The Nagaland Assembly has demanded the repeal of AFSPA from the state and elsewhere in the northeast and an apology from the “appropriate authority” for the Army operation that led to the death of 14 civilians in Mon district a fortnight ago. These demands were among the five resolutions adopted by the 60-member Nagaland Assembly on December 20, 2021.
Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio’s demand for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has become shriller by the day. The latest from him was that the violence in Mon district of Nagaland will affect the peace talks with Naga insurgents. The latter statement was to reinforce his calls to repeal AFSPA. This is despite the fact that he is fully aware of the following:
- A state, area or region is declared ‘Disturbed Area’ when the state administration becomes defunct or cannot manage security with police forces.
- AFSPA is enacted for Armed Forces to be deployed in ‘Disturbed Areas’, without which they can only function like the police. Any dilution of AFSPA will have a similar effect.
- AFSPA was not drafted and never demanded by the Armed Forces.
- AFSA has been intensely debated and approved by Parliament in the past.
- The Armed Forces do not enjoy acting against their own nationals in counter-insurgency operations. If politicians can manage the security of their states with police forces, the Army would be too happy to revert to its primary role of guarding against external aggression.
Some politicians and political parties in the past also have been calling for repeal of AFSPA. But they never call for the tag of ‘Disturbed Area’ to be taken off. This is because they want to continue enjoying the doles, perks and privileges of a ‘Disturbed Area’ but don’t mind making the Army toothless as long as they can consolidate power in conjunction with insurgents or terrorists organisations – state and national security be damned!
If an area is no longer a ‘Disturbed Area’, the Army will cease to be responsible for counter-insurgency within the state and therefore the question of repealing AFSPA does not arise.
Ironically, when dealing with cases related to Army’s employment in counter-insurgency operations, the judiciary does not question why certain areas, regions and states continue to be under the ‘Disturbed Areas’ tag for decades and why their security cannot be managed with police forces.
The ground situation in Nagaland has been aptly brought out by Sanjeev Nayyar in his recent article “Observations During Visit to Nagaland and Implications” published in eSamskriti on December 8, 2021, wherein he quotes an unnamed source as saying, “The Nagaland insurgency is based on collection of revenue. It is no longer ideological. They have their own government so can’t say we are being ruled. The revenue collected by the terrorists is more than Rs 10,000 crores so one can understand why it is continuing.” Politicians, administration and police allow this to obviously share the booty.
So, when Neiphiu Rio talks of peace with insurgents, it implies: ceasefire without the insurgents laying down arms; insurgents continue all illegal activities, including tax collection, which also involves use of force if illegal tax collection is resisted, and; running a parallel government so that cadres of the particular insurgent outfit remains satisfied. Like all northeast states that share the border with Myanmar, the narcotics trade generates lakhs of crores of illegal income. Narcotics entering India from the east equals that coming from the west. Also, narcotics from India go to Myanmar for refining and return for better dividends. Politicians, bureaucrats and police are all involved in this trade and insurgents are an essential element for its smooth flow.
The fact remains that in insurgent-affected areas, politicians win elections with insurgent support and the state administration and police maintain underhand links with them. The Director General of Nagaland Police T John Longkumer knows this coming from Chhattisgarh police cadre. Large sums of money are involved in illegal activities. Incidentally, a Member of Parliament from Chhattisgarh had disclosed in 2010 that the then Director General of Police, Chhattisgarh, was paying hafta (bribe) to the Maoists for his own protection.
But the above is certainly not the only riches being harvested by politicians, bureaucrats and police. The Parambir Singh episode in Mumbai is just the tip of the iceberg of corruption in the police. The Haryana government recently suspended former Gurgaon DCP Dheeraj Sethia, holding additional charge as DCP (Crime), as one of the accused in a multi-crore heist. He is alleged to have taken bribes for hushing up matters. The media reported the scam was worth ₹21 crore, but inside sources claim the heist totals ₹100 crore, of which the police took 50 percent and the rest went up the pipeline.
