Samba Spy Scandal

Close Arrest

While walking in the gallery, I read a name plate `Lieut Col B S BHANDARI, VSM', hung outside an office. I recollected that I had known the officer at Jammu. I thought and went in the office to meet Colonel Bhandari, who recognised me and showed his happiness at meeting me after an interval of more than two years. I had decided to meet and spend the evening with my friend, so I was in a hurry. But the Colonel would not let me go without tea. We talked about the happy days spent in close association and the occasions, I was instrumental in sorting out the squabbles between Colonel Bhandari and Colonel Grewal over their common sources. Both the Colonels knew me and my work of acquiring information. I thought to apprise Bhandari of my suspicion but decided against it. He may not know. It would be very disconcerting for him, I thought and took leave.

I returned to the Area Mess. After lunch I informed the Mess Havildar about my dining out, came to the room, changed my dress and went to the bus stop.

During one of my visits to AHQs, I had met Major Jang from Intelligence. He had been a GSO 2 (Ops) in the formation when I was Int Officer. From Kang, I had known that major Midha, Officer Commanding 527 Int and Field Security Company, of which had been a member once, was posted to the Red Fort, as security officer.

While waiting at the bus stop, I thought of paying a courtesy call to major Midha. I took a bus and reached the Red Fort.

I remembered the area where I had spent about a year with my unit. I was a sepoy back in 1964, when my unit was stationed in the Red Fort. I did not find it difficult to orient myself to the surroundings, despite some major developments in the form of wide roads and some additional constructions that had since taken place.

After getting down from the bus, I walked inside the fort, near the portal which provided a guarded entry to the famous "Dewane Khas"and the Moti Masjid, the latter, built by Aurangzeb the last great Emperor of the muslim dynasty, famous for his cruelties to other sects of religion. I asked a sentry and finding that he did not know my security officer by the name of Major Midha, walked to the Officers' Mess of the unit stationed in the Red Fort - a unit from the Kumaon Regiment. There just by a stroke of luck, I changed to look at the name plate hung outside the house in the alley, next to the Mess. I was relieved to discover that it was the house I was looking for. I pressed the buzzer and was very happy to find Havildar Ram Sarup, once my subordinate, opening the door. Hearing us chat excitedly, Major Midha also came over, and seeing me, he happily led me to the drawing room, Having exquired about the whereabouts of our pals I confidentially expressed my doubts to Major Midha. I asked him whether it was correct for me to go to the DDMI, if the next day also there was any dilly dallying. Major Midha expressed his amazement, saying it would be ridiculous if my suspicions turned out to be correct. How could aspersion be cast upon some one like me who had such a good record of acquiring highly valuable information, simply because a source I had operated, had turned out to be a double agent? He advised me to speak to the DDMI or even the DMI.

I learnt here about one sepoy Ajit singh a former member of my Company, who had been convicted and sentenced to 14 years rigorous imprisonment for espionage. Could it be Ajit? He was apprehended in 1976! If it were him, I would have been called much before.

Havildar Ram Sarup who had come to take some orders from Major Midha, would not let me go without tea, a small token of his gratitude for my kindness to him and his colleagues when they had served under me. I had commanded respect by looking after the welfare of my men and boosted up the work standards through my incessant efforts and organisational capabilities. I found it difficult to turn down the ardent wish to the NCO. So I went to take tea with the Havildar, in the other ranks' lines.

During the talk with Ram Sarup, I found out that he was in the last year of his service. Thereafter, Ram Sarup would retire: oblivious of the impending disaster that would force him to retire not only from the army but from life itself. He appeared very contented with his posting at Delhi as his village was very near which made it possible for him to visit his aged parents and family on weekends to straighten up any domestic problens, while still in service.

I had to visit my old friends and for that I was getting late. So, I left the place, came out of the fort and took an auto-rickshaw. I shook hands with Ram Sarup who'd come to see me off - thanked him for his hospitality and expressed my gratitude once again for the unfaltering loyalty he and the men of the platoon had offered way back in Samba.

On the way, I wondered if anyone would recognise me after ten years. Ten years, I thought was big gap to reckon with. Great upheavals had since taken place, not only in socio-economic and physical appearance of the surroundings but also in the moods of people. How would my friend react? Would he recognise me? I thought. Èven, I may find it difficult to recognise him. After all when we last parted, he was merely a lad of seventeen years. Now he must be a fully grown up person, married, and might even have a couple of kids.' But I dismissed any such apprehensions, saying, `Let me see it for myself.'

I got down at the Sabzimandi bus stop. It was s sabzimandi only till such time the market had not been shifted during the days of the emergency. Now it was a place, I found competely changed - beautifully decorated, lit with moon light even while there was day-light. Looking at the changed picture of the area, I found it difficult to orient myself. I became uncertain of finding the house, as I did not know the address. Not knowing the address was the reason I could never write to Pasha, my friend, even though I wanted to. For some time I felt lost. `Whom should I ask, and for what, when I don't even know the name of the locality?' I questioned myself. Finally I thought to try and I was successful.

I pressed the buzzer on reaching the hose and was relieved to find that Pasha's mother, who opened the door, did recognise me. `Beera! You!!... We thought you've got lost, and will not come to meet us.'

I replied jokingly, `Well, I've a habit of surprising people by appearing out of the blue,' and enquired how was everything and everyone. `Where are the other?' I asked, seeing her alone at home.

She asked me to first relax and went into the kitchen. She brought a plateful of assorted sweets with a glass of milk and affectionately pressed me to take them.

