GOVERNMENT ORGANISED CARNAGE [Sarkari Qatl-e-Aam]
THE ARMY’S ROLE
Our investigation into the role of the army at all levels leads to the following key questions. Why did it take the government so long to call the army? Secondly why did the army, which is renowned for its efficiency, fail to contain the situation despite there being curfew in the city?
All the top officials including, four senior ministers had full information on the goings-on in the city right from the time violence started. This information was formally available to the government through leaders of the opposition and eminent citizens who met its representatives to find out that the government was doing to contain the situation. Even then, the government did not take any step.
A top source in the government revealed that, in any such crisis and this was a crisis more serious than any other in free India’s history, there are strict guidelines to deal with it. As per section 130-31 of the criminal procedure code (C.R.P.C.), even a Superintendent of police (S.P.) and the head of the civil administration, the District Commissioner (DC), have the authority to seek the army’s help if the law and order situations demands. Besides, the services of the para-military forces are certainly available to the civil authorities.
Look at what the rules say about the circumstances under which the army can be called (under section 130 of the C.R.P.C.):
(1) If a mob posing a threat to public peace cannot be dispersed through regular means, the District Magistrate can seek the army’s intervention to do so.
(2) The Magistrate has the power to contact the top officers of any of the defence forces and seed their help to his or her district. The Magistrate can also order the arrest of the trouble-makers as also have them booked.
(3) Every defence services officer in-charge of a situation has the power to tackle it as per his assessment , but with the use of minimum force against any person and without causing unnecessary damage to his or her person or property.
According to section 131 of the CRPC, in case the army officer is unable to make contact with the head of the civil administration about a situation where a crowd is indulging in violence jeopardising public security and safety, he has the powers to take steps to control the situation including the arrest of those posing threat. However, wherever possible the army officer will await instructions of the civil in-charge to take any such action and to decide how long he should keep the peace-keeping operation on.
The army was alerted on October 31 itself. This in effect means that the army could have reached Delhi from the cantonments in Meerut and Agra. According to army sources, the key to the implementation of curfew orders is not the numerical strength of the army personnel but the clarity and resoluteness of the order itself. However, despite announcements of the curfew and shoot-at-sight orders on the officials electronic media and the privately owned newspapers, the police, whose job it is to apprise the army about the ground situation, kept the army totally in the dark. There was no central control room from where such information could be made available. On the other hand, a few days later, when Mrs. Gandhi’s corpse needed an army escort, 3,000 army men and a 1,000 of the other two forces, navy and air, were suitably present.
It is the simplest procedure which needs to be followed to bring in the army to control a situation. All that the Lt. Governor has to do is to apprise the home minister, who, in turn, should contact the defence minister (Mr. Rajiv Gandhi also had the defence portfolio at that time).
The efficiency of the army’s role in safe-guarding internal security depends on a key factor, the establishment of a central and joint control room of the police and the army. In 1947, the then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru had ordered Governor General Lord Mountabatten to set up such a control room. Some war veterans who met the home minister, Mr. Rao, after Mrs. Gandhi’s killing even referred to this as a means of convincing him about the gravity of the situation and the steps he could take to control it. The situation in November 1984, for any body who cares to recognise it, was as bad as at the time of India’s bloody partition in 1947m and yet, neither Mr. Rao nor any member of the government cared to do the most basic thing, the setting up of a joint control. The police commissioner was operating from the police headquarters at ITO, the army area commander from the Dhaula Kaun cantonment and the Lt. Governor from Raj Niwas. The result was total lack of co-ordination and therefore, the total futility of calling the army. There were curfew orders in the city but nobody cared to implement them. An army Major told a newspaper reporter (The report carried on November 4, 1984) that not only did the police not co-ordinate with them but also misled the army in some cases. The same reporter found the junior officers of the army twiddling their thumbs in the face of the massacre because they had lost contact with their headquarters and they had no orders to act.
The army’s helplessness is also evident from an instance where a Major was using an old guide map to reach one of the worst affected areas in east Delhi. As per rules, personnel from the local police should have been accompanying the army. According to an army source, a strange method was employed to deploy the army. The civil authorities did not give the army full information at any stage and when it got orders to act, the worst had already happened (Maj. Gen. J.S. Janwal’s statement in the Indian Express, November 8, 1984). It was only to ensure that Mrs. Gandhi’s corpse reaches the cremation ground safety that the defence forces were used to their fullest capacity.
The account of the army’s role also proves that the civil administration had no clear plan to contain the situation, that the army was called much too late and, worse still, even after that, it was made to feel redundant. Besides, the police also played a direct role in the killings and arson.
Whatever may have been the motive behind this strange way of treating the army and regardless of who was responsible for rendering it impotent, it can be said with emphasis that the treatment meted out to the army had a very crippling impact on the morale of the defence forces. Our sources in the defence forces, during informal discussions on the subject, condemn the treatment given to the army during those violent days.
According to the sixth report of the National Police Commission, the tendency of district administrators to await orders from the top before acting on any situation is reprehensible. Take serious note of this tendency, said the report. It is evident from the events of the first week of November 1984 that the administration, despite having all the powers to deal with the situation either did not use them or, worse still, was intentionally ignoring its duty. It is the same civil administration which is opposed to the intervention of the army for controlling Hindu-Muslim riots and insurgency in the north eastern states of India.
All these questions need to be examined, because the civil authorities at all levels displayed a uniform and criminal disregard for its role, which it is obliged to perform as per the constitution. Fourteen years later, the authorities are still resistant to the idea of acting against any one of the officials for dereliction of duty at that time. We need to ask vital questions of the government and we must compel it to answer them. Is there anybody to tell us why the Lt.Governor did not ask the home minister for the army’s help? Or, what were the prime minister and the home minister doing at that time? Or, can the government wash its hands off the entire tragedy by simply removing the Lt. Governor and the police chief Subhash Tondon?
A group of eminent citizens was approached by the families of the victims seeking the army’s help (they had seen the police role and were convinced that the police was siding with the killers) in Trilokpuri. The group made several attempts to contact the home minister and the home secretary but neither of them was available, not at home, not at the office. In the belief that the opposition leaders may have easier access to the home minister and senior officials of his ministry, the group met with some of them, including, Masseurs George Fernandes, Chandra Shekhar, Biju Patnaik and Madhu Dandavate but they all reported the same story, their inability to contact the minister or his officials. Finally, Mr. Dandavate is reported to have caught up with Mr. Arun Nehru at the residence of the prime minister and communicated to him the request made by the Sikh families of Trilokpuri. Mr. Nehru, who was just an MP told Mr. Dandavate that he would send a wireless message to alert the army. The army was called but it is significant to find out whether all it needed was a wireless message from Mr. Nehru to call the army and, if he had such powers as a mere MP, why could the home minister not use the powers he had to bring the situation under control?