Monday, August 22, 2011

Response to Op-ed Column on AFSPA by Ms. Kalpana Sharma

Hi Kalpana,
This is ******. I am writing in response to your article in "The Hindu" dated August 20, 2011 with the title "The Other Half - Another India, another protest" posted online at Linky 0.

Let me start by agreeing with with you when you state that:

Yet even as Hazare's anti-corruption crusade gained momentum with hundreds courting voluntary arrest, in another part of India, a protestor who has used a similar tactic, of going on an indefinite fast, continues to be ignored by the rest of the country and by the political leadership.

It is a pity that much of "mainland" India cannot count the number of Northeastern states, nor tell us much about the issues that lie beneath the various terrorist activities that are rife in these states, nor tell us much about the response of the various State governments and the Union Government of India to these different internal insurgencies, often openly backed and aided by our neighbors both near and far. I congratulate you in picking this topic for your op-ed column.

However, when you say that,

... some might consider it irrelevant to talk about a corner of the country where a lone woman continues her fight against the truly undemocratic Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) imposed on Manipur that has made life a living hell for the ordinary people of that State.

First of all, you are dealing in what can be said to be circular logic, lest you did not know. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act has been imposed in Manipur on the insistence of the State Government of Manipur. Please see Linky 1 where you will find that:

The Articles in the Constitution of India empower state governments to declare a state of emergency due to one or more of the following reasons:
• Failure of the administration and the local police to tackle local issues.
• Return of (central) security forces leads to return of miscreants/erosion of the "peace dividend".
• The scale of unrest or instability in the state is too large for local forces to handle.

Please also see Linky 2 which reports that the Government of Manipur is the entity that recommends the continuance of AFSPA for all areas except the Imphal Valley.

Second, the Government of Manipur is a Government that has been elected by the people of Manipur in the 2007 Assembly elections. While there may have been small discrepancies that are a part of the normative discourse of any participatory democracy and as seen in every place in India ("mainland" or otherwise), much of the 2007 Assembly elections in Manipur have been regarded as free and fair. The Election Commission of India had made immense measures to ensure that it was free and fair, see Linky 3 and Linky 4, for example. A report from the Manipuri media claimed the following (see Linky 5):

In line with the deep rooted sense of democracy, inherited from the past, the people of Manipur are more conscious of the electioneering system as was apparent by the large turn out of voters in past few elections as well as favourable response from the electorates to the current the 9th Manipur Legislative assembly election. Despite sporadic violent incidents and incessant rains, the voter turn out in the first and second phase polling hovered near the 90 percent mark.

In addition, 80% turnout was seen in the third phase (see Linky 6). See also Linky 7 for Manipuri newspaper E-Pao's 2007 election coverage. I can dig up similar statistics for the 2009 Parliamentary elections, but I will refrain from that as of now. My point is that the people of Manipur have overwhelmingly placed their confidence in the electoral process and as a product of this affirmation of trust that we keep seeing repeatedly, the Government of Manipur derives its power to promulgate laws and run the State. This is despite all the various ills that plague governance in India as is witnessed by the campaign of Anna Hazare and his team.

Ergo, when the State of Manipur wants the AFSPA to continue knowing the ground realities on the security situation in the State, how is that a violation of the popular will of the people (which is exactly what is meant by the term "undemocratic")? How is that the people who want the AFSPA to be revoked in Manipur not taking part in electoral exercises and instead indulging in popular/fiat-type protests? The same can be asked about Anna Hazare and his team as to why they are not standing in elections on a one-line plank of rooting out corruption in Indian society given that they believe and claim to be People's true respresentative or representing the "popular will" of the People. Lest I digress from my main point, why are people, who have an issue with anything that an elected Government does, not taking part in elections and testing how much popularity their plank with the People they claim to often represent in some sense lies? Why is this fact not called out by the Indian media across ideological proclivities?

I am sure there are various sentiments to support a "David" who is slinging against a "Goliath", but then should not these metaphorical comparisons be also subjected to the same scrutiny in every sense: a David of the Hindu Kashmiri Pandits against the Goliath of repressive terrorism of an overwhelming Islamist religious tinge that is responsible for internal dispersion of one set of Indians within India, a David of Jammu activists against a Goliath of the supreme embodiment of Justice in India -- the Hon'ble Supreme Court -- that has not allowed for redistricting the electoral constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir in accordance with the "one-man/woman, one vote" paradigm to which India Constitutionally acceded to on Jan. 26, 1950, a David of Hindu Ahomese against a Goliath of the political plank across the state and across partyline that has normatized demographic invasion of India and Indian territory by Bangladeshi Muslims somuchso that Muslim percentage in the border districts have been growing at an abnormal pace vis-a-vis the rest of India Linky 8. We have neither seen the fruition of the implementation of the IMDT Act nor its continuance in the form it was meant to take. A David of pre-dominantly Hindu Meitei residents of Manipur state against extra-State factors such as both factions of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim that supports both the Kuki as well as the Naga rioters, including ANSAM, in blockading NH-39 and NH-53, and so on and so forth.

