‘Disturbed’ status & AFSPA: A suffocating combination

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Ostensibly, New Delhi’s infatuation with the dreaded Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or AFSPA in short runs deep as far as the North Eastern region is concerned. Even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the Government of India in condoling the demise of NSCN-IM Chairman Isak Chishi Swu, the Government of India came up with the obnoxious decision of declaring the whole State of Nagaland as disturbed areas. Although the disturbed area status is reviewed periodically nothing changes on ground for the same notification (of disturbed area) is issued and re-issued after each review. Over the decades, the whole process assumed the character of a natural phenomenon and it applies to neighbouring Manipur too where Irom Sharmila has been fasting against the notorious Act for the last 16 years. The constitutionality of AFSPA which has its legacy in the British colonial era has been questioned many times at the United Nations and many other international forums but the Government of India sees no fault in enforcing the Act in some selected territories of the country. The Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance 1942 from which AFSPA was derived was first promulgated by the British on 15 August 1942 to suppress the Quit India Movement. The North East had its first experience of AFSPA when the Naga National Council (NNC) formed a parallel Government called the Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN) on March 23, 1956. The Government of India responded by promulgating the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Ordinance 1958 on May 22, 1958. It was replaced by Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958 on September 11, 1958. Not long after, the territorial scope of the Act expanded to the seven states of the North-East, – Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram. In addition, the words, ‘the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958’ were substituted by ‘Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958’.

Even though the Government of India’s decision came as no surprise, it certainly evokes some serious questions. The Government of India’s notification reads “…. in exercise of powers conferred by Section 3 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958, the central Government hereby declares the whole of the said State (Nagaland) to be a disturbed area for a period of six months with effect from June 30, 2016…..”. Here we cannot overlook the fact that Government of India is under a cease fire agreement with NSCN-IM, one of the most potent rebel group operating from Nagaland and Nagaland is relatively calmer than neighbouring Manipur. Again, Manipur is no more ‘disturbed’ than the Red Corridor where Maoists militants have unleashed militancy to the maximum. It appears that the Government of India has been employing different parameters for measuring the degree of disturbances witnessed in different parts of its territory. Yes, there are some other militant groups in Nagaland but they are quite quiet and there is the NSCN-K which had abrogated the cease fire agreement it signed with the Government of India. If the cease fire agreement signed with NSCN-IM is no guarantee enough for restoration of peace and normalcy in Nagaland, we cannot help asking whether any solution reached between the Government of India and NSCN-IM would be fruitful and comprehensive enough so that there is no need for declaring the State as disturbed areas. As for Manipur, the Government of India’s notification for neighbouring Nagaland is ominous as some major militant groups are very active even though there are some cease fire agreements and suspension of operation pacts involving a score of militant groups. Juxtaposition of the North East and the Red Corridor gives a notion that either AFSPA is sectarian or racist or both.

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