AFSPA in Manipur: Friends forever
IFP Editorial: Now that N Biren Singh is at the helm of state affairs, does he still have the same spirit or resolve to withdraw AFSPA from parts of Manipur. That was K Ranjit’s loud thinking, while the chief minister remains non-committal on the issue.
They were jolly good friends then. They were also the two most trusted lieutenants of O Ibobi during the Congress regime in Manipur and in fact the Ibobi-led Congress government in its second innings was popularly known as IRB government meaning the triumvirate ‘Ibobi-Ranjit-Biren’. They were the night owls who like to supervise construction activities first hand at the spot on the roadside.
Engineers and contractors had a hard time during those hey-days in trying to please the road bosses. When both of them did not find a berth in the third term of Okram Ibobi government, they led the dissident charge against O Ibobi. As N Biren Singh switched sides, K Ranjit remained with the Congress. As heavyweights in the BJP lost elections, N Biren Singh went on to become the first BJP chief minister of the state. Although they spar or take a dig on the floor of the state assembly and other public forums over policies and matters of governance, there seems to be no animosity between them. A prefix ‘my friend’ is always there when they refer to each other.
Yet, they are deeply hurt when there is a slip of an unkind word in utterances. The interplay is that one does not expect such words from a friend. The other day, the Sugnu MLA was deeply pained by the choice of words of Chief Minister N Biren Singh when he visited the constituency. Now, the budget session of the state assembly has started. During the discussion on Motion of Thanks to the Governor’s Address, K Ranjit questioned the resolve of the chief minister with regard to lifting of Armed Forces Special Powers Act from other parts of the state. After a prolonged movement in 2004 for repeal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the wake of the brutal rape and murder of Manorama Devi, the Okram Ibobi Singh-led Congress government had withdrawn it from seven assembly constituencies of Greater Imphal despite objections from the Centre. K Ranjit recalled the spirit of N Biren Singh then in 2004 when he and some other Congress MLAs pushed for removal of the Act from parts of the state with the then Chief Minister O Ibobi. Now that he is at the helm of state affairs, does he still have the same spirit or resolve as he had in 2004. That was K Ranjit’s loud thinking, while the chief minister remains non-committal on the issue.
It may be recalled here that the state Human Rights Commission recently gave notice to the state government as to why it should not recommend lifting of the Disturbed Areas Act from the state, days after the Act was given extension for a year by a decision of the state cabinet. Extending it every year without seriously deliberating on the law and order situation has become a ritual for the state government. Even while asserting that the state law and order has improved at every occasion, when the time of extension comes the state is always reluctant to act accordingly. Recently, the Army Chief General MM Naravane said that the Army is planning to gradually reduce the number of troops deployed for internal security duties in the Northeast. Addressing the media ahead of Army Day on 15 January, General Naravane said that while terror continues unabated in J&K, the security situation in the Northeast has improved manifold. As a result, the Army has already pulled out one of its brigades from the region and now plans to move out another one or two in the near future.
Now, concerns remain only in three districts of Arunachal Pradesh. In Nagaland, the Army chief said he hopes the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-SS Khaplang (NSCN-K), which is not part of the ceasefire agreement, will rejoin the ceasefire process with the surrender of its top leadership, making the state violence-free again. He added that there is no violence in Mizoram, only one or two groups are involved in Manipur, and most of Assam is quiet. As always, the defence lobby has been at the forefront of opposing the withdrawal of AFSPA from areas where it is in force and states have always been reluctant to go against the lobby. But now, the Army Chief is openly admitting that the law and order situation has greatly improved in states, including Manipur. What are we waiting for?