The question is not of the legality or necessity of any special powers conferred to the armed forces in India. The question is not of the violation of human rights under the shadow of that special power. Again, the question is not of the mass participation in the movement for the repeal of the Act of 1958. The question is who likes to repeal the Act.
Any keen observer of current Manipuri history will see that there was a change in the people’s perception of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 in the wake of 2004 agitations over the death of a Manipuri girl, named Manorama. The demand before the widespread agitations of 2004 was for ‘withdrawal’ of the special Act from Manipur; after the Manorama agitation, it suddenly changed to the ‘repeal’ the Act. The change is not a matter of changing words. It shows a change in the perception of the Act and the mindset of the people demanding it. The agitators did not like other Indian citizens to suffer as we have. It reflects the internal urge for a life free from the injustice created by the draconian Act. The people of Manipur have had enough experience of the pain and sorrow arising out of the immunity provided under several provisions of the Act of 1958. So, when they spoke they were also speaking for Jammu & Kashmir (where a similar version is in force) and the rest.
It is obvious that the demand does not come from the insurgents who are fighting for their own political ends. For them, it does not matter whether the Act is there or repealed for theirs is a fight with the Indian state and the powerful & mighty Indian Army and also the various paramilitary forces. Even one of the militant leaders had admitted once that the fight with Indian Army is not that easy. Moreover, the Act was already there and had been passed in Indian Parliament long before the oldest militant group in the State was established. The insurgent groups were aware of the Act yet they went on to form their respective parties. Some of them came into existence after the people of Manipur witnessed the real operation of the Act in late 1970s and early 1980s. In short, the very existence of the insurgency is not directly related with the existence of the Act in North East India in general and Manipur in particular. We can presume, theoretically, that insurgents are indifferent to the existence of the Act of 1958.
Then, who likes the Act to be repealed? They are the civilians, the Indians in Manipur or the non-violent people and peace-loving citizens. Those who believe in political violence are outside the state system. The citizens of India whose life, dignity and property are protected under the laws like to see the Act repealed because it creates inequality among the citizens of this Mahan Country. Denying their ‘one sentence demand’ means denying the equality principle, embodied in the Constitution. This is the general feeling among the agitators or the people. The question is of the value of citizenship in nationhood; it is of creating a respectable space for a group of people within the boundary of the nationhood.
The question of special power is not within the ambit of National Human Rights Commission. The NHRC is true when they express their inability to consider the demand. Special powers to the army are not directly related to different aspects of human rights. Human rights come into the picture only when there is gross violation or possibility of such violation of principles, provisions of human rights laws. The demand is much more than the legal provisions or guidelines given to the armed forces by the Supreme Court.
The demand is related with the special status of the armed forces in a democratic country. It is all about the re-evaluation of the special power given to the army from different angles of Indian nationhood and its politics. Counter-insurgency is not only the determining factor of the Act. We cannot look into the States only while explaining why there is insurgency; we cannot blame Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand for producing more Maoists than Sikkim or Goa. Likewise, we cannot blame Nagaland for generating insurgents. It is not only Manipur that is responsible for coming up of Manipuri militancy. Insurgency may also be considered as a failure of nation building in India as a whole. We should reassess every step in the nation building process started from 26 January 1950. The special power to the Indian Army should be re-evaluated keeping these steps in mind. The question is all about politics – politics of a nation making out of several thousand differences, not of human rights. The answers should be searched beyond the existing legal provisions.
Thinking beyond the existing legal and national framework demands courage to negate our habitual conclusions. You can start with a little courage to initiate a national debate. You do not need to take up fast onto death that never leads to death. Fasting business ended long time ago with the days of M K Gandhi and British colonial masters. Even Team Anna who played middle class fantasy could not turn a stone upside down with its fast as the New Delhi drama have shown. India does not change in that way.
Here, the simplest question is that: if the very foundation of Indian nationhood is non-violence, why the people of India, the owner of the Constitution, should not look out to find a non-violence solution to violent insurgency? Is military solution the lone solution to the growing insurgency for which the special powers to army is ‘needed’? India, remarkably, could develop its own style of anti-colonial movement under Indian National Congress during the colonial period; however, in post colonial India, till today, it cannot develop a new style of counter-insurgency campaign in tune with its anti-colonial movement – be it in Central Indian tribal belt, J & K or North East India. Why cannot the people of India experiment with Satyagraha in dealing with Insurgency?
If Gareeb is different from gareebi, if sinner is different from sin, if criminal is different from crime, look also the difference between insurgency and an insurgent. With the Special Powers and even more Powers, India may kill or attack the insurgent(s); but the military action always alienates its own citizens. Then insurgency remains. This dimension of dealing with insurgency requires more thought than bullets; more humane touch than Special Power to anybody. If Gandhi is true, state should believe in his axioms such as “Non-violence requires courage”, Gandhi’s words “Non-violence, which is the quality of the heart, cannot come by an appeal to the brain.” The moral lessons in various text books loudly read as “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”. In reality, we are witnessing slapping someone, before he escapes. It becomes the rule of the game. In a Gandhian paradigm, it is not only immoral but also politically wrong.
The current debate in India over the Special Power only focuses on the existence of insurgents or terrorists or integral part of India. The justification is always given by Government or army ‘intellectuals’ by citing ‘terrorist’ actions in the ‘disturbed areas’. The debate does not bring out anything new. These sentences are repeatedly spoken since the very day the Act was enacted by democratic India. The debate does not look into the composition of Indian citizens who really demand ‘repeal’ of the Act. This composition of people is the vital key that should be focused. This is what India is in these disturbed areas. One cannot equate that anti-Special Power is anti-India. Anti-India is anti-India; its war is outside the Constitutional framework. Deal them after the citizens are brought to your confidence. While a man is killed with Special Power, you give birth to a non-state actor. This is what people believe, express and act.