David Buhril, Kangala Online
The Armed Forces Special Power Act, AFSPA, popularly called the “draconian law” has, once again, become the favourite toy in the politicians’ cradle. As the fever of the 9th Manipur Legislative Assembly election grips, AFSPA becomes the catchword. As if it is the soul of their political salvation, politicians swear on it without any hesitation. AFSPA becomes the shared agenda for the contesting candidates.
As “democratic election” gears up in Manipur, the operation of AFSPA poses a big question to the kind of democracy we are living with. Is free and fair democratic election really valid under such circumstances, when “inhumane” law prevails with unbridled power given to the Armed Forces? If the conduct of election is seen as a continuity of democracy, we are not far from accepting the continuity of AFSPA as democratic. The election, which is supposed to be a democratic means of empowering the people, is, however, a big contradiction as the secret ballot hangs on the draconian law. The whole drama is a face saving exercise for the mysterious democracy, whose face we have not yet seen. The “concert for democracy” swings without any democracy. If today democracy is seen as following formal procedures to allow dissent and multi-party election, democracy is, then, alive without its heart and soul. India as a flawed democracy is rightly said. The flaw being the inability of its institutions to be accountable and efficient in its operation. What we see in Manipur and in different parts of the North East is a deficit of trust in everything. What not?
The party politics or say the electoral politics has stirred with a temper and tone to repeal AFSPA after the election forms its own house. But with a condition, if they are elected to power. AFSPA has posed a big political challenge not only for the politicians but also for the authorities as well as several NGOs. As everyone battles with what comes first, peace and development or AFSPA, the tone and tenor becomes promising in the ambiguity. Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh belongs to the tribe who believed in the return of peace as the condition for repealing the Act. AFSPA is hidden in the most ambiguous excuse of the absence of peace, when it is already clogged in the spiral from the offshoot that gripped the entire North-East. When that becomes evident, one cannot, but wonder whether the meaning would be delivered with the politicians poking a small but sensitive constituency. When the killing spree in Assam could have a spillover effect on the prospect of AFSPA in Manipur, the campaigning chorus will face more orchestration even if everyone sits with power. The politicians’ race for mileage would turn out to be a mute tirade when none of them has a concrete design to repeal the Act.
That, once again, proved that the AFSPA chorus is situation created. It has to be when they failed to provide regular electricity, road and connectivity, safe drinking water, healthcare, institutions, playgrounds and what not. I was told only about 15.1 percent household in Manipur get access to safe drinking water. Nature is good to the rest. Imagine two hours of power supply in forty-eight hours. Imagine also the spine chilling record of over 400 cases of bloody violence in Manipur in the last four years. In the year 2006, there was a record of 418 cases of violence by undergrounds accounting for death of 73 civilians and 27 security personnel.
The question is what and where is the leverage? There is a need to test and run in every situation, which should be the alternative. A realist approach should substitute the soft stand that has been representing the region with AFSPA hatching no change at all. That would eventually allow any change a chance to take place in the space clogged with inhumane colonial Act stagnating the prospect for democracy and development. Fifty-seven years of swaying to merely fit into the political game of power quest has delivered nothing. The Act seems to be taken as a dead end in itself. One thing very clear is that peace or stability would not be established by strengthening the Armed Forces. But the land has been militarised. The rest is supposedly seen as militants if not victims of that. The unbridge gap of distrust grows evidently bigger. The only progress actually.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had earlier expressed his desire to relief the draconian act by giving a humane touch to it. AFSPA is the new untouchable item in the democratic space. Even though the authorities had shown compelled concern to touch the seemingly untouchable Act, the concern and motives are always suppressed. BP Jeevan Reddy Report as well as the numerous movements from the civil society for its repeal has been putting reasonable pressure. The protest is moving promisingly from Irom Sharmila Chanu to the United Nations. But will it be what it will be. Or is this what it really ought to be? So far a lukewarm response seems to be what it begets as “democracy” is cast once again into the ballot. One thing very popular with the general public in Manipur is the often-asked question, whether things, as they are, are real or not. Right now, politicians battling for power are baking their cake with AFSPA. As the ballot inked the finger of the right hand, AFSPA also wave on the left hand. A big reminder that right is not right. The question remains, is this democracy real or not?