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.