India's Chief Of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat, in an interview to the Economic Times, absolved Major Leetul Gogoi of 53 Rashtriya Rifles, who used a Kashmiri local as a human shield to thwart stone-pelters, of any wrongdoing on Tuesday. General Rawat said Gogoi took the right call under the circumstances and no major action will be taken against him.
Rawat's comments all but indicated what the official outcome of the army probe into the incident will be. Major Gogoi has already been awarded the Chief of Army Staff's ( COAS) Commendation Card for his sustained distinguished service in counter-insurgency operations in the state so far.
He defended himself yesterday, saying that he took the step "to save local people."
"We went to a polling booth to check the security situation, and then some people started pelting stones at us. Then, the stone-pelters started throwing petrol bombs at us. I took that step just to save local people," he said.
A video shot during the 9 April Srinagar Lok Sabha by-polls, showed Farooq Ahmad Dar, a Kashmiri embroidery artisan who was picked up on his way back from voting in the state bypoll, tied to the bonnet of an Army jeep in Jammu and Kashmir's Badgam. The army subsequently ordered a Court of Inquiry.
Rawat told ET: "This officer acted in a particular manner, where only someone on site could have taken a call. Under the circumstances, he took the right call. To ensure the confidence level of the officer and will not let the situation spiral out of control."
Dar, who has steadfastly maintained he is not a stone-pelter, has said he was "shattered" and disappointed that the Indian army has awarded the officer responsible for committing what is widely considered a war crime under the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
"I was wrong to expect any justice," he had said, referring to the incident that has been both criticised, as a violation of human rights, and hailed by social media users as an ingenious step that saved many lives.
"The present court of inquiry will come to its conclusion but what I have learnt is that he has not committed an offence that will necessitate disciplinary action. On the face of it, even if he is found guilty of some lapse, no major action will be taken against him. I find no reason for major action to be taken against him," Rawat told ET.
Gogoi said Dar was picked up on suspicion that he's the ring leader of the stone pelting mob. Dar has told several media outlets after his ordeal that he had his voting slip to prove he was back from exercising his franchise that day.
Yesterday Rawat told HuffPost India that India will continue to hit Pakistan as long as it supports terror groups, terrorists or the unrest in the valley. His statement came hours after the Army claimed that it had destroyed Pakistani Army positions across the Line of Control (LoC).
"Pakistan cannot think that a proxy war–-that of training and arming terrorists--has no solution. As long as he (Pakistan) continues, we will continue to hit them," General Rawat said.
Meanwhile, the Jammu Kashmir Police, which registered an FIR soon after the incident, refused to drop the case against Gogoi.