It is an ironic fact that Irom Sharmila, who had fasted for sixteen long years appealing to repeal the AFSPA – Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act lost her maiden election thus curtailing her political ambitions. Let’s keep politics aside and think, is it worth while to have this act in place? As of now, AFSPA is in force in parts of north east and in the state of Jammu & Kashmir.
For many decades now, these areas remain ‘disturbed’, so the controversial act was and is in force. Was it effective? For how many years these areas should be in the state of disturbance? Why the hell ordinary citizens do have to live in a continuous state of psychological subjugation? Maybe this act does not affect commoners much, at least – in practice. Even in Mumbai, whenever there is a high alert, police check posts do come up immediately, though most of their time is spent collecting bribes from riders without helmets. But in Mumbai or in Delhi or in any other metro or other city or town or village, people consider police are doing their job – of saving citizens. But, if it is a round the clock affair, how do the citizens feel? Especially, when security forces see everyone with suspicion? They don’t feel good; and that is to state it simply.
Chidambaram felt the act was obnoxious, but only after voted out of power. As long as he was home minister, he was the most ruthless home minister UPA regime had seen. That is how politics has spoilt the country, making entire country disturbed. One needs to rise above politics to see how problems could be solved.
Was there no example, where AFSPA was lifted after normalising the disturbed area? Yes. There is. In Punjab, AFSPA was enforced and later on revoked. Why and how Punjab, that was almost lost was reclaimed? Was Punjab really a gone case? What strategy was employed to normalise Punjab?
Well, like every other state, even in Punjab, militants were a minority. Only their mayhem was not. Maybe the current generations don’t know, but ruthless killings of Hindus, after being separated from a common crowd or passengers was a routine affair. Though the rise and rise of Khalistani movement was really the outcome of Indira Gandhi’s depraved political manoeuvres.
The fall of terrorism in Punjab is attributed to the political will of Narasimha Rao and the Police acumen of KPS Gill.
In fact, while entire world was reacting in awe to the economic reforms unleashed by the political maverick Rao, Gill did his job silently. By the time Rao finished his tenure, Punjab was normal again.
The first lesson is that those who don’t worry about their next innings in power can take harsh decisions. Rao was not even sure about his living till the end of his tenure and always remained a man in hurry. All he did was to entrust the responsibility to Gill and extend the support of Army to free Punjab from the clutches of terrorism.
Rao followed British way of tackling terrorist groups i.e., not targeting known and big leaders; fearing their removal would create many small ones making the situation difficult to deal with. On the other hand, America targeted leaders. There are one-size-fits-all rules and one should take decision based on local dynamics. Gill identified the lack of proper governance at the root, but attacked it on second priority. First, he got all senior terrorists chased, targeting their families too; simply returning the same favour militants did to the security forces. Borders were entrusted to the army and external support was dwindled. In his own words, only a Jat Sikh can defeat a Jat Sikh. Gill himself lobbied with leaders of all sections against terrorism. They listened to him because, he already demonstrated operational efficiency in the field. This helped them to urge their followers to read the writing on the wall.
How is the practice different in other places? In the north east or in Kashmir, the presence of army is only to prevent disturbances and tackle emergencies. As such, pre-emptive action was never considered. Whenever the army reacts, it is thus seen as an atrocity. Governance in all these states is poor making it difficult for the government to convince people who are sympathetic to the terrorists.
Whenever a state suffers from governance, some sort of disturbance would arise. As identified by Gill, ideological terrorism can be dealt with by proper rule or negotiations, but identity based terrorism can never be dealt with anything except retribution. Identity may be language, region, tribe or religion or any other means people may classify themselves.
It is time Indian government should consider a change in its tactics. A target date for repealing AFSPA should be set internally that may not be declared to the public. Seal the borders and chase identified leaders. Once the militants are weak, ensure proper governance. People should believe in the government. It is not that people are basically secessionists. The police should be empowered to the extent there would be no need to call army. Ensure preventive policing that is also just. Expose hypocrisy of militant leaders who live in safe heavens of foreign countries as in the case of north east or live on the support of Indian government in case of Kashmir. First and foremost, the government should be able to convey the message so clear to these leaders that its intentions are serious and this is not just another routine exercise they had experienced in the past. In case of north east, once the militancy is under control, have a round of discussion with all concerned and take an unbiased decision that would be agreeable to all parties that have a stake in the region including the secessionist fractions.
As the union government still has a two years of current tenure, they still are capable of making a change to the lives of citizens in these disturbed states. India is a sovereign country, where people living in all places should feel the same sense of belongingness. For the perverted psyche of few leaders, the masses should not suffer, at least for long. It is imperative on the part of the government to have a short term plan to normalise the conditions in these places so people can live, if not happily, normally ever after. Having acts like AFSPA serve purpose if used for short term, but turn liability if used for longer periods. As already this act was used and abused, it is time to set things right. Power of the law should be felt even without use and not to be experienced in reality.