Friday, June 4, 2010

AoA: What Happens To Lt Gen Kishan Pal?

I have never met Lt Gen Kishan Pal, Srinagar Corps Commander during the Kargil War, nor was I a journalist when the war was being fought. I was in college in the summer of 1999, and remember poring over superbly vivid war dispatches in The Indian Express, the Times and occasionally Statesman. I had no idea at the time that I would be a defence journalist, or a journalist at all. But I do remember being thoroughly swept by the utter detail in the reports that correspondents sent back from the front. And anyone who kept a close tab on developments couldn't possibly forget the coverage that was given to operations in Batalik. I met Brigadier Devinder Singh for the first time in March this year, and totally by chance. His case was to come up at the Armed Forces Tribunal just as the infamous Sukna episode was winding down. On Wednesday afternoon, when Headlines Today broke the news about his legal victory, all those reports about Batalik came flooding back. It seemed improbably, fantastic that one man's war against a system that appeared calibrated to fix him, was now told it had behaved in the most reprehensible way possible. It seemed outlandish, crazy, almost surreal. And believe me, it seemed so to the Brigadier as well. At least at first. When I spoke to him in March for the first time, he wasn't hopeful of anything substantial from the tribunal. "One hopes they will see my point of view, even though it has been a long time since the operations," he said to me, with a rueful smile, but every bit still the soldier.

Brigadier Devinder Singh may have won back some undeniable honour for himself and his formation, the 70 Brigade, but every correspondent that covered the war -- and those who followed it as closely as I did -- agree that the judgement has interminably complicated what the establishment would have best liked kept asleep. Brigadier Singh was superbly modest when he spoke to Headlines Today, suggesting that the verdict was specific to his case and did not necessarily call into question to veracity of the official history of the operations as a whole. I, and a lot of others, think it actually does.

That history is always someone's opinion has always been known. But this judgement has frighteningly proved how personal interpersonal prejudices and malafide intentions are totally, utterly, meaningfully a part of official records of events. How else could one explain the superimposition of a fictitious brigade headquarters, headed by one Brigadier Ashok Dugal, in the operations? The judgement is searing proof that the biases of men, the top commanders during the war, may have totally subverted any truth we may ever hope to learn about Kargil. Will that truth only reside in a clutch of journalists who visited the front and were able to see and record what they saw before the establishment could bend it out of shape in battle performance reports and official histories? It's a question worth pondering. No wonder all our most important official histories are still officially classified.

What about Lt Gen Kishan Pal, who has finally found guts -- a full 24 hours after the judgement came out -- to come out and deny that he fudged any reports or showed any bias. What happens to him? Should he be reprimanded? Should he receive a rap on the knuckles? Is a rap enough for letting his prejudices steal honour from a battle formation and commander that deserved much more than they got? Is there any procedure that will allow the country to bring this General to task, and complete the truth about what really happened, and how lies came to be told on official documents that will live forever in the treasure-chests of the nation? All questions worth thinking about. In my opinion, of course.

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