No surrender

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The BJP-led coalition government in Manipur has extended the Disturbed Area Act for another six months paving the way for the extension of the promulgation of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA. Nobody expected anything other than this. This has been the routine since the time the Act first came into existence in 1958, whichever party was in power in the state. The AFSPA represents the Centre’s will and there is little that the state, especially small, weak and dependent states like Manipur, can do to oppose this Central will even if they want to. The claim that the AFSPA is in force in keeping with the wishes of these state governments is a convenient whitewash, considering Northeast state governments have little choice but to anticipate what would please the Central government and act accordingly. Yesterday’s extension of the DAA by the Manipur Cabinet is just the latest show of this compliance. Quite coincidentally, there were some bomb blasts during the last fortnight and in the eyes of the public these have served as the excuse for the Cabinet decision. However, considering the nature and scale of these violent activities, the DAA does seem like the proverbial sledgehammer used to kill flies. Let all acknowledge and accustom themselves to the thought that AFSPA is almost destiny for provinces peripheral to the Indian mainstream, and this condition will remain till such a time they leave their own divergent streams and conform to the idea of belonging to one mono-cultural mainstream.

Leave the AFSPA be for the time being. Alongside the extension of DAA and therefore the AFSPA, the government also in the same breath declared a revised surrender and rehabilitation policy, the main features of which are hikes in the allowances of insurgents who decide to give up arms and come in the fold of the government. This quite obviously is an overt adoption of the classic carrot and stick strategy of a coercive state in handling radical dissents. Probably it has worked in tackling common criminals, but when it comes to ideologically driven insurrections, everybody has seen how abjectly this has failed repeatedly. For indeed, surrender and rehabilitation packages have been around for decades, and at best all they managed was to wean away the fringe elements within insurgent organisations, or else cause splintering of weaker groups. The core of the insurrection however has always managed to remain intact, or at worst, left with some bruises to attend to. If this core were to deplete, it will be on account of the insurgents losing their support bases, which today probably is a serious worry for them, given the changing paradigms of state, nationhood and even identity. In the decades that have gone by, surrender policies of government after governments have failed precisely because they have paid little attention to the passions that drive and keep alive the core of insurgency, and approached the issue as if they were dealing with petty criminals who can be appeased with offers of money and petty job opportunities.

The government should instead make the effort to think out of the box. It could for instance find out why past surrender policies all failed and learn from these failures and make amends. It should also study peace initiatives elsewhere in the world, some successful and some not so, and learn from both to model its own conflict resolution strategies. Other than the cheap thrills of capturing newspaper headlines “surrender packages” have never delivered and probably never will when it comes to insurgencies. What probably can work are offers for engagement on respectable and honourable terms. The Naga peace talk in this sense is an innovation. It may not work for along the way, many unseen hurdles and many more known but previously ignored compulsions of geography and ethnic relations have cropped up. However, even if this does not work, it would still not amount to a surrender. The government’s offer to other insurgent groups should be similarly designed. There should be no preconditions, and whatever solution is reached would be solely on the engagement during the negotiation process. As a start, we suggest the government to avoid the word “surrender” in future peace initiatives and offers to insurgent organisations it hopes to bring to the negotiating table.

Source: Imphal Free Press

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