"Established fact: greatest weapons of tyranny are silence and false reports."
After they met my wife on 03 and 04 April 1979, in the Supreme Court, the wives of other affected officers tried to approach the DMI and various other authorities concerned in the army, with a view to obtaining justice and early conclusion of the investigation of the cases involving their husbands, who were suffering the ingominy of false charges and inhuman torture.
They were not allowed to meet their husbands nor was there any information about their whereabouts. So in desperation they went on a "dharna" in front of the residence of the Defence Minister Shri Jagjivan Ram, on 24 April 1979.
The Press came into action and the entire nation knew for the first time about the existence of the biggest spy ring unearthed by the Army Intelligence.
There was no end to the rumours and the false news, reported in various papers. With each passing day, such rumours gained momentum. Every day there were conflicting reports which appeared in different newspapers, each stating the news was from a "reliable source".
Some papers quoted the number of those arrested between two to three hundred, while others quoted about four hundred.
Under the confusion the voice of the aggrieved wives went all unheared. No one cared to listen to them. Infact nobody was aware about the true facts, except the ones who were spreading the rumours. No one, except the effected officers and men, knew the truth.
24 April, the UNI reported, "THE OFFICERS WERE SUMMONED ON THE PLEA OF GENERAL MOBILISATION AND ARRESTED ON REACHING THEIR NEW UNITS..... FORTY EIGHT OFFICERS AND 150 OTHER RANKS NEARLY ALL OF THEM POSTED AT SAMBA NEAR JAMMU WERE TAKEN INTO CUSTODY ABOUT THREE MONTHS AGO, IN A SERIES OF CASES CONCERNING PASSING OF MILITARY INTELLIGENCE SECRETS TO PAKISTAN"... Bringing up the news about dharna the ENS said,... "EVEN THOUGH ONE ARREST IS NOT LINKED WITH THE OTHER THE FACT THAT SO MANY CASES ARE BEFORE THE COURT MARTIAL HAS HIT THE HEAD LINES, BECAUSE THE WIVES OF SOME OF THOSE ARRESTED HAVE CHOSEN TO BRING THE ISSUE TO PUBLIC NOTICE BY JOINTLY ISSUING PRESS STATEMENTS... OFFICIALS ARE TIGHT LIPPED ABOUT THE ARRESTS, EVIDENTLY BECAUSE THE MINISTER IS EXPECTED TO MAKE A STATEMENT IN PARLIAMENT... THE MILITARY INTELLIGENCE HAD BEEN OBSERVING THE ACTIVITIES OF ABOUT 20 ARMY OFFICERS AND 30 OTHER RANKS FOR THE PAST FEW MONTHS IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE COUNTRY BEFORE ARRESTING THEM ONE BY ONE OVER A PERIOD OF TIME ON ALLEGATION OF SPYING FOR PAKISTAN.
Then there was the news of my death in custody. The news obviously shook my relations and my old parents, knocking them almost out of breath. The news about my death was contradicted the following day and instead of death it said, "RATHAUR HAS BEEN SENTENCED TO 14 YEARS RI."
This news was published by the reliable sources at the time when proceedings against me had not even commenced properly in the court : As per the same reliable sources, "THE SPY HAD RECEIVED RUPEES 30 LAKHS IN CASH OR IN THE FORM OF RADIOS, ELECTRONIC WATCHES, TV SETS, TAPE RECORDERS AND GOLD BISCUITS.... THE INVESTIGATING OFFICERS HAD FOUND THAT THE CAPTAIN HAD BUILT A BEAUTIFUL HOUSE IN CHANDIGARH..."
Who the sources were and why were the news knowing them to be false, i.e. the death and 14 years RI and all about the cash, having a modern house and so on, released and published? and why had then the prosecution held back such an important evidence as a house fitted with modern gadgets?