More pertinent to the point, regarding the Jeevan Reddy commission recommendations that you highlighted, did you take a look at a report linked at Linky 9, where it is said that:

• The Army is not averse to review of AFSPA provided its concerns are addressed. The Army would require special powers to combat terrorism as all other instruments of state to restore normalcy have failed.
• The civil government still retains control as they would have to declare an area as ‘disturbed’ under the ‘disturbed area act’ before AFSPA can be applied.
• Why dilute the Act which provides legal cover to the Army to operate. If the Army is not required, the area should not be declared as ‘disturbed’.
• Since Army is called in only when the situation has deteriorated to unacceptable levels, the requirement of very strict enabling provisions is necessary.
• Army is aware of its responsibilities and its outstanding human rights record reflects the same.


Despite this report, when you claim that,

The committee recommended, amongst other things, a withdrawal of AFSPA. So Sharmila's demand is not unreasonable; a government-appointed committee has endorsed it. But the recommendation was given more than six years ago. Yet today, the security forces continue to enjoy the right to act with impunity, while the citizens of Manipur, who are also citizens of India, live without many fundamental rights guaranteed to them under our Constitution.

you are factually as well as rhetorically wrong. The fact is that the Indian Army will have no locus standi in Manipur unless the democratically ELECTED Government of Manipur "invites" the Army to maintain peace and security of its citizenry. The fact is that this is done by a Government elected by the people of Manipur only means that they know what they are doing when they invoke AFSPA. That is because the civil/State police forces have FAILED to maintain peace and security and as a last resort available to any democratically elected Government, the Army has been invited. Further, it is no walk in the park for the Army. Their personnel die or get maimed, willingly, in services for the call of ANY elected Government in India, independent of the Party in power, and often unrecognized by even the respective States where they die for because of the nature of rabble-rousing indulged by small sets of their population, in contrast to any democratic credential with which any State has to mediate often with.

The fact that just because one Irom Sharmila demands a withdrawal of AFSPA or a Justice (Retd.) Jeevan Reddy Commission says the same, does not put all the blame on the Indian Army. In the post-1947 history, the Indian Army has always acceded to the demands of an elected Government and the Indian Army has so far not done anything to the contrary on the AFSPA episode. Thus, you can do a follow-up on your op-ed and clear any ambiguities/doubts that may persist in the mind of a gullible reader that the Indian Army is to blame for this mess. Put the blame where it squarely lies, with the People of Manipur of whom Irom Sharmila is only one citizen. Factually, as well as rhetorically, that is the right course to take here.

Further, one Irom Sharmila does not Manipur make. Manipur or rather ~90% of its electing population, DID vote for some Party/individuals that contested elections. That speaks enormously in contrast to populist bandwagonning that the media often indulges in. I must also mention that you are not the first person to claim (directly or indirectly) that the Indian Army/the Government of India is all wrong in imposing AFSPA in poor-poor Manipur. I must bring to notice CPM ideologue Mr. Ashok Mitra's op-ed column in the Telegraph Linky 10. I replied to him and the Telegraph on this matter and my response can be seen at Linky 11. Sadly, neither the Telegraph published my response nor Mr. Mitra responded to me on my questions/comments. I hope that you/the Hindu group will do one better than Mr. Mitra/the Telegraph.

Looking forward to an exchange of ideas,
Sincerely,
********

PS: I must admit that I did not have any idea about your writing till I googled for your columns in crafting a response to your column. I will take a look at your co-edited book titled, "Whose News? The Media and Women's Issues and Terror Counter-Terror: Women Speak Out." since I am keen on learning about the issues in the Indian Northeast from different perspectives.

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2 Comments:

At March 1, 2012 at 9:45 PM , Blogger The Native Opinion said...

Just curious, was there a response from Ms. Kalpana.

- Mike.

 
At March 2, 2012 at 8:36 AM , Blogger Pax-Indica said...

No responses. One-sided fistcuffing.

 

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