Beyond AFSPA


The chief minister, Okram Ibobi yesterday at a function to honour the Army major from Nambol, who posthumously became the first from the state to win the Ashok Chakra, the highest peacetime military honour in India, said he may be compelled to reintroduce the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, in the Imphal municipal area, together accounting for seven Assembly constituencies from amongst the state’s 60 seats. In the wake of the daily incidents of bomb attacks on individual citizens, at their residences and offices, the chief minister’s statement probably would have succeeded in appealing to the fear and insecurity of the people by and large, thereby eliciting grudging and even open moral support. Before embarking on a closer scrutiny of the chief minister’s statement, what is certain is that the statement has hit a raw nerve in the debate over the deadly and endemic violence the state is today reeling under.

Everybody lives in terror, not just of the state, but of the non state armed opposition as well, reducing the question of the morality of the AFSPA to just a matter of a hard choice between the devil and the deep sea. In a tragic twist of logic, as the chief minister implied in qualifying his statement, the equation is one of a balance of terror, so that fighting terror with terror becomes a certificate of legitimacy for the AFSPA. Let nobody doubt that this argument will certainly have many buyers now. Every uncalled for intimidation (in the new culture of bomb threats on individuals), every unreasonable extortion demand, every unjust casualty caused, is a nail on the coffin of insurgency, depleting the movement of its political face. This political face, which once gave the insurrection its raisons d’être and legitimacy, is increasingly being sized down to the proverbial fig leaf. The fact also is, both the government and the core of the insurrection movement in the land which still value this political face, are at a loss how to control this new trend. Max Weber’s “legitimate violence” is no longer the monopoly of the state or its challengers, but has passed on to the hands of anybody who dares to stake a violent claim to it. Understandably there have also been an ever increasing number of these.

Returning to the chief minister’s statement, while he was trying to articulate this growing disenchantment of the people, he was also unwittingly exposing his own helplessness. Insurgency, from this point of view has no respectable solution and the only way it can be resolved is by crushing it. In achieving this end, letting the bull loose in the China shop is perfectly acceptable. The only problem is, the 63 years history of the AFSPA tells a completely different story. The bull in the China shop only complicates the issue, and as evidence, the northeast and Manipur have only seen a multiplication not just in number but also in complication of the issue of insurgency in the six decades of AFSPA, so much so that insurrection today has acquired an awesome visage, enough to make even the most committed peacemaker despair. It is also quite amazing that Ibobi’s statement was made in the midst of the debate over the legal and moral legitimacy of the AFSPA evoked by the current street violence in the Kashmir valley which has already taken 63 lives. The chief minister must either be extraordinarily brave or else incorrigibly ignorant of developing events in the state and the country, or their implications, to be doing this.

Brave or stupid, the chief minister was at least honest. His intent was clear – the law and order agenda must return back into the hands of the state at any cost. By contrast, and quite interestingly something of this honesty is often wanting in the campaign against AFSPA. The impression is, for many of these campaigners, removing the AFSPA is a goal in itself, and their blueprints seldom talk of what the strategy would be after the AFSPA. Not many of them seem to believe removing the AFSPA is only a question of facilitating a final and peaceful settlement of the conflict in the state, but the end in itself. It is as if magically every problem in the state would fall in place once the AFSPA is out of the way. This is mere fantasy and as short-sighted as those, including the chief minister, who wants the AFSPA merely to take a get grip of the immediate challenge without a vision of a future of peace. For both the parties, the vision of peace must extend beyond the AFSPA. Resolving insurgency must also more importantly be about ensuring justice, empowerment and opportunity. Way beyond thoughts of imposing or removing the AFSPA, the more important issues are ending corruption, spreading quality education, alleviating poverty, ensuring respectable livelihood etc.


  1. we can expect violence from the non-state challengers.
    but why do we need to expect violence and brutality from the state forces? overtaken by emotions and momentary pleasures, they end up killing anyone in the name of safeguarding state security. sounds as absurd as the draconian act itself? yeah!
    and yes, majority of manipuris aren’t well educated and are ignorant of their own rights and values. one can expect high level of corruption, insurgency and violence in entities inhabited by these ignorant folks. violence ceases when this majority turns into a minority.
    ibobi and even the infamous brutal commandos might be hesitant to disclose that they often feel that the interest of the indian rulers is not the manipuri people but the manipur land mass because of its strategic location.
    AFSPA is medieval and are used by only witless forces which comprises of indisciplined and untrained personnel.
    remove it for humanity’s sake. peace will follow.

  2. I am very focused on the repeal of AF(SP)A as the end of the beginning. It would be a symbolic act. But please don’t dismiss the power of symbols. The troubles of Ireland evaporated when the Irish discovered the benefits of peace and prosperity. Skillful means argues that sometimes hatred can be overcome temporarily by greed.

    It would also complete the satyagraha of Irom Sharmila Chanu. For me I hadn’t thought much beyond that because I feel there is a greater need to be flexible and adaptable. Life cannot be planned.

    So I don’t know maybe we will set up an Ashram in Imphal. She believes that the fearless love of enemies through non-violent integrity Gandhi-ji’s thrusting yourself into the arms of your aggressor with the moral imperative of Thou Shalt not Kill alone and without the physical means to enforce it but with faith and love. Hey Mr Editor I write through the hermeneutic of Levinas I am not some ignorant tree huggin hippy.

    When the people are fed up of violence they will choose peace. Irom Sharmila will not abandon Manipur and I am sure there are many Manipuris who despise her but if she is genuinely prepared to stay and put in the work of rebuilding her country then I would hope that at least others did not get in our way.

    I don’t pay taxes to insurgents but if anyone wanted to come and take tea, meditate, paint, write poetry dance, there will be a space an Ashram for them to do so. I hadn’t really thought much beyond Irom Sharmila Chanu’s freedom.

    But just because I am a simple romantic doesn’t mean I am stupid or ignorant. I am not a do gooder I have no idealistic false optimism about humanity. I know that peace and prosperity are inevitable that it is the ineluctable course of evolution. I am very confident that the people of Manipur will choose life rather than death. One step at the time and the next step is repeal AF(SP)A in return I will give you everything I am and everything I shall be and I still think I make more on this deal.

    And if I may the real dishonesty of your CM is the lie that there is any way to peace and prosperity that does not first respect the fundamental rights of each human being even the bad ones. And I appreciate the risks involved. I am aware of the sickening violence of humanity. I am prepared to come and live in Manipur in an Ashram without violence and without paying taxes to insurgents. And if I am thwarted then one day someone like me will come and again and again because it is Humanity that will prevail not particular human beings. It is the spirit of Satygraha that will triumph not any individual satyagrahi.

    There is only one way to peace and that is through peaceful means.

    Honesty is an odd word for the greed driven violence of fascists. But I’d invite him to tea also to discuss his plans with. He is after all a public servant in need of better advice. Repeal AF(SP)A and it begins. She will not give up until it is repealed. It appears the easier option therefore is to petition parliament to repeal AF(SP)A.

    It would also herald the return of sanity, but that can be a hard sell when everyone is the midst of psychosis as you say.


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