The question of revocation
Keep politics out of AFSPA
VIEWPOINT BY ANIL ANAND
In a bubbling democracy such as India every aspect of life is bound to have an element of politics and it is desirable also to keep the spirit of democracy alive so long it is positive and not, always, governed by political ambitions. But there are aspects and occasions when the politics needs to be kept out of an issue that directly relates to the urges, aspirations and rights of the people.
The point in contention here is the controversial Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) which has been in place in the North-Eastern region since 1958 and in Jammu and Kashmir for the last over two decades. Certainly there are strong arguments for and against repealing the Act. There is no denying the fact that it has helped the armed forces in anti-terrorism and anti-insurgency operations that the nation has been witnessing in the two of its most fragile regions. But it is also a fact that it has been misused on occasions if not frequently.
The long history of AFSPA raises a fundamental question as to why such an Act has been allowed to continue in its present form for so long. And why there have never been periodic reviews either to judge its efficacy or assess the need to have a fresh look in accordance with the changing situations. The occasional attempt made in this direction had remained non-starter. The prolonged status quo on a law which is sensitive and has the potential of being misused and even misinterpreted for political reasons, forces one to think whether such a situation has been allowed to go on unhindered due to the presence of a strong vested interest.
This doubt has its genesis in the bits and pieces approach adopted by various groups particularly by the political parties in seeking repeal of the Act. Barring the consistent stand taken by the indomitable Irom Sharmila Chanu of Manipur, who has been on hunger strike for the last over a decade demanding withdrawal of the 1958 Act from the state, others have protested only according to the exigencies of a particular situation mostly political ones. The AFSPA has become like another issue, be it the 1984 anti-Sikh riots or the Babri Mosque demolition that have been kept alive to be exploited from time to time for political benefits. This is a dangerous trend and has become one of the many reasons that have led people gradually losing faith in the country’s polity.
The latest example of AFSPA being used as a political tool has come from Jammu and Kashmir where there has been strong demand, over the years at societal levels for repealing the law. How come the issue suddenly caught the imagination of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah? Three years into power, sharing with Congress, he never thought off vigorously pursuing the issue barring an occasional mention during his interaction with the Central Ministers.
Perhaps, the beleaguered Chief Minister, who has found himself surrounded by controversies, coming one after the other, found it fit to start the AFSPA debate to divert attention from the public criticism he and his Government have been facing mostly on account of mis-governance and a corrupt administration. It would have been better if he had started the debate on discontinuing AFSPA the moment he came to power three years back. Surely, a debate involving all the stakeholders including the armed forces would have resulted in finding a tangible solution even if it was not fully acceptable to all. But that was not to be.
There is no denying the fact that situation both in Jammu and Kashmir and North-East has shown remarkable improvement during the recent years. It also remains a fact that the armed forces have played a significant role in bringing the situation to this position despite having faced many cases of human rights violation. It is but natural that improvement in ground situation would raise hope among the people for more breathing space bereft of the sudden mid-night knocks by the security forces and resultant indiscriminate arrests. Despite many goodwill gestures made by the Centre and the state governments concerned, the AFSPA issue caught nobody’s attention in the true sense of the term or it was simply ignored leaving it to be politically exploited at an opportune time. To the contrary, it has been left to become seminarist’s delight.
No civilised society, more so India with its diversity and strong democratic institutions, will favour continuation of a draconian law such as AFSPA. But it is also criminal to allow such laws to exist perpetually for all times to come without a periodic review. These are laws and provisions enacted to tackle extraordinary situations which must either go or be reframed with changing environment. Continuation of such strong laws beyond a date leads to the vested interests taking charge of the situation. It has happened both in Jammu and Kashmir and North-East.
There are two aspects to dealing with the AFSPA controversy. Firstly and foremost, keep politics out of this very sensitive issue. The enactment, implementation or removal of a law should never be determined by the political needs of a political party or a political coalition. It should be viewed and done in the overall interest of the country and its people. The answer could be found through a broader discussion with all the stakeholders particularly the civil society rather than an adopting an exhibitionist approach.
Only a naive would describe the AFSPA as a normal law. It grants wide powers of arrest, the right to shoot to kill and to occupy, destroy property in counterinsurgency operations. These are abnormal provisions meant to tackle abnormal situations which should better be made time-bound to strengthen people’s faith in the law of the land.
Secondly, the Governments must honour the commitments they make to the people from time to time on the demand for AFSPA review or withdrawal. Or else why the report of Justice Jeevan Reddy committee has been gathering dust seven years after it was submitted to the Government. Even if the Government had to disagree with the panel’s recommendation to repeal the Act, some action should have been taken to prevent it from becoming a farcical exercise which it ultimately turned out to be.
Repealing AFSPA has become a ticklish issue and should be handled with utmost care. It is a razor thin walk for anyone attempting to resolve the vexed problem. The public feeling, as in Kashmir and Manipur, for its removal has strong basis and the issues raised by the armed forces and security experts cannot be summarily dismissed. After all human lives are involved on both the sides.
(The author is Delhi Bureau Chief of Greater Kashmir. Feedback at: email@example.com)
Lastupdate on : Thu, 10 Nov 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 10 Nov 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 11 Nov 2011 00:00:00 IST
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