The above is not the only pie. Take Karnataka, where the 1 lakh-strong Karnataka State Contractors Association wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 6, 2021, as also to state Governor Thawar Chand Gehlot, that they are forced to pay kickbacks as high as 40 percent for civic projects; the money going to various persons including ministers. The chief minister of Karnataka has since changed but not the administration. Little wonder then that India ranks 86 among 180 countries in the Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International. Corruption remains all pervasive despite tall claims of clean governance. A large number of politicians have multiple FIRs for serious crimes against them.
Details of the violence in Mon district on December 4-5 are already public knowledge. For the unaware, the Union Home Minister made a statement in the Lok Sabha, gist of which was: based on inputs about movement of insurgents, army laid an ambush; a vehicle approaching the site was signaled to stop but it tried to flee; suspected of carrying insurgents, army opened fire killing six of the eight persons in the vehicle who turned out to be civilians; the two injured persons were evacuated by army to medical facilities; thereafter, local villagers surrounded the army team, burned two vehicles and assaulted them resulting in death of one army person and injuries to several others; to disperse the mob, the army opened fire resulting in death of seven civilians and injuries to some others; on December 5 evening, a 250-strong mob attacked the Assam Rifles Post in Mon town, burnt the building and tried ransacking the post, following which Assam Rifles opened fire killing one civilian.
The Nagaland Police allege that the Army “blankly opened fire” killing many villagers, and that the “intention” of the security forces was to “murder and injure civilians”. Nagaland Commissioner Rovilatuo Mor and state DGP T John Longkumer have jointly accused the Army of killing unarmed civilians at random without any attempt at identification.
Without mentioning the number of villagers who surrounded the army team, they accused the Army of opening indiscriminate fire killing seven more villagers, but admitted that the Army evacuated two injured civilians to Dibrugarh Hospital. They also said that on December 5, around 600-700 people armed with sticks, pipes, flammable material and some with daos (dahs) went to the Assam Rifles camp in Mon and after an hour into the melee, one civilian was killed and six wounded in firing by the Assam Rifles.
The civil administration has formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) and the Amy is holding its own Court of Inquiry. However, a number of questions arise from the narrative as under:
- Were the inputs about movement of insurgents supplied by local police to the army fake by design?
- Was the driver of the vehicle briefed to not stop when signalled to do so?
- When a large number of villagers surrounded the army team after hearing the firing, why did the police from the Tizit Police Station not make an appearance?
- If the intent of the Army was to murder and kill civilians, why would they evacuate two injured civilians?
- Why did the Commissioner and DGP avoid mentioning the killed soldier was first “shot” and then attacked with dah and that 14 Army personnel, including an officer, were injured in the same attack by villagers (and insurgents?) and are admitted in Dibrugarh Hospital?
- Did the army not open fire in self-defence when attacked by scores of villagers-cum-insurgents?
- Why did the state administration not impose prohibitory orders after the violence on December 4 but did so only ‘after’ the Assam Rifles post was attacked on the evening of December 5? Wasn’t this by design?
It can be safely assumed that the SIT formed by the civil administration will not accuse a single local for attacking the Army team on December 4 and Assam Rifles on December 5.
We must acknowledge China’s focus on our northeast, particularly Arunachal Pradesh. It is well known that China simply buys politicians, officials and organizations to further its national interests and money-power does wonders. Witness how America sanctioned China but secret documents revealed that Apple CEO Tim Cook paid $275 billion in 2016 to keep his business going in China. With the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) and American sanctions forcing Myanmar into the strategic sphere of China, what more can China hope for with the Nagaland Assembly calling for repeal of AFSPA from northeast India. Financial gifts apart, Beijing may award Neiphiu Rio China’s highest civilian award and perhaps an additional medal that he can wear on a place of his choosing on his front or back for successfully politicising national security.
Nagaland is not due for elections next year but for the Centre to succumb to the state Assembly’s demands because of pressure of elections in seven states (Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat) during 2022 and getting blackmailed with vote-bank politics will be a tragedy and playing into China’s hands. Ignoring the threats to our national security along our eastern flank will be a strategic disaster. The Prime Minister needs to take a firm view in this regard. This is also the time to add more battalions to the Naga Regiment of the Indian Army, for which the Naga youth has been yearning for the past several years.
(The author is a veteran of the Indian Army. Views expressed are personal.)