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35 years after being branded a spy, Army major's name cleared

After living for 35 years under the cloud of suspicion, Mumbai-based former Indian Army major N R Ajwani can finally walk with his head held high, after having his name cleared in the Samba Spy case. The 77-year-old major and a few other army officers have been fighting to have their names cleared, after they were accused of espionage, arrested, and terminated from service without being given a chance to prove their innocence.


Justice is served: Ajwani at his residence in Grant Road. Pic/Bipin Kokate

The Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court have raised serious concerns over the termination of service of the army officers, in the absence of material evidence, terming it an improper exercise of power by the Union of India.

The matter was being heard by the division bench comprising Supreme Court Justice Dr B S Chauhan and Justice V Gopala Gowda, who in their order dated July 30, raised serious questions on the action taken against the army officers and have placed the matter before the Chief Justice of India.

A graduate in Commerce with a Law degree from Gujarat University, N R Ajwani joined the army in 1964. “I joined the Indian Army to protect the honour of my country, but in return, the same Army and authorities in the Defence Ministry robbed me of my own honour by fudging false charges of espionage against me, because I refused to take illegal orders from officers of Military Intelligence (MI),” said Ajwani.

Lost
“I have been deprived of my right to defend myself and my right of natural justice, as laid out in the constitution. I was tagged as a spy, my service was terminated and all my emoluments were stopped, for no fault of mine. I have done no wrong and I am fighting my case to prove my innocence,” said Ajwani.
Ajwani will be leaving for Delhi shortly to meet his lawyers and ensure that the matter is followed up in the Supreme Court.

The Other Side
Colonel Hitten Sawhney, Director Media, Indian Army said, “I am not aware of this case, you can contact the PRO.” MiD DAY later learnt that the post is now vacant. A civilian Vijendra Singh, who holds the portfolio of Additional PRO, said, “I have not gone through the Supreme Court order and won’t be able to say anything.”

The Samba spy case
Between August 24, 1978 and January 23, 1979, about 50 persons who had worked in the 168 Infantry Brigade and its subordinate units at Samba were arrested on charges of spying for Pakistan at the behest of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (MI). Samba is 40 km from Jammu-Pathankot on the international border. Investigations involved practically the whole officer cadre of the brigade. Those arrested included a brigadier, three lieutenant colonels and a number of majors, captains, junior commissioned officers (JCOs), non-commissioned officers (NCOs), and personnel of other ranks, as well as 11 civilians who had worked in the Samba sector. They were all taken into custody based on the statement of two self-confessed Pakistani spies who worked as gunners in the Indian Army – Sarwan Dass and Aya Singh. In December 1994, Sarwan Dass swore an affidavit and appeared at a press conference to admit that he had falsely implicated the men.

The scandal cut short the careers of many Army personnel. Ajwani, then an officer with the Judge Advocate Generals Department at HQ, Northern High Command in Udhampur, had conducted some of the court martials. He says that the Samba trial and his refusal to favour any members of the Military Intelligence during trial made him a victim.

In September 1978, while conducting the court martial of gunner Om Prakash in an espionage case, Ajwani had antagonised some MI officers, when he rejected a written confession that he felt had been extracted from the gunner under pressure from the MI. According to Ajwani, the MI got back at him by first transferring him to Pune, and eventually having him arrested on false charges.

The arrest
>> Ajwani first visited Samba in June 1976, in connection with a murder trial and stayed there for 45 days, where he met his friend Captain Rana, who was then posted as Intelligence Officer at Samba. The nightmare began two months after he had returned from Samba, when he was abruptly transferred to the Southern Command in Pune.


Ajwani in his prime, when he was a major in the Indian Army.

>> On January 23, 1979, Ajwani was paid a visit by Brigadier Ramdas, with whom he used to play bridge. “It felt like a major trap was being laid to nail me, when Brigadier Ramdas informed me that he had orders from Army Headquarters in Delhi to put me under arrest.” The reason given for his arrest was espionage. “When I learnt that the orders to arrest me were from the Army HQ, Delhi, I was sure that the MI were all set to take revenge. They wanted me to get out of the way. I have always done my job without fear or favour,” he said.

>> “I was taken from Pune to Mumbai and locked up at the Gurkha Battalion unit in Colaba. The Advocate Judge of the Indian Army was being treated like a security suspect. Nine days later, I was taken to Mathura.

>> At Mathura railway station, plainclothes personnel handcuffed me in front of the public and took me out of the railway station. Outside the railway station, I was put in a tempo and blindfolded.”

>> He was kept at the Intelligence Centre in Naruiana, Delhi Cantonment. “I was dumped in a small room with no ventilation. The only light that came in was through a small hole in the wall; armed guards were posted outside the door, and they would keep an eye on my movements through the peephole.”

>> A few months later, Ajwani was shifted to an officer’s mess in Delhi cantonment. In August, he was accused of going to Pakistan with Captain Rana to pass on vital state secrets.

>> Ajwani points out various discrepancies and irregularities in the MI’s claims. The trial began at Deolali on December 22, 1979 and the MI failed to produce their star witnesses to nail Ajwani, and the matter was adjourned. Ajwani was released from arrest on January 25, 1980 but suspended from service. On March 13, 1980 his service was terminated. 

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