AFSPA on the lips of political parties Never a poll issue, why ?
Maybe it is the compulsion of the Assembly election, but significantly the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is suddenly on the lips of all, well almost all, the political parties which have a stake in Manipur and the North East. The stress on not all should be understood in the backdrop of the fact that it is only the BJP which has not talked about the Army Act in its election manifesto and this is obviously one ‘slip’ which the Congress has pounced upon. The stand of the NPP and the NPF which have spared no words in coming out strongly against the Army Act can be understood in the backdrop of the fact that the two parties are based in the North East, one at Shillong and the other at Kohima. And it is the North East and Jammu and Kashmir only where the Army Act is in operation. The BJP perhaps thinks or is under the impression that it would be better to keep mum on the Army Act and instead concentrate on what it deems are its calling cards, namely the manner in which bandhs and blockades have been neutralised in the five years that the BJP led Government came to power at Imphal. It may also be seen in the backdrop of the fact that development and progress are its calling cards but it still does not answer the question of whether its silence on the Army Act will go down well with the people or not. And it is precisely this silence which the Congress has picked out and gone to town with. Remains to be seen how the silence of the BJP on AFSPA will be taken by the people, but then again this is perhaps the right time to question when and whether the said Army Act has ever been an issue during any Assembly election that Manipur has seen so far. Was it an issue in 2017 or 2012 or 2007 ? Has the ongoing alleged ‘fake encounter’ case at the Supreme Court a matter worth putting up before any of the political party, leave alone it becoming a poll issue ? This is exactly what the Extrajudicial Execution Victim Families Association, Manipur (EEVFAM) and Human Rights Alert (HRA) have sought to do by urging the ‘next Government’ to institute a ‘Truth Commission’ and initiate an impartial and independent investigation of the cases of alleged extra-judicial killings, which are yet to be investigated.
Apart from giving the nod to investigate the cases which are yet to be probed, the key word here is ‘next Government’ and this is where the people would do wise to vote according to how much a political party and a candidate is committed to delivering justice. Now is perhaps the time to let AFSPA and the excesses of the security personnel become key issues in the election and the prime responsibility for this should lie on the people. Time to make the Government of India realise that the cry against AFSPA and the excesses of the security personnel is not just a reaction or a response to an episode of excesses, but is a standing demand that the people should be allowed to live as free citizens of the land. Why should an Act be deemed fit for implementation only in the North East region and Jammu and Kashmir ? It does not only give the armed forces the license to shoot and kill but is also an unstated message that the people of North East are different and hence need to be treated differently. This is what should be resisted and the first resistance to such an Act and such a mindset should come at the time of election, the time when the power to choose who should represent the people in the Assembly comes. That the said Army Act has never been an issue around which an election should be fought is perhaps another manifestation of the many contradictions that one sees amongst the people of Manipur. This obviously is not a pretty observation.