“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,” former navy test pilot and columnist Commander (Retd) KP Sanjeev Kumar noted in November 2023 – a few days after Qatar sentenced eight Indian ex-servicemen to death over an alleged “espionage” charge.
The Qatar court on Monday, 12 February released all eight former Indian Navy personnel in its custody, out of which seven have returned to India, said a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
"The Government of India welcomes the release of eight Indian nationals working for the Dahra Global company who were detained in Qatar. Seven out of the eight of them have returned to India. We appreciate the decision by the Amir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and homecoming of these nationals."MEA statement
Earlier, the capital punishment for the jailed Indian Navy veterans was commuted to an extended prison term after diplomatic talks between Qatar and India. The men, who worked with Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services, were arrested in August 2022.
“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,” Commander (Retd) KP Sanjeev Kumar had written in his blog titled, “A coursemate’s plea to bring back naval veterans on death row in Qatar now.”
Read on as The Quint tells you more about each of the former Navy personnel – Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Captain Saurabh Vasisht, Commander Amit Nagpal, Commander Purnendu Tiwari, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjeev Gupta, and Sailor Ragesh.
Commander Sanjeev Gupta
Commander Sanjeev Gupta was commonly referred to as “Chote” or “Don” by his peers. KP Sanjeev Kumar, who knew him personally, had noted in his blog that Cdr Gupta’s “small frame hides an outsized heart and rock-solid patriotism while his ever-helpful nature earned him the latter epithet".
He belonged to the first course of the Indian Navy’s then-freshly introduced 10+2(Executive) Scheme, which granted the navy exclusive parallel access to the National Defence Academy (NDA).
“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 local police station to register a complaint for charging ‘excess to metre’,” Kumar had observed in his blog.
He added that Gupta’s peers and subordinates will “recount numerous anecdotes where his ‘dildaar’ and ‘can-do’ attitude saved the day.”
Commander Amit Nagpal
Another ex-serviceman, and KP Sanjeev Kumar’s coursemate, Cdr Amit Nagpal, who was cheerfully called “Naggy”, is “a quintessential gentleman – a man of few words and impeccable character…”
“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…”
Last year, Amit Nagpal’s brother Vikas Nagpal had started a signature campaign to seek public support for the release of all the eight veterans.
"The lack of transparency and due process in this case is deeply concerning, as it undermines faith in legal systems globally. This petition aims to bring attention to this grave issue and seeks justice for these individuals who have served their country honorably," the petition had read.
Meanwhile, KP Sanjeev Kumar had written about Commander Sanjeev Gupta & Commander Amit Nagpal that he could "sign a character certificate for these two officers with my eyes closed."
"So can multitude of naval officials who have known or worked with these eight veterans, including sailor Ragesh,” he added.
Commander Purnendu Tiwari
Purnendu Tiwari served as the managing director of Dahra and was conferred the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award, the highest honour for NRIs/Persons of Indian Origin, four years ago by former President Ram Nath Kovind. Tiwari was the first from the Indian Armed Forces officer to be awarded this.
Tiwari had an "illustrious career" in the navy where he commanded multiple warships. A navigation specialist, Tiwari commanded INS Magar and was the fleet navigating officer of the Navy’s Eastern Fleet. He has also served on Rajput class destroyers, an individual close to Tiwari had told The Quint in November 2023.
After retirement, he trained Singapore naval personnel before moving to Qatar. Prior to his arrest last year, he was training personnel from the Qatari Navy.
Commenting on KP Sanjeev Kumar’s blog post, Madan Pandey, who worked alongside Tiwari, described him as, “honest, hardworking & professional to the root. He had been doing very well in [the] training field abroad…”
Captain Navtej Singh Gill
Captain Navtej Singh Gill (retd) hailed from Chandigarh and had an impressive military record until he decided to leave the Navy before completing his service.
Having been commissioned in January 1987, he was honoured with the President’s Gold Medal for being the top cadet during his pre-commission training. He later served as an instructor at the esteemed Defence Services Staff College in Wellington.
Colleagues who served with him noted his expertise in navigation and direction while aboard surface ships. As the son of a retired Army officer, he also had a passion for sports, having competed in badminton at the service level.
Reports suggest that after dedicating 20-22 years to his service, he chose early retirement and subsequently pursued a career in the private sector.
Commander Sugunakar Pakala
K Kalyan Chakravarthy, brother in-law of Commander Sugunakar Pakala, told The New Indian Express that 54-year-old Sugunakar retired in 2013 after serving 25 years in the Indian Navy.
After retirement, he worked in Hindustan Shipyard Limited for two years, following which he shifted to Doha in 2018 for livelihood. Sugunkar’s wife had visited Doha in July and was not informed about the reasons for the arrest, the report added.
An engineering officer in the Navy, Pakala had received a commendation from the Commander-in-chief.
Captain Saurabh Vashisht
Captain Saurabh Vashisht, an engineering officer in the Navy, received commendations from the Naval Commander-in-chief on two occasions. He has completed courses at Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, similar to many of the accused, and also attended the College of Defence Management at Secunderabad.
He served as the command refit officer at the Southern Naval Command and had postings on INS Magar, INS Kulish, INS Khanjar, and the Indian Coast Guard Ship Sangram. He originally hails from Dehradun.
The parents of the former naval officer live in Dehradun and were one of the several family members who met with Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in Delhi on Monday, 31 October 2023.
Vashisht’s neighbour, Mahesh Pandey, told The Times of India that that his mother is a heart patient and when she was hospitalised two years ago, Captain Vashisht came to visit her.
Captain BK Verma, Sailor Ragesh
According to a report in The Indian Express, Captain BK Verma was a navigation specialist and had served aboard a Godavari class ship. He was also a topper in the Staff College course at Wellington. Both he and his wife share a military background.
Meanwhile, the report added that Sailor Ragesh is the only non-commissioned officer out of the eight.
(This article was first published in November 2023. It has been updated and republished from The Quint's archives after seven out of the eight ex-Navy veterans, who initially faced death sentence in Qatar, returned to India.)