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EDITIORIAL: The Irony Of May 21 And 22… Educating Delhi On Terror

It was terrorism that killed former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991, while he was on an election campaign at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu and it was on May 22, 1958 that India adopted the Armed Forces Special Powers Act as an Ordinance.  While May 21 continues to be observed all over the country as anti-terrorism day to coincide with the death of Rajiv Gandhi, the significance of May 22 in the lives of the average Manipuri is slowly and gradually beginning to take roots and for this we have no one but Delhi to thank for, courtesy the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

While Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a human bomb, carefully and craftily planned by the LTTE and under the supervision of the one eyed Sivarasan, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act was activated on the floor of Parliament to ostensibly protect the territory of India in the face of the Naga armed movement launched under the inspiration of the plebiscite of 1951 when 99 percent of the Naga people reportedly voted for a free Nagaland. The Naga armed movement under the charismatic AZ Phizo, who founded the Naga National Council, then gave birth to a number of armed movements in the North East region and with the guns beginning to boom across the vale and hills of Manipur, the entire State was brought under the ambit of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in 1980.

There is nothing in common between May 21 and May 22, yet to the discerning observer, the irony is not lost. If May 21 is observed as anti-terrorism day all over the country, then May 22 is beginning to be seen and regarded as the day that the Indian Parliament gave the nod to its armed forces to begin a reign of terror in the North East region, all in the name of counter insurgency operations.  So while May 21 is commemorated as a day to pledge ourselves against all that terrorism stands for, there is the ever growing opinion that Delhi has sanctioned its armed forces to carry out a reign of terror in the North East region and Jammu and Kashmir, from the day AFSPA was adopted as an Ordinance in 1958 on May 22, in the name of CI Ops.

If the LTTE was a terror outfit, which did not hesitate to use human bombs and kill anyone who it thought was against their ideology, then there is also the growing belief that Delhi has endorsed its armed forces to terrorize the people of the North East by granting absolute legal immunity to do as they please. The history of the region, ever since the Act was enforced, has only gone on to add substance to the argument that Delhi has been deliberately turning a blind eye to the excesses of its security personnel. To muddy the water or to make it more complex, are the witting or unwitting messages sent out by Delhi that it sees things differently when it comes to the North East. The latest example being the swift response to the four day hunger strike launched by Anna Hazare and the stoic indifference to the more than ten year old hunger strike launched by Irom Sharmila demanding the revocation of AFSPA.

So much for May 21 and May 22 and while Governments of the Western countries and other democratic Nations such as India may not agree, no one can write off the overwhelming sentiments that terrorism is a subjective issue and so while to the West and other Nations like India Osama bin Laden was a terrorist, to the Al Qaeda and many Arab Nations, it is the United States which fits the bill of a terrorist. Seen in the backdrop of these opposing viewpoints, we may then surmise that there is nothing ironic in Delhi observing May 21 as anti-terrorism day and the North East region observing May 22 as the day that Delhi endorsed its security forces to let loose a reign of terror in the region.

Post 2004 and over the brutalized lifeless body of Th Manorama, a number of civil society organizations in India, including political leaders have come around to the idea that AFSPA indeed runs contrary to all that a democracy stands for and in Irom Sharmila Chanu, they have found the perfect model to stick to their stand. Sharmila did not launch her fast for her three minutes of fame. This is a reality and the fact that the security forces should realize and acknowledge. The Malom massacre of November 2, 2000, which gave birth to the crusader in Sharmila, was nothing but a direct result of the legal immunity granted to the security forces under AFSPA. This again is a fact that the political netas in Delhi and those who want to exhibit their Nationalist color should not try to sweep under the carpet or ignore. We are not talking about the Constitutionality of the Act or not.

We leave that to the legal experts. What we are talking about is the right of the citizen in a democracy as well as the duty and obligations of a welfare State, which prides itself in being the largest democracy in the world. We are also raising the question of why AFSPA is selectively implemented and whether this can and should be read as Delhi adopting a discriminatory stand or not. Manipur has not seen any Jihadis from across the international boundary, unlike Mumbai which has had to bear the brunt of terrorists for long, the latest and most memorable being the Mumbai attack in 2009. It all boils down to the question of whether Delhi is morally right to observe a day like anti-terrorism day while endorsing its security forces to let loose a reign of terror in some parts of the country. For starters, what has happened to the Assam Rifles personnel who picked up Manorama and later killed her in 2004?

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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