The efforts with which the affair was brought to the open by the officers wives' was ridiculed and laughed at by majority of the public and the press. Even the responsible officers of the AHQs did not lag behind in harassing and ridiculing the wives of the officers by comparing their husbands with the most dreaded and hated criminals like Ranga and Billa, who were held responsible for rape and murder of the Chopra children. One of the India's top journalists Shri Inder Malhotra also did not lag behind in projecting the imaga of the MI Directorate. He wrote,.... "THE TACTICS FOLLOWED BY THE LADIES WAS UNWARRANTED..." Probably because he must have believed the stories put forward by the Army Intelligence. Wine and women were the motives attributed for the fall of the morality of so many officers... "THE PAKISTAN INTELLIGENCE USED SULTRY BEGUMS AS BAITS..." He said.
The officials, however, remained tight lipped even when there was lot of mud slinging. The matter came up for a brief discussion in the Rajya Sabha, where some of the Mps raised a doubt that there could be a hand of a foreign power behind the scandal but it was denied by Shri Jagjivan Ram, the Defence Minister. How the minister reached that conclusion, was not explained. Could he?
No one believed that the incredible drama could be false. Even when there were ample and simple hints to draw the inferences. No accused or his relation would ever come forward and agitate the matter in the public unless the accused were falsely involved. No accused would have the matter agitated in the Supreme Court, it he had even the lightest involvement.
Shri Inder Malhotra wrote on 22 September 1979, that the sporadic agitation by the wives slowed down soon enough and that the secrecy produced precisely the opposite result. In the absence of any official statement putting the unpleasant facts in perspective the wildest of rumours gained importance "UNFORTUNATELY THIS CONTINUES TO BE THE POSITION TILL TODAY BECAUSE THE DEFENCE MINISTRY'S PENCHANT FOR SECRECY ABOUT THE SAMBA SPY SCANDAL AND ITS NASTY FALL OUT REMAINS UNSHAKEN. WITH THE DISSOLUTION OF THE LOK SABHA EVEN THE PARLIAMENTARY PRESSURE FOR EXPOSING THE FACTS TO THE LIGHT OF THE DAY HAS DISAPPEARED, THOUGH IT IS ONLY FAIR TO ADD THAT, AS DEFENCE MINISTER, MR. JAGJIVAN RAM MANAGED TO SIDE STEP ALL SUCH PRESSURE EASILY... THE WHOLE ISSUE IS THUS BEING CLOUDED BY A MIASMA OF FEARS AND SUSPICION... EVEN SO THE PRESENT POSITION IS THAT OF THE 53 CASES ARISING FROM THE DISMAL SAMBA EPISODE, 13 HAVE BEEN FINALLY DISPOSED OFF THOUGH THE DEFENCE MINISTRY REMAINS CURIOUSLY COY ABOUT PUBLISHING THIS FACT. OF THESE, EIGHT CASES HAVE LED TO CONVICTION AND SENTENCES OF RIGOROUS IMPRISONMENT RANGING FROM SIX TO 14 YEARS. SUCH HARSH SENTENCES AGAINST WHICH APPEALS LIE TO THE HIGH COURT AND SUPREME COURT AND WHICH HAVE TO BE CONFIRMED IN THE FIRST PLACE BY THE ARMY CHIEF IN THE CASE OF OTHER RANKS AND BY THE DEFENCE MINISTER IN THAT OF OFFICERS, WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN POSSIBLY AWARDED WERE NOT THE COURT MARTIAL CONVINCED THAT THE SECRETS DIVULGED WERE VITAL"
Were they and was there any secret divulged at all?
Shri Inder Malhotra sceptical as the seemed himself exposed another but disturbing factor in the same article, "IN ARMY IF THE INVESTIGATION OF A CASE CANNOT BE COMPLETED WITHIN THREE YEARS IT HAS TO BE DROPPED. SOME OF THE ACCUSED MILITARY PERSONNEL INCLUDING ONE OF THE TWO ALLEGED RING LEADERS OF THE SPY RING ARE SAID TO BE ADOPTING EVERY POSSIBLE TACTIC TO DELAY PROCEEDINGS LONG ENOUGH TO INVOKE THE THREE YEARS RULE... IN SUCH CASES THE ARMY'S POLICY SEEMS TO BE TO TAKE ADMINISTRATIVE ACTION AGAINST THE PERSONS CONCERNED AND HAND OVER THEIR CASES TO THE CIVILIAN AUTHORITIES FOR TRIAL IN ORDINARY COURTS OF LAW....
