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Making sense of the Prime Minister’s offer to lift AFSPA in the Northeast

The AFSPA will figure as a major item in the discussion at the United Human Rights Council  in September this year when it discusses India’s periodic report, and then again at the United Nations Human Rights Committee in November this year.



THERE are four audiences that the Prime Minister’s statement on the possible lifting of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 [AFSPA] in northeast India is aimed at. The first audience is the people of the North East. However, the people of Nagaland and Manipur have longer memories than the Prime Minister’s Office and the security establishment allow for. They are still awaiting the sanction for prosecution of Assam Rifles personnel pursuant to the Supreme Court’s EEVFAM judgment of 2016. Forget the detritus of Operation Golden Bird and Operation Bajrang in Assam.

The people of the North East are painfully aware that these periodic pies in the sky are like the debate on the need for two time zones in India. One for the Indo-Gangetic plains, which is Indian Standard Time (IST) and the long pending demand for a second time zone for the North East which they have waited for so long that for those in Mokokchung, IST has come to mean “Instantly Stretchable Time”.

The second feint is aimed at the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) [NSCN-IM]. The talks between the Indian State and NSCN-IM have reached a dead-end. In a post-Thuingelang Muivah situation, in the not too distant future, the Nagas in Nagaland, the Manipur hills, and Tirap and Changlang in Arunachal are being shown the Promised Land, a land without the AFSPA. Except the Nagas in particular, but others in the Northeast, belong to deterministic faiths and not to a non-deterministic life system that is the mainstay between the Yamuna and the Ganges where the word ‘kal’ seamlessly signifies both yesterday and tomorrow.

The third feint is the most worrisome. It is aimed at the Armed forces of the Union. Not just the Army but all the other para military forces bunched together. All the central armed police forces together under the control of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs now surpass the strength of the regular Army.

The debate on the length of the tour of duty [ToD] is now the hot potato not only in South Block and Kashmir House, but in every regimental mess from Pathankot to Wellington.

The ToD process is neither dealt with by a Permanent Commission nor a Staff Selection Commission. The tenure offers service of a mere three years. Those selected will draw the pay and allowances equivalent to the regular cadre officers. This will also apply to Personnel below Officers Rank or PBOR.

Forget the arguments dished out for the plebes, about a serious shortage of Junior Commissioned Officers or the lack of Officer Like Quality being churned out of Doon, Khadakwasla and Chennai, which is certainly true, but the answer lies elsewhere. 

Remember the Archdeacon of Nagpur in 2018 telling us that his Brown Pants could raise a million man army in three days! Point to me another army in a country governed by rule of law reinstating a serving Army Intelligence officer while he is facing serious charges of arming and training a right wing vigilante group?

A little reading on the incorporation of the Sturmabteilung (SA) or the Schutzstaffel (SS) in the regular German Army, the Wehrmacht, and debate around it in the old non-Nazi Prussian Officer Corps would be instructive. The carrot is the coming of the Hindutva millennium and their places in it, and the stick being good old AFSPA gone with its Teflon shield for olive green and ample usage of Article 311 of our trusty Constitution.

The fourth audience is the international human rights community. The AFSPA will figure as a major item in the discussion at the United Nations [UN] Human Rights Council in September this year when it discusses India’s periodic report, and then again at the UN Human Rights Committee in November this year.

In the normal course, this would be water off a duck’s back or the hide of a rhinoceros, as South Block and others would like to see it. However, there is a new kid on the block in the international human rights machinery: the various Magnitsky Acts in operation. The U.S.’s Magnitsky Act has bitten the Rapid Action Battalions nice and deep with its sanctions. Ask Dhaka, they will give you chapter and verse.