This article was published in The Telegraph in May of 1984
May 1984. The Telegraph, Calcutta. India
Major General Shahbeg Singh, whose body was found in the basement of the Akal Takht on June 6, 1984 along with that of Bhai Amrik Singh was interviewed by The Telegraph four weeks before he died.
Q: Why were you removed from the army?
A: You should ask the army. I’m the only person whom they did not even put on trial. If they could put other Generals on trial, if they could take them to court martial and frame charges against them, why couldn’t they do the same for me?
Q: Why didn’t they give you a trial?
A: Because they had nothing against me and they just wanted to throw me out. Leave alone a fair trial, they didn’t give me any kind of trial. They threw me out under a special clause which has never been invoked in the British army and has been invoked in the Indian army only in my case. This is a special power given to the Army chief under which my services were “administratively terminated” one day before they ended. Then they started two other cases against me : one was that I got a truck in somebody else’s name and the other was that I built a house costing Rs. 9 lakhs. I told them that I had built the house for Rs.1.75 lakhs. Vigilance valued it at Rs.1.8 lakhs or something. In the court it came down to exactly what I had said.
Q: So you won the cases?
A: I won the cases. But I wasn’t dismissed on those grounds. What happened then was they handed over the case to the CBI for investigation. After my dismissal they filed this case in the court, so for five years I was humiliated and harassed in court. I realised they were delaying justice deliberately, I went and talked to the Home Minister, Giani Zail Singh, and he promised justice. I had gone with the then Advocate General who is a friend of mine, and he told Giani ji that this man has done so much for the country. He said, this is probably your only General who has brought so much fame to the country and look, what you are doing to him. Giani ji asked for the case to be reviewed, but he never did anything about it. In any case, nothing was done. And instead of withdrawing these false cases against me they went on deliberately delaying the legal proceedings. The judge wrote a letter to the CBI saying that the time and efforts of the court should not be wasted and witnesses should be produced in court. Inspite of this the case continued to be delayed and the CBI told me that they could delay it for 20 years if they so wished.
Q: But how did you suddenly fall out of favour after being a hero in the Bangladesh war?
A: Because I made a statement, not a statement really, I just said, during the Emergency, that nobody was indispensable in the service of this country. This to me was a patriotic statement. But this statement was carried through the backdoor to the Army Chief and the PM, and God knows what they thought that I was a rebel, or whatever. The aim was to deny me my promotion because I was a Sikh. This is how Sikhs are being persecuted in the army.
Q: Do you feel that other Sikhs in the army are also discriminated against like this?
A: Of course. It is not just a question of being discriminated against. We are suspect. It has been stated by no less a person than Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh on TV that Sikhs as a class should not be suspected.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the Mukti Bahini, how you went in and set it up.
A: These are all top secret things about which I am not supposed to talk. I’m not even allowed to write a book. (If I talked) I would be called unpatriotic and I don’t want that.
Q: But can’t you tell us about the first time you went in and what it was like?
A: You can ask General Jagjit Singh Aurora. He was my boss. I’m not in the habit of talking about these things.
Q: But since you’ve been victimised….
A: Of course, I’ve been victimised. I even appealed to Mrs. Indira Gandhi. I said, let me be court martialled now, or put me up before a civil court, or a tribunal headed by an eminent legal man. As a last resort I even suggested that my case be looked into by someone like Mr Arun Nehru. I also stated in my appeal that I was unwell and that my wife was suffering because I had continuous active service for 12 years with only a six months’ break in between. I was serving in Jammu and Kashmir when I went for the Chinese War. There, again, in General Kaul’s book I am mentioned because, at a time when people were retreating and bringing dishonour to the country, I was going forward and bringing honour. Read Untold Story, page 419, I think.
Q: What was your rank at the time?
