When Major Leetul Gogoi arrived at a polling station in Srinagar last month in response to an SOS from poll officials and security personnel trapped inside, his team was attacked by a 1000 -strong group of protesters, who hurled stones and petrol bombs at them. The Army officer had to act fast to evacuate the officials and others and that is when he decided, he said, to tie a protester, Farooq Ahmed Dar, to the bonnet of his jeep, which then led a convoy to safety.
- Had we opened fire, there would have been a dozen casualties: Major Gogoi
- Major Gogoi received Commendation Card from Army Chief Bipin Rawat
- Farooq Ahmed Dar denied that he was part of the stone throwing mob
"It was done only to save the local people. Had we opened fire, there would have been a dozen casualties... I got a fraction of a moment to get out safely. I saved at least 12 lives," said Major Gogoi, who received a Commendation Card from Army Chief Bipin Rawat yesterday.
He spoke to reporters today, recounting the events of April 9, when by-elections were held in Srinagar amid violence.
The 53 Rashtriya Rifles officer said he had made repeated appeals to the protesters, who were attacking the polling station, but they refused to listen. His team, he said, was under pressure as a mine-protected vehicle of the Army got stuck and a petrol bomb landed near them.
"At that time I saw a person standing 30 meters from our vehicle... We found out later on that he was the one who was instigating them and that he might be the ringleader," the officer said.
Ducking and dodging the missiles, he and his men managed to catch the fleeing man, he said. "On seeing us, he started running towards the crowd and he got on a bike and tried to get away from the scene. somehow despite the intense stone pelting and getting hurt, we caught him," he said. Later, he asked his team to place him on the jeep, said the officer, who is facing an internal inquiry by the army.
Army sources said Major's Gogoi's action on the day of the Srinagar by-elections was part of "sustained efforts in counter-insurgency operations" for which the officer was given the recognition.
Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said the officer had the responsibility to save the lives of those involved in the by-election that day.
Farooq Ahmed Dar has, however, denied that he was part of the stone throwing mob. He told NDTV today that he was in the area to vote and asked, "If it was his (the army chief's) son tied to jeep, would he still have given the award to the officer?"
Videos of Mr Dar tied on the vehicle sparked intense debate, with Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehboba Mufti asking for a detailed report from the state police, which filed a First Information Report.