Army unit standoff raised in parliament, PM bars debate

Army unit standoff raised in parliament, PM bars debate

The soldiers-officers standoff in an army armoured unit in Jammu and Kashmir was raised in the Rajya Sabha Thursday, but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh intervened to stop the house from debating the incident as the army has ordered a probe.

The stand-off, at Samba military camp, is the second such incident in the last three months, with a much serious violent incident  which left the unit commanding officer, two Majors and two soldiers grievously injured. The first was reported from Nyoma, a key military area in the southeastern Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, in May this year.

In the Rajya Sabha, Communist Party of India-Marxist's Sitaram Yechury raised the issue of "mutiny in the army" and sought a debate on it and a response from Defence Minister A.K. Antony.

No sooner did Yechury raise this issue than Manmohan Singh was quick to rise and reject the demand for a debate, saying the incidents have been "blown out of proportion".

"The house must not have discussion on it, it is a small incident being blown out of proportion," he said. "It is not good for the morale of the army," the prime minister added.

According to army sources, the latest, shocking breach of discipline took place after a soldier reportedly shot himself to death early Wednesday at the guard room of 16 Light Cavalry, using his service rifle. He was identified by the Army Headquarters as V. Arun from Thiruvananthapuram.

Infuriated by their colleague's suicide, the unit's soldiers numbering around 400 allegedly surrounded the residences of the officers and a prolonged standoff ensued between the two sides.

The incident forced Lt. Gen. A.K. Bhalla, commander of 9 Corps under which the formation comes, to fly from his headquarters at Yol Cantonment in Himachal Pradesh to Samba to curb the rising tempers and to bring order in the unit.

Incidentally, Indian Army chief General Bikram Singh is currently camping in the Western Command area, which he is officially visiting. Sources said there were contradictions in the claims of the soldiers and the officers on how and why the suicide took place.

One version talked of a phone call the soldier received, purportedly from his family, which resulted in his taking the extreme step, while another version cited the work-related stress caused by a tense relationship between the soldiers and the officers as the trigger point.

"But these issues will be clear only after the court of inquiry headed by a brigadier ordered into the incident completes its probe," an officer at the Army HQ here said.

There was also a talk of complete breakdown of discipline in the unit, mainly due to complete failure of command and control. However, it was not immediately known if the army was shifting out the commanding officer of the unit.

Following the standoff, the senior army officers, who rushed to the spot, segregated the officers and the soldiers. The officers were reportedly sent out of the camp for a day and they returned only on Thursday after the situation cooled off.

"There was no scuffle or clash between the officers and the soldiers," officers clarified. However, they admitted that tempers did run high in the camp.

"The officers were moved out of the camp so that there could be an impartial inquiry into the incident," an officer noted.

"The situation has normalised now at Samba camp," he said, adding the court of inquiry will begin soon and will look into "the entire gamut of issues" that resulted in the standoff.
Meanwhile, a police case has been filed in Samba over the suicide of the soldier.

With regard to the Nyoma incident, when soldiers and officers came to blows at a field firing training, officers said the court of inquiry was still in progress and that it could take another two months or so to complete in view of the large number of witnesses and multiple charges that needed to be probed.

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