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Lt Gen Mohammad Ahmed Zaki stepped down as the head of the Indian Military Academy and took charge as an advisor to the Governor of J&K in 1991 because of his decade-long service in the state during a ‘difficult time’. Overturning Shatrughan Singh Chauhan’s court martial, the Armed Forces Tribunal has questioned his role in the second lieutenant’s persecution as well as for being unable to investigate the case of missing gold biscuits. Zaki, who is the chancellor of the Jamia Milia University in Delhi, responds to Ushinor Majumdar on the phone with his recollection of what happened back then.
The AFT has delivered a judgment in favour of Chauhan, overturning a decision of a court martial that had given him 7 years of rigorous imprisonment and cashiered him from service. They believe that there were indeed 147 gold biscuits that went missing. Were/ are you convinced that Chauhan was wrong?
"I didn’t initiate proceedings (in the attempt to murder Chauhan) because I was later told he shot at himself in the leg. I didn’t know he was assaulted earlier."
I have only read a brief news report of the judgement. Chauhan was totally wrong about the accusations he made. I was told by (Jamil) Quraishi, the then advisor to the J&K governor and an ex-IPS officer, that someone had picked up Rs 150 during a search and seizure. A court of inquiry was ordered and Chauhan ran away without leave. He was brought back by the guard, and he ran away again. He was brought back a second time and he ran again from the hospital. While the court martial against Chauhan was in progress, I had accommodated Chauhan’s father with another battalion because he too had served as a subedar major from the same battalion. After I had moved out, I read that he had been sentenced to seven years and discharged.
Chauhan says that he met you in 1990, but you were unsympathetic to his charges of corruption against the Col K.R.S. Panwar. Several soldiers who were present at the raid also testified to having seen the gold and Col Panwar taking it away. Didn’t other officers convey the same to you?
Col Panwar was an honest officer. It is totally wrong to accuse him. After the court martial, I read a news report accusing me of taking the gold biscuits, but it died down. It is news to me that soldiers testified that gold was indeed seized. I was not aware of it. The inquiry was at a lower level and it didn’t come up to the corps command, and it was a very busy time for the command at the time in that sector.
Why didn’t you initiate proceedings in the attempt to murder on Chauhan or the first assault?
I didn’t need to because I was told later that he fired at himself and shot himself in the leg. I didn’t know that he had been assaulted earlier.
The AFT has also pointed out many procedural lapses (under your signature) during the court martial. Such as making the proceedings a summary court martial, not naming the accused or the charges against him, turning a court martial against a soldier accused of stealing into a court martial against Chauhan that too for desertion and changing a member of the bench who had objected to Chauhan not having counsel. Documents have exposed his immediate superiors trying to do everything possible to persecute including an attempt to murder. Some officers saw through it. What about you?
When a court martial is convened, it is sent to the adjutant general’s branch for scrutiny and then put to the corps commander. The corps command was busy in those days because of the situation in J&K. I had a very fine set of officers and had full confidence in them. So, I followed their advice and beyond that I don’t know.
The AFT has said that there may have been extraneous circumstances guiding you. Were you under any pressure?
Not at all. I commanded the corps under the most difficult of times between 1989 and ’95. If there were any extraneous circumstances, I wouldn’t have been made advisor to the governor twice. After commanding the corps, I was commandant of the Indian Military Academy. Within four months of taking charge at the IMA, I was called to the advisor’s post. The second time I was called back again in “national interest” and that’s why I even refused any pay because I am not a mercenary. After a while I quit because I had served in J&K for a long time, since 1986, and requested the PM to relieve me.
Did you investigate the charges made by Chauhan? If no, what was your impression that led you to not initiate a probe? If yes, what was your finding that the AFT (even after so many years) is convinced?
No I didn’t have to because the governor’s advisor had informed me of the theft by someone during the search operation conducted by the 6th Rajput officer. The officers investigated and then procedure kicked in.