By Amar Yumnam
The despised, dreaded and utterly undemocratic Armed Forces Special Powers Act is again in the news, debates and hurling of blames consequent upon the loud thinking on it by Omar Abdullah, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. While it is being debated once again in the various television channels of the country, not many new arguments are coming forth. But there definitely has arrived the time for the Act to go.
Why Go: While the traditional arguments from both the sides of the supporters and the antagonists of the Act are fairly well-known, some new dimensions are emerging from the current debates themselves. First, I feel that drawing the “most-disciplined force”, viz., the Indian Army into the controversies and debates repeatedly is wrong. It serves in no way in upholding and boosting the image of the agency. It shows it as a vulnerable agency which could be a subject of attack, rebuke and verbal abuse in full view of the entire population of the country. Indeed, the very debates and controversies pull the image and respectability of the force virtually down.
Second, in almost all the debates, we see many retired generals and officers hitting the floor. By now, the weaknesses of these retired personnel are getting exposed increasingly. All of them invariably support the continuation of the operation of the Act, and in the process sounding like they all have been spoon-fed with this. The monotonicity in their arguments is plain boring. Further, the imbibed and habituated style of arrogance in posture and debate of the armed personnel in public arena do not at all come as a proper medium for getting their opinions across to the general population. Increasingly it is becoming evident that the Generals do not have any new insights and articulations to offer justifying the continued operation of the Act. They have been talking day in and day out and over the years of the same argument of special circumstances of areas of conflict and the consequent necessity of arming the armed forces with extraordinary powers. On the score of moral authority, discipline and accountability, they have been citing only of the statistics emanating from the National Human Rights Commission. The fact remains that using these statistics as an argument for prevalence of discipline, moral authority and accountability have never been convincing and have not convinced the citizens of the land either. Contrary to the failure of the Generals to advance new arguments, the various civil society organisations and individuals are coming forth with newer grounds for the repeal of the Act and newer approaches to opposing it. Overall, it has become fairly apparent that the Generals are losing ground to the argumentative Indians in so far as the various rounds of debates are concerned. Indeed, it is heartening to witness cases of the Generals becoming objects of subtle verbal ridicule.Here we must remember that the very way in which the various debates are taking place in the televisions channels sounds as if the Generals are pitted against the citizens. In a democracy, it is a battle which the Generals can never think of winning. The ways in which the debates are conducted and the opposite parties are pitted against one another have only served the purpose of hardening the attitudes of the people against the army wherever the Act is in place. In addition to this, the various insurgent organisations are indirectly given new reasons for articulation and mobilisation.
Third, as of today we get the impression that the various television channels are playing soft on the Army. This may be because they might be feeling the need for providing time for understanding the changing circumstances to the Army. This is visible from the various occasions the moderators are seen labouring to somehow rescue the Generals from very tight spots of argument. This is to be appreciated. But if the time comes when the various channels can no longer resist the antagonists of the Act with increasing armours of argument based on principles of justice, accountability, transparency and democracy, it would be a very sorry scenario with the Army; the army would then be attacked lock, stock and barrel with none moderating. Wellthe Army have yet to invent arguments in favour of the continuation of the Act which are capable of countering those based on the principles of justice, accountability, transparency and democracy.
Fourth, we strongly feel that we should not be creating an environment as well as encouraging the Army to cultivate a vested interest other than the one for which they are given training. But the manner in which the pro- and anti-AFSPA debate has unfolded gives the impression that they now have developed one wherein they can operate without worrying for judicial intervention. It is really unfortunate. We must remember that even the member of an insurgent group is charged with all the crimes he had committed in a court of law if once arrested.
Fourth, the very nature of such legislation demands that their life-span of operation in any area and upon any population group should be limited. In any case, it should never go beyond a decade at the most, and should be restricted to half a decade. This is because the ground implementation of such legislations cannot go without impacting on imbibed social behaviour if continued over a long period. If it continues for an extended period of time the tenets of the legislation get institutionalised in the larger social functioning. The increasing behaviour of violence in societal functioning in Manipur is largely, if not solely, to be explained by the institutionalisation of the core elements of the Act. The rising frequency of villagers “implementing justice” without taking recourse to the process of law and the law and order agencies is a sure indicator of this institutionalisation of violence without accountability.
In fine, we must say that the time is now for the removal of the Act for reasons of both the Army and the public. Long years of operationalization of it and more than six decades of democracy should empower our collective ingenuity to find ways of nurturing our nationalism, and never by brute force any more.