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Navy veterans on Death Row in Qatar: A Coursemate’s Plea to Bring Back Naval Veterans

In a heartfelt plea, a former coursemate of two of the eight Indian Navy veterans currently facing the death penalty in Qatar is urgently calling for their release. This appeal is fueled by concerns over the lack of transparency in the charges and the swift trial process, leaving both the Indian government and the affected families in shock and seeking clarity.

By Kaypius
New Update

PM Modi with Emir of Qatar
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, in Doha, Qatar on June 05, 2016 | Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

In a sudden and shocking turn of events, eight former Indian Navy officials who were incarcerated in Qatar on unknown charges since August 30th of last year were “sentenced to death” by a Qatari 'Court of First Instance.' Families of the eight navy veterans who held onto a sliver of hope that back-channel efforts may secure their release now face the most extreme prospect — Death Row.

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The navy veterans were working for a now-defunct company, Dahra Global Technologies, based out of Doha. Their area of expertise was training and assisting the Qatari Emiri Forces to set up defence capacities — a vital cog in the wheel of Indo-Qatar bilateral defence cooperation and foreign policy. One of the wealthiest countries today, the tiny kingdom of Qatar has traditionally enjoyed a warm and cordial relationship with India. Today, an estimated diaspora of 800,000 Indians, along with other nationalities, contribute to building this country in various capacities, brick by brick, under the leadership of HRH Emir Sheikh Tamim Hamad Al Thani.

The details of the present case are far too sketchy and opaque to justify such an extreme sentence in such a short trial. There have hardly been three hearings since the first one on March 22nd this year. Since their incarceration in September 2022, the Indian government has provided the navy veterans with the “best” legal assistance. It is unlikely that substantive arguments from the (local) defence counsel would be heard and addressed in just three hearings over seven months.

The “death sentence” has left the Indian establishment “deeply shocked,” as per the MEA statement put out on October 26th soon after sentencing. The MEA statement indicates an ‘unexpected outcome’ while also hinting at the opacity of charges framed against the officials. Meanwhile, Qatar has acted in complete secrecy, moving from trial to conviction in seven months. Apparently, Indian authorities have been taken by complete surprise. Often, when expectations fall woefully short of outcomes in such cases, one is left with nothing but tears. I know this from personal experience. I am sure the affected families, even strangers with a conscience, had a lump in their throats when this news broke yesterday.

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This episode is personal at many levels. Two of the eight — Cdr Sanjeev Gupta & Cdr Amit Nagpal — are my coursemates whom I have known personally for over four decades. It is a fauji truism that nobody — not even your spouse — knows you better than a coursemate.

Sanjeev (First Course of 10+2(X), “Oceans Best”), my namesake & one of the convicted, is known as “Chote” or “Don” in our course. His small frame hides an outsized heart and rock-solid patriotism while his ever-helpful nature earned him the latter epithet. Such is his obsession with propriety and fairness that on one of my earliest visits to his hometown Agra, he dragged my errant auto-rickshaw driver all the way from the bus station to the local police station to register a complaint for charging ‘excess to metre’. His peers and subordinates will recount numerous anecdotes where his “dildaar” and “can do” attitude saved the day.

Another accused, coursemate, Cdr Amit Nagpal (78 NDA), “Naggy” as we call him in our circles, is a quintessential gentleman — a man of few words and impeccable character whom I first met when we ran into our NDA coursemates on ships of the training squadron at Kochi. A communication and electronic warfare specialist, he knows the value of “indiscretion” and “radio silence” better than most. Always professional, meticulous, and “officer-like” to a fault, Naggy and self did the 61st staff course together at Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, 2005-06. I cannot begin to fathom the fate that befalls him and his family today.

I can sign a character certificate for these two officers with my eyes closed. So can a multitude of naval officials who have known or worked with these eight veterans, including sailor Ragesh. These are honest, above-board gentlemen who worked with the same zeal and commitment in Indian Navy service as in their selected fields post-retirement. I challenge those who know them personally to publicly reveal to me a single act of indiscretion that even remotely points to suspicions of the nature they have been charged with.

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The Managing Director of their enterprise, Cdr Purnendu Tiwari (I don’t know him personally), was felicitated with the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award by the President of India Ram Nath Kovind at a glittering ceremony in January 2019 for “enhancing India’s image abroad”. Cdr Purnendu Tiwari is the first Indian armed forces veteran to be awarded this honour meant for NRIs / PIOs. How did these character certificates suddenly dissolve into a death sentence? What level of bungling led to this impasse? Whom are we seeking to protect? This is something the Indian government needs to come out clean with. Not least because Qatar won’t tell.

There are, quite obviously, missing pieces to this puzzle yet to be uncovered by investigative noses from India. But, I fear, under a climate of “ab tum chup raho” and nosediving indices of press freedom, facts may never come out, even if they lurk beneath the surface, or, worse still, point to the establishment. Meanwhile, Qatar has proceeded unapologetically, thumbing their noses at our soft-pedalling attitude (remember, our VP visited Qatar during FIFA World Cup inaugural). The latest judgement can best be described as a resounding slap on the face of Indian diplomacy. Is it okay to be “deeply shocked” at such travesties when “Vishwaguru” is the image that is unabashedly being promoted by all arms of the government?

I fear this case may go the Kulbhushan Jadhav way (another very unfortunate case, the trail of which seems to have gone cold) unless we move with alacrity. There are distinct differences, though I sincerely wish India had done more for Kulbhushan’s case. Dahra Global and its verticals were doing above-ground work in a crucial area of Indo-Qatar defence collaboration. This space would undoubtedly have international competitors with enormous clout, money, and political patronage who would (undoubtedly) gain from the fall of Dahra Global and scapegoating of these Navy veterans. Perhaps it is time for the public, if not the government, to seek answers to the old police maxim: “who benefits from the crime?”

The terrible turn of events couldn’t have come at a more inopportune moment for the convicted veterans and their families. Dahra Global Technologies in Qatar is no longer a going concern, which means the Navy veterans are pretty much on their own. India’s nuanced position on the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and support to the Palestinian cause will be put to test against Qatar’s emerging role in working out a rapprochement between the Arab world and Israel, even as world leaders weigh their options. Our relationship with Qatar will head South if the ensuing diplomatic row after the latest imbroglio is not settled on mutually acceptable terms. India is in the grip of ICC cricket world cup fever where absurd theatrics and sporting fervour can easily eclipse real-life problems. If all this was not bad enough, India is headed into the general election season where parties will politicise every available opportunity.

The downside of hypnotising billions with an image of “world leader” or “Vishwaguru” is that sometimes problems crop up that demand the full agency of such leaders to step in and solve complicated problems. Now the unthinkable has happened — eight Indian Navy veterans are on DEATH ROW in a friendly foreign country, and the MEA under our strongman, EAM S Jaishankar, is “deeply shocked.” Whatever that means in diplomacy, this event has no precedence in modern India. The minions, influencers, ambassadors, and lawyers have done their bit, had their say. No more passing of the buck is possible. The issue is right here on the table of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruler of a wealthy Middle East kingdom that served us a 14-month notice.

Bring Back our naval veterans on Death Row in Qatar NOW.

(Kaypius is the pen name of the author who is a writer and a full-time aviator)

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