against the Ulfa and Bodo militants, not to forget the then simmering uprising by the Karbis in the Karbi Anglong area.

He was then moved as Additional DIG of HQ 5 Sector, Assam Rifles, which was then conducting Operation Hifazat. Besides being bold, brave and aggresive, a strategic planner and a tactical expert, he had also graduated from the Defence Staff College at Wellington.

So there was no holding him back as far as promotions went and, in December 2010, he was soon made Brigadier in Command, 164 Mountain Brigadeunder the Eastern Command and given charge of guarding India's border areas from the Chinese through the Chumbi Valley-Siliguri corridor.

He had also played a key role in many professional studies,including manifestation of threat by China's People's Liberation Army and the cold war strategy against India.

Then when the devastating earthquake struck Sikkim in 2011 throwing everything haywire, under Singh's leadership the Army swung into action and within 48 hours opened the Rongli-Zuluk axis, the only lifeline leading to southeast Sikkim. All his deeds as a Brigade Commander earned him "Outstanding" in all three confidential reports by two initiating officers.

His sterling performance, both as a most able field commander and an administrator, plus his impeccable integrity, soon caught the eye of Chief of Army Staff General VK Singh, who then handpicked him for the most sensitive post of Deputy Director General-A in the Discipline and Vigilance Directorate, the eyes and ears of what happens within the Indian Army, at Army Headquarters in Delhi in March 2012.

He had then thought he had finally made his career as a professional soldier for this would see him retiring as a lieutenant-general. Little did he realise that his ordeal was soon to begin. Way back on 10 March 2010, three Manipuris, namely Phijam Naobi, RK Roshan and Thounajam Prem were abducted from the Char Mile area of Dimapur in Nagaland. The Dimapur police launched an extensive search but drew a blank.

Then, a week later, the Dimapur police were informed by their Assam counterparts that three bullet-ridden bodies had been found in the Lakhijan area under Bokajan police station.

The bodies bore multiple torture marks, like nails driven into their heads and burn marks inflicted by blowtorches. On physical verification, these turned out to be of the three Manipuris.

The FIR registered in the case categorically mentioned that the abduction was carried out by military personnel and the finger of suspicion soon fell on the Army's 3 Corps cloak-and-dagger wing, the Intelligence and Surveillance Unit based at Rangapahar in Dimapur which was known to have been involved in such crimes earlier.

The Dimapur police then approached the Army authorities who, in turn, issued a flat denial, claiming immunity under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

The Army's Investigation Unit was then headed by Colonel Govindan Shreekumar, but his second-in-command, Major T Ravi Kiran, turned whistleblower and on 12 March wrote to the GOC Eastern Command, with copies marked to the GOC 3-Corps and the Chief of Army Staff, stating that the three Manipuris were abducted on 10 March and brought to their unit and after being tortured were shot behind the unit's mess.

When no action was forthcoming, he shot off another reminder to his superiors on 25 January 2015. After all this, Army headquarters finally reacted and directed the authorities at Fort William to take action.

Lieutenant General Dalbir Singh Suhag had by then taken over as General Officer Commanding, 3 Corps. General Suhag's enquiry, however, concealed more than it revealed. Headed by Brigadier A Bhuia, who had no legal sanctity, it was a complete eyewash and Colonel Govindan Shreekumar, lady officer Captain Rubeena Kaur Kher and Major Nector Baum charged with hatching the plot to kill the Manipuris and who were reportedly involved in nefarious activities like sharing extortion money, abetting the flow of narcotics and selling stolen vehicles continued to be General Suhag's "blue eyed" lot. Then came the "botched" Jorhat Operation".

Two competing Army contractors were fighting for their turf in areas under 3 Corps and one of them had the ingenuity of ulitilising the services of the same Intelligence Survey Unit under Colonel Govindan. So in the early hours of 20 December 2011 an armed party comprising 15 soldiers in battle fatigues, led by Captain Rubeena Kaur, raided the house of Surajit Gogoi while he was away on work in Guwahati. They manhandled his wife Renu and tied her up along with their three children.

Then, under Captain Kaur's orders, the keys to their almirahs were snatched and a licensed pistol along with 15 cartridges, jewellery worth Rs.6.5 lakh and cash amounting to Rs.1.5 lakh were looted. They also took away an assortment of items that included a laptop and four mobile phones. Gogoi filed an FIR with the Jorhat police but had no clue about the actual identity of the soldiers or the unit involved. A week later, the police got a crucial break when a call made to someone in Haryana was traced to one of the stolen mobiles.

The Haryana police investigated the matter and found that the call had been made by Havildar Sandeep Thapa of 3 Corps' Intelligence and Surveillance Unit and was one of the participants in that infamous raid. Police later established from mobile records that Colonel Govindan Shreekumar was in constant touch with Captain Kaur before and after the raid. The Army top brass ordered a Court of Inquiry and General Suhag played the same tune as in the case of the killing of the three Manipuri boys.


* Yambem Laba wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is The Statesman's Imphal-based special correspondent
This article was posted on April 09, 2016.


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