The Indian Army blotched-up operations at Oting in Nagaland have given a fresh clamour for the repeal of AFSPA. The deaths are highly regrettable and I can understand the anguish and sorrow of the families of victims. My heart also goes out to all those who died there including a soldier. The initial firing took place due to mistaken identity or faulty intelligence. However, more casualties occurred when the villagers attacked the army men, who had no option but to exercise their right of private defence. The next day the civil administration did not pre-empt the anger of the locals, who in hundreds again attacked an Assam Rifles Post in Mon.
The post fired in self-defence and one more civilian was killed. In all, 14 civilians died, two vehicles and a building of security forces were burnt, one soldier died and a number of civilians and security personnel were admitted to hospital for injuries. The second and the third spurt of firing were avoidable and the overall casualties would have been only six; had the civilians not taken the law into their hands and the police and civil administration had taken some precautionary measures. A Special Investigations Team has been formed by the state government. From the Army side; a Court of Inquiry under a two-star general is already in place and has started recording statements.
Yes; a mistake was committed by the Army and there are constitutional remedies to the victims and whether the AFSPA is in vogue or otherwise, they can be punished under the Military Law. By the way, the judicial procedures of arraigning, charging, convicting, and sentencing by a Court Martial are much faster and more visible than any civil court in our country. Incidentally; a Summary General Court Martial can also sentence an accused to death or life imprisonment depending on the severity of the offense.
It is time to take our attention to the judiciary? It was on 8 Jul 2016; the Supreme Court gave its ruling for a mandatory FIR against the armed forces personnel if a death has been caused while operating in a disturbed area. On 27 April 2017, the curative petition to the Supreme Court to review their judgment was also dismissed. It entails; if in a disturbed area the armed forces have an encounter and a terrorist is killed then it is mandatory to lodge an FIR against the armed forces personnel, who has caused his death.
Let us analyse: Who declares the area as disturbed? It is the Central Government or the Governor of the state, who is empowered to declare a geographical area as disturbed. When the government considers that the situation in the state or a particular area has become disturbed and dangerous, involving terrorist acts, striking terror in the people, overawing the government, disrupting sovereignty and integrity leading to secession; the area is gazetted to be disturbed. Please note that it is not the armed forces, who declare an area as disturbed. It is done by the Central or State Government that has been formed by the will of the people.
The government also considers that the existing administration with the prevailing laws and organic resources in terms of police and central armed police forces is not able to control the situation and there is a necessity for the Armed Forces to come and establish peace and order; only then the area is declared as disturbed. All should know the normal system of governance has failed and due to the utter helplessness of the government that they have invoked it as a disturbed area at their own calling and assessment of the situation.
The last weapon, the government has is its armed forces and it is the last arrow in its quiver and the last trump card in its hands. If the armed forces fail then the nation fails and it is the failure of the will of the democratic polity. Can we let it fail? It is the failure of the nationhood of the nation, where the rule of law does not run and chaos violence rules the roost. It is at this time the Armed Forces are called to restore law and order.
All the liberals who cry out for the primacy of individual rights; have you read the constitution of India? Arrogantly, they would ask; who is trying to teach them law? Notwithstanding; let us recount the Preamble of the Constitution: The people of India through the constitution empower themselves to make our country a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic, Republic. It gives its citizens justice in social, economic, and political; liberty of thought, expression, belief, and worship; equality of status and opportunity; fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and ‘UNITY AND INTEGRITY OF THE NATION’.
It means all the justice, liberty, equality, and dignity are given to us, with a proviso, where we have to assure the ‘unity and integrity of the nation’. It is a non-negotiable factor in the entire constitution. If the country’s territorial extent is not there; where will the Lordships apply this constitution? The existence of the ‘Nation-State of India’ is a prerequisite for the rule of law to run as per the constitution. The preamble starts with ‘We the people of India’; if there is an existential threat to India or a part thereof; are the people of India; unconcerned?
After the recent killings, however, regrettable and sad, a number of articles are floating in the print and internet media clamouring for the abrogation of AFSPA. It is sheer ignorance. It is like blaming the rooster for the dawn. Their angst should be at their own people for keeping the state in violence and disrupting its peace, forcing the State and Central Government to declare an area as disturbed. It is also a challenge and responsibility for the people of the state to ensure that there is peace in the area so that is not declared as a ‘Disturbed Area’.
Carry guns, intimidate people, kill informers, collect illegal taxes, strike at the security forces, kill people’s representatives who abide by the law of the land and create a climate of collapse and then conveniently blame the army for imposing AFSPA? Isn’t it a mockery; more so, when the Army has nothing to do with the imposition of AFSPA? If the people maintain peace and progress, then the Army has no role to play in the area.
They would be in their barracks and will not be seen or heard. It is the police who would assist the people. Why all these activists and self-styled torchbearers of civil society who beat war drums and spread canards and spin tragic stories, do not understand these simple dynamics; peace and order in society alone can blossom the personalities of our citizens and secure a future for our country. There cannot be progress without peace.
About the Author
Lt Gen. PG Kamath (Retd), is defence and national security analyst. He has held some of the highest appointments during his time in service.