What is ongoing in the North East is a sabotage of national security and integration.
Will the people of India wake up? Here are two views on the situation: One, by MG Devasahaym and the other by Manoj Kureel.
‘Qua Vadis’ North East?
M.G.Devasahayam August 31, 2012
For long it has been a love-hate relationship between Delhi and the seven sisters of the North-East. In four of them-Manipur, Meghalaya, Assam and Nagaland conflicts continue to fester and tensions abound. And all the states in the region-valley and the hills-share a common feeling of alienation from mainland India.
The question is what is ‘mainland India’. Is it just the old Aurangazeb’s Delhi-Durbar? This has become very relevant because large part of the blame for the current inferno in Assam’s Bodo region should go to people in Delhi playing mysterious and sinister games. And as the inferno continues unabated, it is time to take stock and critically analyse as to why the largest post-partition communal-violence induced death, destruction and mass exodus really happened.
Let us look at the chain of events leading to Assam turning into a cauldron. The communal clashes were triggered by two incidents in Kokrajhar district, one on July 6 in which unidentified gunmen shot dead two Muslims and another on July 19 when, again, unidentified gunmen shot at a leader of the All Bodoland Minority Students’ Union and a leader of the All Assam Minority Students’ Union.
On July 20, four supporters of the erstwhile Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) were lynched by a mob in Joypore, a Muslim-dominated village. What followed was a series of killings and counter-killings from both sides, triggering panic among the common people. Members of both the communities began to flee their houses, leaving the ground open for arson, destruction and looting.
The rail link with Assam was cut off for two days, and over 25,000 passengers were stranded at various stations in Assam and West Bengal as mobs blocked railway lines. The Guwahati-bound Rajdhani Express was stoned. Initial official estimates said that more than 5,000 houses had been burnt and 45,000 families of 244 villages had been affected. The clashes resulted in a serious humanitarian crisis and mass exodus
Curfew was clamped and shoot-at-sight orders were issued, but these measures could not deter the goons who took advantage of the absence of Central paramilitary forces due to reduction of its strength from 140 to 96 companies. It is still a mystery as to why para-military forces were so sharply scaled down in the weeks preceding the eruption of Bodo vulcano! As the situation was dangerously getting out of control, District Magistrates of the affected Districts called out the Army on 20th July. By that time Army units arrived on July 24 night, it was too late.
Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, under severe criticism, claimed that his government had sent a request for Army help immediately and attributed the late arrival of the troops to ‘system delay.’ Right from the Joint Secretary (Northeast) in the Ministry of Home Affairs to leaders of various political parties and organisations are of the opinion that four crucial days had been lost in controlling the situation. Had the Army arrived earlier, the carnage could have been prevented.
What kind of carnage? Latest count is 96 dead and displacement of nearly 5 lakh people who are today homeless and crammed into in 278 Refugee Camps. Known to be a highly sensitive area, the situation in Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District has been extremely volatile ever since BLT signed the second Bodo Accord with the Centre and the Assam state government in February 2003.
The way Army handled a potential flaring situation in the same area in 2009 is a case in point. A large-scale build-up aimed at engineering major exodus was reported by Intelligence Units. Local commanders at the Brigade level contacted the leadership on both sides and made it clear to them they would be held directly responsible for any ethnic violence resulting in deaths, rapes and the burning of villages and would have to face the consequences. The situation was not allowed to explode by an alert command and control system. This was proactive action by the Army under the provisions of Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
Legal position for handling serious law & order situation is clearly laid down in the Criminal Procedure Code. It gives full mandate to the District Magistrate to require ‘any officer in command of any group of persons belonging to the armed forces’ to take charge and control the situation with the help of the armed forces under his command, and ‘every such officer of the armed forces shall obey such requisition’ in such manner as he thinks fit, but in so doing he shall use as little force, and do as little injury to person and property, as may be consistent with the situation. The key word is ‘shall’ and implication is that the concerned ‘officer in command’ will act on his own without seeking orders from ‘above’.
What happened in the Kokrajhar flare-up was totally contrary to the legal mandate. In this case the ‘officer in command’, instead of instantly complying with the requisition of the District Magistrate, pushed it ‘above’. Obviously under instructions from ‘above’ District Magistrate’s requisition took the illegal route of Brigade Commander to Divisional Commander to Corps Commander to Army Commander (Eastern) to the Army Chief. Then it traversed down and the requisition was ‘obeyed’ after full four days. This is the ‘system delay’ that Chief Minister Gogoi is talking about. Because of this unforgivable delay by the Army brass, Assam has become a communal cauldron. Considering the fact that troops were already stationed in Kokrajhar and available for instant deployment, this is blatant dereliction of duty, which is being ‘desperately pushed under the carpet.’
Conspiracies theories abound and one of them point fingers at the Eastern Army Commander, who was harbouring a grudge against Chief Minister Gogoi and wanted to destabilize him in revenge. This was because Gogoi had triggered off the disciplinary and vigilance (DV) ban imposed by the outgoing COAS against him for shielding his key intelligence officer when in command of the Dimapur based 3 Corps. Despite the killing of three Naga youth and a subsequent failed Intelligence Operation in Jorhat in December 2011, where the Army unit decamped with loot, the officers had been shielded by both the Command and the Corps. However, Assam Police traced the crime and the culprits were caught with the stolen goods. 3 Corps however, claiming protection under AFSPA, refused to hand over the Army personnel to the Police. Tarun Gogoi intervened and called the former Army Chief, who being convinced of the seriousness of the matter, imposed the DV ban on the Corps Commander. This ban was immediately revoked once the then Eastern Army Commander moved as the Army Chief and 3 Corps Commander took his position. Wonder what standards of discipline Army is pursuing!
Though there are differing points of view pertaining to the Assam tragedy, there can be no two opinions about the fact that the Army leadership failed to respond to the crisis as they should under the law. Given the fact that similar situations had developed in the past that had been dealt with quietly, the failure to act is a major breach in our National Security.
With the subsequent spread of the fear factor to various parts of the country, this devious conspiracy to destabilize an otherwise fractured region is among the gravest of challenges facing the nation today. But alas, wallowing in intrigues and indiscipline, Indian Army’s top brass has lost its effective operational capability to combat this challenge. The Government must act, and act decisively, to bring the guilty to book immediately and those in line-of-command has to answer for their colossal lapse that has brought things to such a pass.
In public domain ‘truth is not the truth, but perception is the truth’. As of now, contrary to the truth that secessionist movements in India began in the South first, the popular perception is that the originating cauldron was North-East. Given the present situation in Assam, the popular perception may as well become the truth! Unless acted upon urgently and without remorse this NE cauldron could be a ‘prelude to nation’s disintegration’, a heavy price to pay for replacing Army’s Institutional Integrity with inbreeding ‘Line of Succession’!
In the event, response to the poser-‘Whither goest thou’ (quo vadis) NorthEast?-could as well be ‘Disintegration’!
[Author is former Army and IAS officer. While in the Army, he had served in the NorthEast-Assam and Nagaland]
How Left-liberal ‘secular’ media sees Gujarat and Assam