By Anil Bhat
Two recent developments in the North East pleasant surprises. The first is a series of surrenders with arms and ammunition by militants of various groups in Manipur, which by now tally well over two hundred. In Assam, 1855 militants were reported to have surrendered in January 2012. The other is over 500 students applying for the National Defence Academy (NDA) very recently. The fact that both these have been as a result of motivation of militants and students largely by the Army / Assam Rifles and also by the state government, despite all the pressure and hype by human rights campaigners against security forces, is indeed significant.
In the fourth surrender by terrorists in Manipur since October 2011, on April 30, 2012, a hundred and three militants belonging to 12 outfits laid down arms during a ‘home coming’ ceremony at Inspectorate General, Assam Rifles (South)’s headquarters, at Mantripukhri, Imphal in the presence of Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, Home Minister Gaikhangam, Chief Secretary DS Poonia, DG Police Ratnakar Baral, IG, Assam Rifles (South) Maj Gen UK Gurung and family members of the surrendered militants.
The hardcore terrorists surrendering were of proscribed outfits including old and infamous ones like United National Liberation Front, People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Kangleipak Communist Party, Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup, People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak, United People’s Party of Kangleipak, People’s United Liberation Front, Kuki National Liberation Front, National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) and lesser known ones like UNPC, KRPA and KRF. They surrendered with over 103 weapons including 9 AK 47 rifles, three Lathodes, 25 Carbines, 59 pistols, three 303 rifles and one each M-16 and M-21 rifles.
Speaking on the occasion, Ibobi said Naxalites (who are already well-linked with PLA) have posed a serious challenge to law and order machinery. “Peaceful methods like elections are primarily meant for giving say to people’s aspirations. Parliament and State Assemblies are actually the forum for conflict resolution… a section of people perhaps does not believe in the efficacy of these democratic and peaceful means. I do not agree with such people.” Referring to of trend of democracy developing across the world, he further added, “very recently even in the neighbourhood of Manipur in Myanmar we saw how the peaceful democratic movement of Aung Saan Suu Kyi met a great success…no government can deliver without active and continued support of the public…I am fully confident that people would continue to support our vision and policy for peace and development”.
On October 27 2011, following concerted efforts of the Army and its Suspension of Operations (SoO) pact, 43 commanders and cadres of the United Tribal Liberation Army (UTLA) led by its president surrendered to the Government before the Chief Minister.
The surrenderees were accorded a warm reception at a ‘home-coming’ ceremony organised by the 57th Mountain Division at 1st Manipur Rifles (state government force) banquet hall. Speaking on the occasion, Ibobi stated that some groups have been violating SoO ground rules by extorting money from the public. Informing that the Government has been giving assistance including money to the groups under the SoO pact, the Chief Minister warned that such violations of ground rules will not be tolerated. To a query raised by journalists after the home-coming ceremony, Ibobi clarified that he never asked the Union Home Minister to repeal AFSPA “in totality”.
The then DGP Y Joykumar was quoted saying that UTLA operated in Vangai range, Jiribam and Nungba areas.
On December 16, 2011, fifty-seven militants belonging to different outfits surrendered with a cache of weapons, including AK-47 rifles, carbines, 7.65 mm pistols, etc. during a ceremony in Imphal, attended by Mr Ibobi Singh, Army, police and other senior officials. The chief minister stated to media persons that the return of the militants to the mainstream is a victory of the state government in combating militancy in the state and also added that the government has rehabilitation packages in association with the Union Home Ministry to help the surrendered militants chalk out new lives for them. “We are extending to all the militant outfits to shut down their violent activities. To those who come in the national mainstream, we always welcome them. Over and above, we are giving away lots and more benefits,” he said.
On 27 Mar 2012, fifty-two militants belonging to UTLA surrendered at an official function in Imphal, laying down their arms and ammunition Mr. Ibobi Singh and top brass of the Manipur Police. “It is a good sign that so many militants have decided to come overground today. Insurgency and law and order condition is one of the biggest challenges of my government and we are committed to ensure lasting peace in the state,” said Mr. Ibobi Singh. “We have already taken up the issue of insurgency seriously and some more militant outfits are likely to come over ground very soon,” he said. The chief minister, however, did not divulge the names of the outfits, which, amounting totally to at least thirty, make the small north eastern state of Manipur, one of the worst affected by insurgency degenerated into terrorism. Reportedly over 15 militant outfits in Manipur have signed a SoO agreement with the state and central government a few days earlier. That is probably how, as many as 103 surrendered in the latest ceremony in May this year.
On January 24, 2012, Assam state government came up with a whopping surprise of one of the largest surrenders in the North East region, in which 1855 militants belonging to nine groups laid down their arms before Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and received roses for the weapons turned in. “I want to assure all of you that the governments of India and Assam will treat you as equal citizens of India with honour and dignity….The Government of India has welcomed the militants back to the fold. We believe we are a republic and a democracy where every voice deserves to be heard. Everyone is entitled to live with honour,” said Mr. Chidambaram at the function where Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, Army GoCs of 3 and 4 Corps, and Director General of Police Jayant Narayan Chowdhury were also present. The underground groups were Adivashi Peoples Army (APA), All Adivashi National Liberation Army (AANLA), Santhal Tiger Force (STF), Birsa Commando Force (BCF), Adivashi Cobra Military of Assam (ACMA), Kuki Liberation
Army (KLA)/Kuki Liberation Organisation (KLO), Hmar People’s Convention (HPC), United Kukigam Defence Army (UKDA) and Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA). Already in ceasefire agreement with the government, the nine groups fighting either for secession or for greater autonomy submitted charters of demand to the government. Led by ‘chairmen’ and `commanders`, the militants surrendered 201 assorted arms and ammunition.
While such a large number have surrendered, they largely represent not very well-known or very well-equipped groups. Neither has Mr. Gogoi mentioned how many are still at large. For peace to get a fair chance, terrorists of well-known groups like ULFA, who are still in hiding must be caught. It is amazing how they can survive for so long. And those who surrender must be kept under surveillance, unlike the so-called pro-talks ULFA members.
The other pleasant surprise is that for the first time in Manipur, school students’ response to apply for joining the Armed Forces. On 16 May 2012, the Army’s Red Shield Division organized a seminar for enhancing awareness of Manipuri youngsters. Attended by students from all over Manipur, the seminar had eminent panelists who elaborated on the employment opportunities available in sectors like engineering, medicine, nursing, civil services etc. Red Shield Division also facilitated the online registration of prospective children for the NDA entrance examination. This received an overwhelming response, as more than 500 students, mainly from Senapati and Tamenglong districts and NCC Cadets, registered for NDA entrance exam. These applicants will appear for the written entrance exam on 19 Aug 2012, which will be followed by the Services Selection Board (SSB) interview for those who clear the written exam. The candidates who clear the SSB interview will thereafter undergo three years training at the prestigious NDA at Khadakwasla (Pune) . On successful completion of the 3 years basic training at NDA, the cadets will undergo another year of specialised training at Indian Military Academy for Army cadets, six months on board Indian Navy’s training ship for Naval cadets and a year or so for Air Force cadets-all of who will be paid a monthly stipend of Rs 21,000/- per month till they become commissioned officers earning a minimum salary of approximately Rs 40,000/- per month.
Many Manipuri students, including those from Sainik School, Imphal, have not only made it to NDA, but a fair percentage of them graduated with flying colours, excelling in sports, services subjects and academics. The first lady Army officer from Manipur is Major Melody Senjam, who served with distinction in the Corps of Engineers. Manipuri classical dancers are no less fitter sportspersons and martial artists. Polo, as known today, emanated from Sagol Kangjei (sagol meaning horse and kangjei, a game of stick and ball), the peacetime pastime of the Meitei Kingdom’s army.
Maj Gen Binoy Poonnen, VSM, GOC Red Shield Division, expressed his happiness at the response from the applicants and assured that all deserving students will be provided books, training and guidance for the NDA exam as well as free guidance and coaching for medical engineering and civil services examinations
While platitudes and promises are considered necessary tools by political leaders, if they are not followed up by implementation of rehabilitation measures on the ground and within a reasonable time-frame, not only do the political leaders lose their credibility, but worse, the problem escalates further. In this case it is hoped that the Union Home Minister and Chief Ministers of Manipur and Assam have some substantial plans for rehabilitating the surrenderees, because what should not be allowed is a repeat of SULFA (surrendered ULFA), who after former Assam CM Hiteshwar Saikia’s ‘amnesty’ to ULFA in early 1990s created yet another nuisance. One way of rehabilitating them is by raising more police battalions, which will address the problem of police being under-strength. India has the lowest policeman to population ratio. Whatever may be the rehabilitation, the surrenderees must be kept under surveillance The other aspect is to ensure that the breakaway factions of these groups still destructively active, are rounded up within India and at least from Burma/Myanmar. These factions hiding in Myanmar since the Awami League was voted to power in Bangladesh in 2008, are being supported by China. Earlier they were actively supported by Pakistan’s ISI. These factions are trying to unite. While Bangladesh government has been very cooperative in pushing out the Indian terrorists from its soil, India must now ensure to extradite them from Myanmar, whose new government is expecting much aid and cooperation from India.