She briefly described everything that had happened since my last visit. Pasha was married and had two daughters; now he was living separately and Papu, the younger brother of Pasha had passed Bsc the same year. Papu was undecided whether to study further or to take up some job. And, as a rule, she left no stone unturned, criticizing, blasphemously attributing every small piece of bitterness to her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Pasha, while herself steering expertly clear from any behavioural defects. Then, breaking into tears, she said `but who is here to listen to my woes, when my own son has deserted me in collaboration with yesterday's damsel. He's disowned us; his parents!.... I'm very old now, as you see, a chronic patient of arthritis. `Tears now succeeded her sobs. She finally rounded up the criticism by giving it a touch of finality with an intense shower of curses. Then, she abruptly reversed the entire scene. Curbing her tears and smiling, she asked, `You tell me about yourself. How have you been all these years?'

I suddenly woke up from the trance to which I had been reduced while listening to the story. It was indeed a poignant sight; still I found it difficult to believe that the girl could alone be blameworthy. A single hand can't produce a clap. I marvelled over the established custom of mud-slinging between "sas" and "bahu" I held her also guilty. But, outwardly I fibbed all my sympathies with her, and then told her about myself.

Thereafter, I went and met my friend Pasha at his new house and engaged in unending tal. I had my dinner there. it was 11 P.M.

I got leave from the couple only once I'd promised to meet them the following day. The place for meeting was fixed by Pasha.

We were to see a picture, have dinner in a restaurant and go to the Birla Temple. It was "Janam-ashtmi" the following night.

The next day, I got ready, had my breakfast and waited for my transport. It was 10 A.M. and the vehicle had not arrived. Since the club secretary wouldn't allow the use of his telephone, I borrowed the Mess Havildar's cycle and paddled to the Area Hqs Officers. I requested the GSO 2 to make arrangements for the transport as the one detailed for me had not reported. After having made sure, I cycled back to the Mess and again waited. One hour passed. Yet there was no vehicle, so I again went to the Area Hqs and complained about the transport and aboutthe delay, this time to the GSO 3. The GSO 2 was absent from duty.

I remembered the two young officers complaining to Major Tandon. It was being repeated on me. I was very annoyed to see the way things moved in both the Hqs. In a frenzy, I spoke aloud, ànd these people think themselves hell of smart. But in fact they are stupid and fools.'

Somehow I managed to reach the Army Hqs, but by then the time was 12:30 P.M. I explained about the delay when I was asked by Colonel Jain. Then, I was asked to go to Major Uppal's office and wait. The cards were ready, I was informed!

No sooner than I entered the office, I was called back. Jain informed me that there was a telephonic message for me from my CO and that the message was received by the Commandant, Raj Rif Centre. Colonel Jain asked me to go and receive the message there.

`Why should my CO said a message to the Raj Rif Centre and what was the emergency for such a message. Couldn't the message have been sent to you, if at all there was one?' I shot back.

`Well, I don't know that,' replied Jain.

`Why? Can't I receive that message here on the telephone, instead of going there and again coming back?', comprehending that the curtain was being lifted from the stage to enact a scene which had so far been rehearsed, I enquired.

Colonel Jain was hard-pressed to extend a satisfactory reply. Seeing him in that embarrassing situation, I came to his deliverance. I offered to go and receive the nessage, the contents of which I knew already!

When I was just about to leave, Major Uppal entered the room and requested Colonel Jain to allow him to go and see his ailing son in the hospital.

`But how will you go?' Colonel Jain enquired from Uppal, then turning to me said, Ì believe you've got some transport?'

`Yes,' I replied briefly.

`Then, could you give a lift to Major Uppal till the hospital?'

`He's most welcome.'

I fully understood the drama that was being played. `Major Uppal is to guard me lest I run away before reaching the centre, where they will probably end up interrogating me,' I mused.

As was expected, Major Uppal never got down anywhere en route. On arrival, I went to the Adjutant's office and asked about the message. The Adjutant drew a blank.

`Kindly find out from the Commandant.' I asked him.

The Adjutant first talked to the Commandant on the intercom, and then went himself.

It was 2 P.M. I felt as if a gloom had descended over everybody's face. Seeing that, I also became tense withthe thought that those people must be viewing me with suspicion.

Nothing about the message was told to me. I was led to the Officers' Mess by another officer, named Captain Sansar Chand and, after lunch, I found the Adjutant with the message.

Ì'm very sorry to have been called upon to perform this dirty job - but I can't help it. You're placed under close arrest,' the Adjutant declared.

`By whom and for which offence?' I enquired.

`By the Commandant, and I don't know for what offence,' the Adjutant replied.

`Well look, I suppose it is incumbent on the part of the Adjutant or the Commandant, to assign the reasons and show me the offence for which I'm being arrested.' I demanded my rights. But the Adjutant could tell me nothing and nothing was givne to me in writing either.

My luggage had already been shifted from the Area Mess. I changed the dress and, smiling, lay on the bed ruminating over the entire drama from the start.

Preface | Temporary Duty | The Move Order | The Train Journey | The Reception | The Army HQ | Close Arrest | The Interrogation | Background | The Intelligence | The Security | The Devil | The Confession | The Foundation Stone | The Great Detectives | The Corroborations | An Approver | Confrontaions | Hibernations | Leading to the Trails | Fairy Tales | Into the Fire | Army Procedure | As a Winess | Meeting with Family | Habeas Corpus | Death of Democracy | The Trial | Prosecution Case | The Defence | The Press | Rebuttal | Aftermath | Mystery | Postscript | Annexure I | Home |