The Tripura government has withdrawn the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA, from the state. The state chief minister, Manik Sarkar announced this yesterday, citing a wane in the insurgency situation in the state. He also said the Left front government in his state had also earlier tried to repeal the AFSPA but did not get the consent of the Centre. This time obviously the Centre has given this consent. This development contrasts with the recent imposition of AFSPA in Arunachal Pradesh, a state which has no serious history of insurgency so far. These are interesting turns of events indeed.
One thing is certain from the Tripura chief minister`™s statement. It is a myth that the states can on its own decide whether it needs AFSPA or not, for it is entirely up to the states to declare themselves as disturbed area under the Disturbed Area Act, DAA. While it is true AFSPA can only be imposed in places where DAA has been declared, what is not written but also true is, it is the Centre which through unseen pressures dictates whether a state should declare itself disturbed. This should have been obvious all along, but the myth has been allowed to persist. When the Jeevan Reddy Commission, recommended AFSPA`™s replacement with a civil act, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, modified and upgraded to make military operation under it possible, it was only the Centre which stood in the way of adopting this recommendation. It is also known that within the Central government it was the military lobby which ensured the recommendation was shelved. This came straight from the horse`™s mouth. The former home minister, P Chidambaram minced no words in revealing this publicly several times.
When the AFSPA is seen as only a manifestation of the will of the Central government and not that of the states, its meaning should become clearer. Since law and order is a state subject, the implication is, AFSPA is meant to tackle is not merely an internal law and order situation. Insurgency in the Northeast and Kashmir, the only two regions where the AFSPA is applicable, is seen as a form of military aggression and challenge to the Indian State. This may actually be the case, but it needs to be admitted if indeed the Centre sees the situation as such. From a purely human rights perspective, such a situation will have other protections for non-combatants especially, but for the combatants as well, for then, international humanitarian laws defined by the Geneva Conventions and The Hague Laws etc, will become applicable. India`™s dilemma is understandable. It does not want to call this a war situation for obvious reasons, but it does not think it is a mere law and order situation either. The failure of liberal imagination in such a situation is in evolving an appropriate response to this grey zone of a violent crisis.
Although developments in the US where police brutality and partiality are already an appalling alarm bell, the answer will have to be in strengthening the civil police to handle such situation. The police can be even more brutal than the Army, but the difference is, they will come under civil law and the ordinary citizens will not feel totally disempowered in tackling them. This being the case, policemen will not be given to the same degree of impunity and arrogance that security forces operating under the AFSPA are prone to. Policemen can and do end up committing accesses, but the ordinary citizens on the streets can also get back at them for these accesses legitimately through the courts or else through democratic pressures on the legislators elected by their votes. In the BT Road daylight killing for instance, the civil population was outraged but not left powerless to seek justice. That justice was delayed or ultimately not delivered adequately is a failure of execution and not intent of the system. The Army can be and should be there as back up fire power if and when the need arises, just as it is there to help when natural calamities strike. The argument that the Army cannot function without the AFSPA is spurious. Laws are made by the Parliament, and in a system where the Parliament is supreme, the Army should have no other option than to abide by the laws the Parliament makes. The Jeevan Reddy Commission`™s recommendation was precisely about making the Army operate, but also accountable to civil(ised) modern law where civil welfare is paramount, and not one that should belong to the savage days of colonialism. The Indian Army is a great organisation, but the AFSPA is giving it and the entire country a bad name.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam