Election manifestos and AFSPA debate

As noted earlier in this column, election manifestos of almost all political parties of different colours and shades have been promising to either revoke AFSPA or work towards this end. BJP, the dominant ruling party, is still mum on the issue of AFSPA but they have not brought out their election manifesto as yet. NPP, which is a partner of the ruling coalition, made it clear that AFSPA must go. NPP president and Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma was among the first leaders from the North East who was quite vocal in criticizing the military law in the wake of the Mon Massacre of December 4 last year. Even as many political parties and leaders of Nagaland openly demanded repeal of AFSPA, neither the Chief Minister of Manipur nor the opposition leader bothered to raise a single voice in support of the popular demand. In fact, it was the successive Governments, not the Centre, which extended the Disturbed Area status periodically and quite regularly, thereby keeping the draconian law as a permanent feature of the State’s political landscape. The latest extension of Disturbed Area status was done under the BJP-led Government. Even if the Congress party promises to fight against AFSPA and BJP follows suit, these promises would be indigestible to a large section of people. There is virtually no difference between UPA and NDA, or BJP and Congress if the issue is the infamous Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the persistent demand to repeal it. Indeed AFSPA is extraordinary because it is one law which empowers even a non-commissioned military officer to search any place, destroy any structure, detain or shoot anyone on mere suspicion. Again, AFSPA is extraordinary because it is enforced only in ‘extraordinary’ places like Manipur and Jammu & Kashmir, not anywhere else in the country even though many states in mainland India are infested and affected with Maoist militants and their violent armed campaign. This is one discriminatory dimension of AFSPA.   
Demand for repeal of the Act emanated from all UN Treaty and Charter based bodies, Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee, Administrative Reform Commission and Ansari Report on J&K, etc, not to mention about Irom Sharmila’s non-violent crusade but it has never been repealed. The very idea of turning the Northeast or Kashmir into ‘alien spaces’ where martial law like Armed Forces’ Special Powers Act (AFSPA) operates suggests that people of the region is closer to Hannah Arendt’s ‘objective enemies’ whose definition is created by virtue of their existence in a particular position at a historical moment in time, and that they do not fall within the self-definition of a state. What makes AFSPA draconian, as many protesters often described it, is the impunity it guarantees to security forces. Impunity refers to the failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice and at the same time refers to denial of justice and redressal mechanism to the victims. In short, it is exemption from punishment or loss.  Impunity is believed to be widely prevalent in autocratic regimes such as dictatorship, theocratic and military junta, etc. India is a democratic country and the country proudly claims to be the largest democracy.  Ironically, the Government of India, whichever party is in power, has been steadfastly upholding the infamous AFSPA for governance of some of its selected territories which is manifestly discriminatory. The idea of ‘national security’ which the Indian state emphatically nurtures may in the long run create incurable conflicts and permanently alienate the whole of North East and Kashmir psychologically, if not physically. It is a tragedy that the Indian state cannot review or re-define the colonial concept of frontiers vis-a-vis Kashmir and the North East. This is one fundamental point which all political parties must pay special attention while dealing with the issue of AFSPA. People have had enough of lip service. Remember action speaks louder than words.