13 August 2004

Armed Forces Act: Partial lifting many not help

August 13, 2004
The Hindu


Partial lifting of Act may not help

By Siddharth Varadarajan

NEW DELHI, AUG. 12. The temporary lifting of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSP) from the municipal areas of Imphal is the product of an untidy compromise between the Union and State Governments which will provide, at best, only a respite to both.

Curiously, the constituency of Khetrigaon — from where 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama was arrested by the Assam Rifles on the night of July 10 and subsequently killed, thereby triggering the current agitation — will continue to remain a "Disturbed Area" and the AFSPA will operate as before.

With the Army showing no signs of cooperating with the Upendra Commission probing the Manorama case — hearings have now been adjourned till August 18 because the Assam Rifles soldiers summoned are refusing to appear — the original wound will continue to fester.

The popular movement against the AFSPA is not confined to Imphal. Though it has been the epicentre, sustained protests have taken place in the valley districts of Churachandpur and Bishnupur districts as well as in the hill regions of Ukhrul and Senapati. Meitei, Naga, Kuki and Zeliangrong organisations have all united around the common demand that the Act be revoked.

Fatigue on the street

The Congress-led State Government had promised the State-wide lifting of the law by August 15 but is now offering relief in only seven urban and semi-urban constituencies that fall in Imphal East and West districts. There is fatigue on the street. For some groups, the Manipur unit of the CPI for instance, the latest decision will be seen as offering the possibility of an exit with some honour. However, most of the 32 organisations spearheading the campaign will not settle for a partial victory when their real goal is to rid Manipur of de facto Army rule. By Thursday evening, many of these organisations had spoken. Most rejected the compromise "though the real test will be seen on the streets of the State on Friday," Pradeep Phanjoubam of the Imphal Free Press says.

"The agitation has been all over the valley. How will people outside Imphal react," Radhabinod Koijam, a former Chief Minister, told The Hindu earlier this week when asked about the possibility of the AFSPA being lifted in Imphal alone.

A critic of the Act, Mr. Koijam says the Manmohan Singh Government must re-examine its utility. Above all, he says, the Centre should offer unconditional talks with the insurgent groups operating in Manipur as the question of a "permanent solution" can no longer be postponed.

"Unless that is done, what is the point in keeping the Act and allowing the armed forces to commit human rights violations? The insurgency can be ended not by guns but by dialogue."

Joint plea against Act

On August 6, Mr. Koijam joined Rishang Keishing and three other former Manipur CMs — R.K. Ranbir Singh, R.K. Dorendro Singh and W. Nipamacha Singh — made a joint appeal to the State and Central Governments to give a call for dialogue. "Ultimately, the only answer is for the Central Government and the UGs (underground) to talk," Mr. Keishing says. "But the people should also put maximum pressure on the UGs to agree to the idea of dialogue as a way of reaching a settlement. It is not practical or feasible for any group to think Manipur can come out of India.

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