But when the time came were the cases handed over to the civilian courts? No; they were not when the army authorities realised there were no evidence to press charges against so many officers, instead of setting them free, the authorities resorted to administrative action by dismissing them summarily from the service.
Why did the army not hand over the cases to civil courts and give the traitors their deserving punishment?
"AND THIS BRINGS A PAINFUL AND STILL UNTOLD PART OF THE SAMBA STORY. NORMALLY IN THE SPY SCANDAL OF THE RANGE AND RAMIFICATIONS THAT THE SAMBA AFFAIR UNDOUBTEDLY HAD, THE MILITARY AND CIVILIAN AUTHORITIES ARE EXPECTED TO ACT IN CLOSE COOPERATION TO DETERMINE THE PREVISE NATURE OF SECRETS THAT MAY HAVE BEEN PASSED ON TO PAKISTAN, TO SEE HOW FOR THE PRESENT CASE FITS IN WITH THE INDIAN ASSESSMENT OF THE GRAND DESIGNS OF THE PAKISTAN SPY MASTERS IN RELATION TO THE COUNTRY AND TO FERRET OUT SUCH AGENTS AS MIGHT STILL BE LURKING IN THE SHADOWS. BUT THIS IS FAR FROM BEING THE CASE... INSTEAD THE IB IN THE UNION HOME MINISTRY WHICH IS RESPONSIBLE FOR ALL ASPECTS OF COUNTER ESPIONAGE.... HAS BEEN COMPLAINING THAT IT HAS BEEN STUDIOUSLY EXCLUDED FROM LOOKING INTO THE SAMBA MESS. THE MATTER WAS INFACT REFERRED TO THE CABINET'S POLITICAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE BUT THE JANTA GOVERNMENT THEN WAS TOO BUSY FIGHTING THE LOOSING BATTLE FOR ITS LIFE TO DEVOTE ANY ATTENTION TO THE PROBLEM. NOR HAS THE PRESENT CARE TAKER GOVERNMENT SHOWED ANY INCLINATION TO GRASP THE NETTLE". He wrote in the same article.
All leading papers and magazines started singing their own tunes and modulating frequently. But slowly everyone became sceptical about the truth behind the Samba affair.
Shri RP Singh wrote in the August 1979 in an issue of the Debonair, "It was the Jawan who was instrumental in drawing the Captain into the racket. How he did it sounds like a silly Hindi film story but those who tell it swear that it is true...."
It was Lieut Colonel Mohinder Singh (Retd) who tried for the first time to check the direction of wild thoughts. In his article "what happened to Samba Brigade", published in New Delhi Journal in its 15 October 1979 issue, after giving a correct background to the case which he followed systematically and wrote, "... The hullaballu surrounding the spy case had died, but the mentality has not changed. Now the prisoners have been arraigned, no one has yet been tried and convicted.... There is widespread belief that the suspicion of spying was unfounded and the arrests made in an unseemly hurry. The continued detention of these officers is largely to save face. What has been done cannot be undone, but further miscarriage of justice must be stopped. The memories of the famous DREYFUS CASE which rocked the French Army at the beginning of the century looms large. It is not too late for the authorities to own up their mistakes and restore morale in the army."
But alas! The vicious thread was not broken. Finding the callous attitude of the army authorities in handling the cases of their husbands, the wives went on a relay hunger strike, this time in front of the Divisional Hqs. They broke the fast only when they were assured of a speedy conclusion of their husbands cases.
