SOME weeks ago, a group of Kashmiri students in Meerut were slapped with sedition charges just because they cheered the Pakistani cricket team when it won a match against India in the Asia Cup. Some months ago, sedition cases were registered against hundreds of fisherfolk in the coastal villages of southern Tamil Nadu, just because they raised their voice against the unsafe and livelihood-killing Russian-built Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant. Some years ago, sedition charges and the National Security Act were invoked against Dr Binayak Sen just because he had in his possession some ‘naxalite’ leaflets and letters.
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code describes sedition thus: “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India….” In common parlance this is called treason, the most severe offence against the State, punishable with imprisonment for life. This provision of law is a powerful instrument to safeguard the nation’s integrity, security and sovereignty and needs to be used sparingly and with utmost diligence. But, in the virtual police State that we are, low-level functionaries, at the behest of fascist-type leaders and crony vested interests, misuse this provision indiscriminately to suppress genuine dissent and protests that cause no threat to national security.
But, when it comes to big bandicoots, who openly indulge in activities that undermine the nation’s security and sovereignty, there is not a whimper as if they have total impunity. How else does one interpret the total inaction by the government on the explosive formal complaint lodged by none other than a former Chief of the Indian Army to the Union Minister of Home Affairs on November 13, 2013? Probably this has happened for the first time in the annals of a democratic country. This shows the deep deprivation to which India’s governance has descended to.
The Indian Express made ablatantly false allegation that the Army paid moneyto J&K politicians to overthrow the duly elected government of the State. The intention was to promote enmity between officers and soldiers of the Indian Army serving in J&Kand the government/people of that State
The array of charges in the complaint commenced with the April 4, 2012, front-page banner headlined story in The Indian Express about the movement of a Hissar (Haryana)-based mechanised infantry unit ‘towards Delhi’ on January 16, 2012, coinciding with the day General VK Singh approached the Supreme Court on his date of birth issue. The news report deliberately linked this move to “June 1984 when some mutineers from Sikh units had moved towards the capital in the wake of Operation Bluestar,” suggesting in a devious manner that the Hissar troop movement was also part of mutiny. The news report insinuated that the military leadership had turned politically incorrect and non-professional and the Central Government had come under threat from its own Army. This is a clear case of ‘abetting mutiny by an officer, soldier in the Army, and attempt to seduce any such officer and soldier from his allegiance or his duty’, attracting Section 131 IPC. This Act, being prejudicial to the defence of India and the security of the State, also attracts Sections 3(1) and (2) of the National Security Act, 1980. The mens rea to commit the offence was evident from the fact that it had taken nearly three months to concoct, fabricate and put out a non-existing coup d’état news story!
The second charge relates to a unit called the Technical Service Division (TSD). It is a covert operation agency, activities of which are directly related to the safety of the soldiers fighting on the borders, retribution against the enemy and the security of the citizens. By its very nature, the TSD operation was ‘top secret’. In that event, even the existence of TSD should never have been publicised. Further, if there is exposure of the actual working of the top-secret unit, leaking information about it could be treacherous, regardless of whether information is true or not.
Yet, on March 2, 2012, India Today published a story that, inter alia, reads: “The Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials say they are also concerned about the activities of a shadowy unit called the Technical Support Division within MI, which has reportedly been equipped with surveillance equipment. Who the targets were and for what purpose, is still not clear.”On September 20, 2012, The Indian Express reported that the Army had appointed Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia to head a panel that would review the functioning and efficacy of the TSD that had gained notoriety following several allegations of irregularities. On September 20, 2013, the same newspaper published a front-page banner headlined story, “Unit set up by VK Singh used secret funds to try and topple J&K government, block Bikram Singh: Army probe”, claiming to be a leak of a ‘Top Secret’ Army ‘Board of Officers inquiry’ report on the working of the TSD. Even the knowledge of the existence of the TSD can help the nation’s enemies and subvert the security of the country.
The Indian Express made a blatantly false allegation that the Army had paid money to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) politicians to overthrow the elected government of the State. The intention was to promote enmity between officers and soldiers of the Indian Army serving in J&K and the government/people of that State, thereby causing disturbance to harmony and national integration.
