India’s most decorated officer, Colonel Saurabh Singh Shekhawat, has accused two former army chiefs and a senior serving officer of victimising him for speaking up about a botched operation in 2011 that embarrassed the force.
The 45-year-old Shekhawat has named former chief Gen Bikram Singh, his successor Gen Dalbir Singh and Lt Gen Abhay Krishna in his complaint to the army headquarters.
“I am forced, with distress and disillusionment, to state that despite being highest decorated serving officer in the army with an unblemished operational profile, I have been systematically vicitimised by officers at the highest level,” Shekhawat has said in the letter, a copy of which is with Hindustan Times.
Shekhawat’s allegations have brought the focus back on the Jorhat operation that led to an all-out war among India’s top army officers and at one point even threatened to derail the force’s succession plan.
Gen Dalbir Singh and Lt Gen Krishna didn’t respond to repeated phone calls or messages. Gen Bikram Singh said he didn’t remember the case. “It is not right for me to comment also, as it’s more than three years that I have retired,” he told HT.
Shekhwat, who is on study leave and is pursuing research at the Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, declined comment.
Such complaints usually take six to seven months to be processed, army sources said, refusing further comment. The complaint was made in April.
On the night of December 20, 2011, an army intelligence unit barged into the house of Jorhat-based businessman Surjit Gogoi on the suspicion he was working with the separatist United Liberation Front of Asom.
Gogoi, a contractor with the military engineering corps, was not home when the intelligence unit of the 3 Corps, which was based in neighbouring Nagland’s Dimapur, raided his home in the presence of his wife and other family members.
The soldiers allegedly took away cash, gold and mobile phones from his home, inviting allegations the raid was a robbery. Gogoi lodged a complaint that led to a police investigation.
His 21 para (SF) unit was based in Jorhat at that time but in a breach of procedure, the army intelligence unit didn’t inform his unit or local police about the operation, Shekhawat’s letter says.
He brought the incident to the notice of his superiors but they denied the army was involved.
He spoke to the then brigadier, general staff, Abhay Krishna, who “denied any involvement and asked me as to how do (did) I know that 3 CISU (the Intelligence Unit) had done such a thing? I was shocked by the reaction”.
The intelligence unit was under Krishna’s command. Bikram Singh was the eastern army commander and Dalbir Singh the 3 Corps commander. Krishna took charge of the southwestern command this January.
The intelligence unit raid caused an uproar and the then army chief Gen VK Singh, who is now a minister at the Centre, issued a showcause notice to Dalbir Singh, who was in line to be the army chief in 2014.
It threatened Dalbir Singh’s chances to lead the army. In an affidavit to the Supreme Court, he accused VK Singh of victimising him “with the sole purpose of denying promotion to the appointment of army commander”.
When he took over as the chief in May 2012, Gen Bikram Singh reversed VK Singh’s decision to bar Dalbir Singh from heading the Eastern Command, clearing his way to the force’s top job.
Similar allegations have now been made against Gen Dalbir Singh.”I learnt that directions were issued to my initiating officer to fix Col SS Shekhawat. This vindictive attitude continued when General Dalbir took over as army commander,” the letter says.
As the chief, Gen Dalbir Singh even got him dropped as the leader of an Indian Army expedition to Mount Everest in 2016. An avid mountaineer, Colonel Shekhawat has conquered the Everest thrice.
A part of the Indian Army’s elite special forces, Shekhawat has three gallantry awards to his name – Kirti Chakra, Shaurya Chakra and Sena Medal – and a Vishisht Sena Medal for distinguished service.