There was one distinct advantage of my wife's going to the Supreme Court. It foiled the designs of the interested people of the MI Directorate. Since the spy case had become known to the public as well the tortures given to the victims, the interrogators became apprehensive. So the tide which had threatened to engulf a large section of the army in espionage was suddenly checked. No further confessions could be dictated, nor could any corroboration be made. There was no evidence to support the illegalities perpetrated by the MI Directorate upon numerous officers and men of its army. It was an irreparable loss to the self esteem, prestige and integrity of the affected personnel in particular and to the army and nation in general.
Not knowing what to do they started issuing false statements to the press; misleading and misinforming the nation. They tried to establish through the press that some of the ring leaders were caught red handed.
Major S.P. Sharma the Brigade Major was "knighted" as the ring leader of the Spy Net. It was reported that the Major was caught at the border while passing a face plan paper to the Pakistan's FIU. "The face plan", the report said, "was intentionally prepared and passed on to Major Sharma, following the disclosure of his name by one of our agents."
The period when Major Sharma was alleged to have been arrested, on the border, as per the news, he was at that time physically attending the senior command course, thousands of miles away from the border in MHOW. It was also alleged that Major Sharma had constructed a modern house in Samba, which was not true. He in fact did not have any house; not even an ancestral one!
Similar propaganda was made by the MI Directorate against each and every person who was arrested.
The second advantage was in the treatment given to the wives of the other officers. Everyone of them was provided with a proper accomodation and transport facilities, including the one for acquiring legal advisory help in the ingestigation of their husband's cases.
The accused were allowed to consult their advocates at the time of recording of their S of E. The only presons who had been singled out for such a help were the ones whose S of E was recorded before March 1979. Howeever, in my case, my wife was not given any facilities which were given to the others, even after the conclusion of my case.
I followed the news in papers systematically. I was pained more than the torture to see the events which had taken such a frightening turn for the reputation of the army. I had tried to make a number of attempts to save the situation but had failed. I wrote a number of letters to the editors of various papers projecting the truth in them, but none of them was reciprocated.
The situation would not had reached where it had, if the authorities had taken timely action in the right direction, after the deposition made by me on 08 and 09 January 1979, or even after my letter which I had written to the Chief of the Army Staff. The Chief, General Malhotra, should not have got carried away with the mere word espionage and sanctioned the arrest of officers enmasse, without using the mind. Even if the Chief was not prepared to believe the innocence as asserted by me who, after all was an officer, without a single blemish in my record, he would have been wise to stop further arrests and to order a high level inquiry to find out the truth.
But instead, he ordered the arrests, may be believing that so many officers and men of the army under him, belong to a single Brigade were infact involved in spying.
He failed to see that what information could have been supplied by so many spies from one single Brigade. Not only that, he went to the extent of doubling the morality of so many officers of the Indian Army!
There was no doubt that the perpetrators were able somehow to win over the confidence of the Chief and it was under his direct protection that all sorts of false reports were being circulated against the arrested personnel. Or course the technique adopted by the authority concerned was one of the oldest: first you isolate his victim, then pull the switches on him, cut off his power supply, spread false reports, and then it is as of the plague or the pox, no body wants to know any more.
However, as time passed the papers and magazines had become doubtful about the truth propagated by the army authorities.
