NEW DELHI, May 30 : A week after the brutal killing of six Assam Rifles personnel by insurgent groups in Chandel district of Manipur, security agencies launched a psy-op that sent the Home Ministry into a tizzy.
A WhatsApp message circulated on Sunday within top hierarchies of Assam Rifles officials and other paramilitary forces stated that Assam Rifles had carried out a clandestine operation inside Myanmar and neutralised militants responsible for the killings. While the bravado in the tone of the message is unmistakable, what has got the Home Ministry’s goat is the reference to the Prime Minister’s name in the message. It says the operation was carried out at his behest.
Senior officials of the Ministry admitted that the message was damaging as it needlessly dragged the PM’s name into an operational matter. Intelligence agencies have traced the origin of the message to a section of Assam Rifles officials who seemed to have taken upon themselves the responsibility of launching a psy-op of sorts to cover up their failure to protect its personnel. The move, however, proved to be counter-productive.
As of now, the fact remains that the claim of conducting the so-called operation in Myanmar is not substantiated. Officials in Manipur are unaware of any such operation. Similarly, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) has conveyed to the Government that those making such claims are spreading lies.
The reason for this claim is not far to seek. After six jawans were killed by insurgents in Chandel district bordering Myanmar, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh is learnt to have conveyed his displeasure to the top bosses of the force. He was particularly irked by the fact that though there was specific intelligence about the possibility of an ambush, Assam Rifles bosses chose to ignore it. Exactly a year back, 18 Army jawans were killed in the same district in an ambush laid by the Khaplang group of Naga insurgents. The Army then claimed to have carried out surgical strikes across Myanmar as retaliation though authorities in Myanmar denied it.
What appears to be worrisome is the subtext of the story in the North East which is clearly indicative of a massive drift in the Government’s security strategy in the sensitive parts of the region. There are all indications that Assam Rifles which works under the operational control of the Defence Ministry is completely out of sync with the Home Ministry. What compounds the confusion is the overbearing influence of the Prime Minister’s Office and National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval in all security matters related to the area.
Nothing illustrates this policy drift more clearly than the manner in which the Naga insurgents (NSCN-IM) are given a free run in Nagaland and adjoining territories, including Chandel district. Intelligence agencies are particularly alarmed over the fact that NSCN-IM, after creating a smokescreen of a peace accord with the Centre, has launched a massive recruitment drive to bolster its ranks. Sources in Nagaland Government admit that Issac-Muivah group has been able to raise an army of 6,000 cadres who are being trained openly in various parts of the State.
“Those attending the camps are given assurance that they would be inducted into the Central paramilitary forces,” pointed out officials in Nagaland who are alarmed over the development. “What will happen if these freshly recruited cadres with training take to guns -against our own forces?” asked a senior police officer who has long experience of dealing with Naga insurgents. The primacy of North East in the Prime Minister’s agenda is often over-emphasised. The framework of the Nagaland peace accord, projected as a great achievement of the Modi Government, proved to be nothing more than optics. The draft of the agreement arrived at between Centre’s interlocutor RN Ravi and NSCN-IM general secretary T Muivah on August 3, 2015 at the prime minister’s residence is still shrouded in secrecy.
Modi has frequently toured the region and promised to develop it as an energy hub and a growth centre by launching a slew of developmental initiatives, including linking the region to Bangladesh and making it a window to South East Asia. The BJP’s electoral victory in Assam has further emboldened the Government to expand its political footprint in the region which was hitherto inaccessible to the Hindutva forces. Given the history of insurgency in the region since 1947 any misstep could prove damaging to both the Government and the BJP. The chest-thumping and display of hubris by the forces can only aggravate matters in the troubled zone.