A: I was Lt. Colonel, yet the work I was doing was not that of commander’s. I was staff officer. First, I was staff officer to General Harbaksh Singh, then I became staff officer to General Kaul and after that came General Manekshaw. I was General Staff Officer in IV Corps for all these three Generals. Another person who was told to move “forthwith” from Jammu and Kashmir to go and face the Chinese , took 20 days to get there. I took one day. Now that is my patriotism. But I am a Sikh and he is a Hindu. He became an Area Commander, Lt. General, but I was singled out so that I could not come forward for further promotion. And all kinds of charges were brought against me. I was even told that I was a friend of Mr Bahuguna after he had been removed from chief ministership in UP. Now, what I said then was: I’ve got nothing to do with politics but if he had been invited earlier, when he was the chief minister, to participate in a mushaira, how can I tell him not to come; even though the commissioner and the DIG told me that regular reports were being sent on him to Delhi. This was also considered an anti-national act, – the fact that he came to a mushaira in Lucknow arranged by me.
Q: But do you really think it was because were a Sikh? General Harbaksh made it to a higher rank and so did General Aurora.
A: Well, they probably denied promotion to me because there would have been too many Sikh Generals.
Q: But were you a supporter of the Sikh cause in those days?
A: I have always been spiritually inclined. My mother taught me Japji when I was only five years old. And then I was in the habit of always organising an Akhand path wherever I went. When Gyaniji has a picture taken carrying the Granth Sahib on his head he is considered a devout Sikh. But when I did it as a General they spoke of me as a religion-oriented man.
Q: How long have you been living here (Golden Temple)?
A: For about three weeks. You see, after winning these two cases we had `sukhoed’ (vowed) a certain amount of prayers. So every Sunday, for three Sundays, we have had to go to Gurdwara Baba Deep Singh for six hours of meditation and recitation of the Sukhmani Sahib. Then we have done an Akhand path here at the Darbar Sahib and we still have an Akhand path and langar to do at Baba Bakala. And a certain amount of prayers I still have to do here. I wake up everyday at 3 am, have a bath and then at 4.30 I am there for the palki Sahib Sewa. When the Guru Granth is carried from the Akal Takht to the Gurdwara. I stay on there for my normal path. My Sukhmani Sahib I do either there or come back here. Then I go back for the Rehras (sunset prayers).
Q: So you’ve been here for some months?
A: No, only three weeks. As my village is here next door, I go and live there. It’s just about 10 miles from here, a village known as Khayala, where I was born. You people suspect that I must be here for this and that reason. But it’s only because of these path (prayers) and my wife’s illness, which is a gift from Mrs. Indira Gandhi. I have been living in non-family stations on active service continuously for 12 years. She was diagnosed as having a tumour in the bladder, an infection which has never properly healed. In my appeal to Mrs Indira Gandhi I said, look, we are getting old and, if not for me, then for the sake of my wife who has done so much for this country, you should look into my case and give me justice.
Q: Are you a supporter of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale?
A: As far as my relations with Sant Jarnail Singh are concerned, there is nothing to suspect. I’ve told you that I am a patriot. Probably in a finer mould then the Prime Minister herself. I have met Bhindranwale. There is no doubt of it and I also feel that there is a strong touch of spiritualism in this person. He is a man who stands by the truth. The Government is deliberately terming him a traitor because his brand of politics probably doesn’t suit them. But the fact is that there is hardly a Sikh in this world who does not accept him as a leader. I also accept him as a leader. I firmly believe that he is the only Sikh born after Guru Gobind Singh who can get justice for the Sikhs as a community in this country where we have been persecuted ever since independence. We are suspected individually and as a community.
Q: But do you support violent methods:
A: No, we don’t believe in violence. We have proved it by courting arrest last year and staying in jail for three months. I think that is probably why they decided to put me out and not give me my pension. The orders were received when I was in jail. Having served this country with gallantry and distinction, this Government thinks it necessary to deny me even my pension.
I became a Bengali for the sake my country. I cut my hair and then I took amrit again. I trained General Zia-ur-Rahman. He and his wife Khaleda saw me when they came here. He was with me as one of the sub section commanders responsible for victory in Chittagong. I am the only General to have been treated in such a shabby manner. I cannot even afford medical expenses when I had a massive heart attack last year.