Shri Inder Malhotra wrote a third article on the Samba Spy Case in april 1980... "For nearly three months the country did not hear a word about the grave development. The Army top brass and the Ministry of Defence, then headed by Mr. Jagjivan Ram, were torn between two contrary pulls - their determination to mete out exemplary punishment to the guilty and their anxiety to protect the good name of the army. But nothing could have been more self defeating than the thick blanket of secrecy that they threw around the whole affair... The atmosphere of suspicion, misgivings and mistrust continued throughout the uneasy and admittedly slow progress of the Samba Case. The Defence Ministry remained wedded to the doctrine of secrecy. And such parliamentary pressure as there was for exposing the affair to the light of day, disappeared with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha on August 22. Now the case has been brought to the point of decision almost as messily as it had first hit the headlines..." Then he worte, "... the three year dead line applies only to court martial proceedings. There is no such bar to prosecutions in the civilian court of law. Several armed forces personnel have indeed been tried in camera, in the civilian courts both before and after the Samba Affair. It may therefore legitimately be asked why the Defence Ministry refrained from putting up for trial those against whom it thought it had sufficient evidence and got rid of them by taking recourse to administrative powers under section 18 of the Army... Despite repeated and categorical statements by the previous Defence ministers and the present Chief of Army Staff that no third degree methods have been used during the investigation into Samba case reports of "brutal torture" of the imprisoned officers persist. In fact such complaints are believed to have been reiterated in a memorandum submitted by the aggrieved officers to the Prime Minister. In the circumstances Mrs. Gandhi will do well to review the Samba case herself or get this done by an informal committee with impeccable credentials. Only then can the atmosphere be cleared of the accumulated poison. Otherwise the nagging question will persist and this will do no good to the army's reputation and morale... On the admission of the Military Intelligence itself, not all those allegedly involved in the racket had sold their souls for the traditional lure of wine, women and wealth. Quite a few of them are said to have been tricked into crossing the line of control and subsequently blackmailed." And Shri Inder Malhotra very rightly asks a question, if the conscience was not sold then "why on their return, did they not have the courage to go to their commanding officers, make a clean breast of what had happened and thus present the Indian counter - espionage with an invaluable opportunity to "turn them around" and feed Pakistan Intelligence gross misinformation?'
By June 1980 the Press had turned hostile to the cause of the Military Intelligence. All leading papers like `Sunday', Indian Today', `Caravan', `Probe,' `Maya', and the `Blitz' came forward asking the government a number of questions like; "What were our counter Intelligence agencies doing while this wide spread spying was going on? Were any of the alleged spies apprehended red handed, which should be easy with such vast resources at our disposal? Have incriminating documents or maps been recovered from them? Have any documents or maps been found missing? Why were most of the personnel arrested charged under section 63 of the Army Act, that is conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline and not under Official Secrets Act?...."
"Maya" in its editorial of May 1980 issue, wrote.... "This is a matter of surprise that it was Pakistan Intelligence to receive the news first or such a big dimensional spy ring. 527 Intelligence and Field Security Company had accomplished notable progress in acquiring vital information from Pakistan. It is obvious then that the Pakistan FIU wanted to destroy this organisation. Therefore, it believed that could this be a conspiracy against the achievements of the Indian soldier and to cause irreparable loss to their morale?"
The Blitz said, "It was a foul play by the Military Intelligence."
India Today said, "Whatever the truth of the matter the case has certainly not been conducted in a normal routine manner, politics it appears, is not the exclusive preserve of politicians."
So much mud was thrown on the army and the government. Yet there was no action taken to investigate and bring the culprits to book.
A joint enquiry by the civil intelligence agencies headed by Shri V.K. Kaul, the Deputy Director of the intelligence Bureau, had been constituted on the personal intervention of the then Home Minister Shri Y.B. Chavan. However nothing was known about its report; that obviously was against the MI Directorate as Shri Kaul had openly declared my innocence after interrogation and assured me of full justice.
There was however one action taken by the authorities concerned. They pressurised the people who were probing and writing the damaging articles. Colonel (Retd) N.S. Bains, the counsel of most of the aggrieved officers, was a man of impeccable character, determined to expose the scandal, was pressurised and threatened of serious consequences if he did not drop the cases. When he did not budge they tried to bribe him by offering him lakhs of rupees, without any success.
Thus every tactic possibly known to a human mind was applied by the Army authorities and the cases concluded in a complete shroud of mystery with which the scandal had started. And the saga of the Samba Spy Scandal shrivelled to a significance less than that of a graffiti scrawled on a wall, washed away by the rains of time.
And the "official lips" remained closed forever.
|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 ||