Picking up from The Indian Express leak on the TSD, on September 24, 2013, The Hindu published a news story titled, “VK Singh counters charges, admits ‘pro-India NGOs’ were funded”. This story inserted a blatantly false claim that ‘the panchayat elections of 2011 was a major achievement of the TSD’, a statement which the General never made. What is more, the editor of The Hindu went into overdrive, got a story generated from the J&K bureau chief and published it on the newspaper’s front page on September 25, 2013, stating that “an extremely serious apprehension of militant attacks on more than 33,000 panches and sarpanches had arisen because General VK Singh had completely discredited and maligned the panchayat elections of 2011.”
The General moved an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005, before the Ministry of Defence, asking for a copy of the said report of the Board of Officers and the details of the action taken in the wake of the same. While the same Report was freely floating among the select media, MoD informed him that the information so sought under the RTI Act could not be provided as it was classified as secret under Section 8 (i) of the RTI Act!
Earlier, in March 2012, someone in the government deliberately leaked a top secret letter from the COAS to the Prime Minister, stating, “the Army’s tanks have run out of ammunition, the air defence is as good as obsolete and the infantry is short of critical weapons”. This leakage has been reportedly traced to an official in the Cabinet Secretariat and nothing is known as to what action has been taken in this regard so far.
The charges detailed above deal with very serious crimes of: promoting enmity between people of India, officers and soldiers of the Indian Army serving in J&K and the people of that State; causing disturbance to harmony and national integration; deliberately compromising the safety of the soldiers fighting on the borders and security of the citizens; abetting mutiny by an officer and soldier in the Army and attempting to seduce any such officer and soldier from his allegiance, or his duty; wilfully disclosing top secret documents, thereby threatening the sovereignty and integrity of India and the security of the State; deeply impacting the fighting capability and effectiveness of the Armed Forces in protecting citizens and safeguarding the nation’s security, integrity and sovereignty and causing serious prejudice to the defence of India and the security of the State.
IN his complaint, the General categorically states that these serious offences have been committed due to abetment and conspiracy indulged in by civil and military officials (past and present) in the PMO, MoD, Army Headquarters and some prominent media personalities. According to him, only thorough investigation would bring out the truth about who these persons are and what is their motive for indulging in activities aimed at destabilising India and endangering its citizens.
The General is so sure of his facts that in a recent interview with an online daily, www.thenewsminute.com, he said: “What we are dealing with here is nothing short of treason. Surely, it must be investigated. You find something against me, I’ll take it on the chest. But if these people are guilty, as they most certainly are, why are you shying away from taking any action? I think, in most parts of the world treason is perhaps one of the most heinous of crimes.”
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) maintained a stoic and deathly silence. The General, therefore, sent out a reminder on December 9, 2013. In this, he drew attention to a letter written by former Naval Chief Admiral L Ramdas, along with senior civilian and military officials, on June 19, 2012, to the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister, raising similar issues and seeking a Commission of Inquiry. Despite this reminder, the MHA remained deaf and dumb till the General, through his advocate, sent a legal notice to Sushil Kumar Shinde to show cause as to why criminal action may not be initiated against him for his failure to act on the complaint regarding grave offences of sedition, treason and violation of the Official Secrets Act by certain individuals as well as dereliction of duty in such a serious matter that has direct implications on India’s national security.
In the virtual police State that we are, low-level functionaries, at the behest of fascist type leaders and crony vested interests, misuse the provision of national security indiscriminately to suppress genuine dissent and protests
THE MHA panicked. All they did was to send the General’s complaint with backdated forwarding letters marked ‘secret’ to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and the Ministry of Defence for ‘appropriate action’.
There was yet another attempted act of treason blocked by proactive counteraction by the veteran community led by General VK Singh and Lt General Prakash Katoch. This pertained to the Ottawa-based Atlantic Council, alleged to have links with Pakistan’s ISI, announcing in September 2012 the signing of an agreement to demilitarise the Siachen heights as part of confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan. This agreement was negotiated by a 22-member India-Pakistan Track II team, headed on the Indian side by former Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi, in its various meetings in Bangkok, Dubai, US and, finally, Lahore. This was despite the clear stand adopted by the Army, MoD and the Ministry of External Affairs against the glacier’s ‘demilitarisation’ that has huge strategic value for India. The key facilitator in this act was a former Army colonel, now a freelance blogger-cum-columnist, who worked closely with the PMO to consummate the agreement!
Corruption and treason are the worst forms of threat to national security that have caused countries and governments to crumble and fall asunder. When both go hand-in-hand, it is the deadliest of combinations that could destroy any nationor people. Are we sure this combine is not in place in India? The big question is, can the country hold? If so, for how long?
The writer is a former Army and IAS officer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org