The Government of India has finally acted and announced the setting up of a special panel
to review the enforcement of the Armed Forces Special Powers in Nagaland (AFSPA).
There is more to it than one can see on the face value. The panel has been given three months time to submit its report instead of 45 days as was being pushed by the Nagaland government.
Including an Intelligence Bureau nominee as a member and Lt Gen B.S. Raju, DG Military Operations (DGMO) as the special invitee shows the centre wants to broadbase the scope of the study of AFSPA enforcement by the panel. It also wants to incorporate various delicate matters like allegations of ‘extortion racket’ allegedly
prevalent in the state.
Earlier, Governor R.N Ravi, now shifted to Tamil Nadu, had pointed out the alleged extortion racket run by some of the Naga groups who were talking to the centre. Some militant organisations, government sources claim, also stated that they had the ‘right’ to collect taxes.
In December 2020, there were some differences between Ravi and state Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio
on these issues.
In an office order the North East division of the Union Home Ministry said Dr Vivek Joshi,
Registrar General & Census Commissioner of India will head the special panel to study
AFSPA review issues vis-a-vis the state of Nagaland.
Following Oting shooting and killing of Kontak civilians and sustained pressures from
various organisations, the state assembly on December 20 passed a unanimous official resolution
seeking immediate repeal of the controversial law – which sort of gives some impunity powers to the armed forces.
Indian security forces and even Defence Ministers including A.K. Antony (of Congress) and Mulayam Singh (of Samajwadi Party as a former Defence Minister) during the UPA regime had opposed repealing or any dilution of AFSPA in the past.
The order issued on Monday says, Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Home, Piyush Goyal will be the member secretary of the panel and it will have Lt Gen P.C. Nair, DG Assam Rifles among others as members.
Other members of the committee are J. Alam, Chief Secretary, Nagaland, T. John Longkumer, DGP, Nagaland, Dr M.S. Tuli, Joint Director Intelligence Bureau and Lt Gen B.S. Raju, DG Military Operations, will be the special invitee.
“The terms of reference of the committee shall be to review the application of AFSPA in Nagaland and make suitable recommendations within a period of three months”.
On Sunday, Dec 26, Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio (NDPP), deputy CM Y. Patton (BJP) and former Nagaland Chief Minister T.R. Zeliang (NPF) had stated that the committee will submit its report within 45 days and “withdrawal of the
Disturbed Area and AFSPA will be based on the recommendations of the committee”.
The Chief Minister and his colleagues also said that the Additional Secretary Home would head the panel.
Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma has welcomed the ‘decision’ to constitute a panel to review
enforcement of AFSPA in Nagaland, but he said the panel must review AFSPA matters across all north eastern states.
The Army said on Sunday that the inquiry ordered by the Army is progressing “expeditiously and efforts are being made to conclude it at the earliest. The Army is fully cooperating with the SIT inquiry ordered by the Nagaland govt”.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah met three Naga leaders – Rio, Zeliang and Patton on December 23 and also Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who for his part has favoured continuing AFSPA in his state.
“The Indian Army wishes a happy new year to the people of Nagaland and we pray for good health, peace, happiness and prosperity for the people. We once again deeply regret the loss of lives during the December 4 incident in Mon district,” a statement said on Sunday.
Sources said the CRPF, which has about 35 battalions in the Northeast, including some in Assam and two in Nagaland, have also ‘opposed’ any changes in the status quo.
Sources close to the NNPG leadership have said only a final peace pact can bring a ‘natural end’ to all
controversies pertaining to the AFSPA and deployment of security forces in Nagaland and other Naga inhabited areas.
The AFSPA as a tool gives security forces ‘powers’ to conduct operations and arrest anyone without any prior warrant. It also gives immunity to the forces in case they open fire and shoot someone.
There is another complexity on the issue as the AFSPA application ends by December end and to ensure central forces functioning and presence in the state, it may have to be extended for a period of six months or so.
Convening of a one-day special assembly session of the assembly on December 20 against the AFSPA was
the ‘maximum’ push by the Rio government – comprising NDPP (of Rio) and BJP and NPF, which was once a key opponent of the NDPP.
At the national level politics, the BJP generally takes pride in describing itself as a pro-armed forces political outfit.
In fact, prior to December 2017, Rio was also with NPF and even elected to Lok Sabha in 2014 as NPF candidate.
But he split and quit the regional party organisation to float NDPP after NPF chief Shurhozelie decided to nominate T.R. Zeliang as the chief ministerial candidate for 2018 elections.
(Nirendra Dev is a New Delhi-based journalist. He is also author of books, ‘The Talking Guns: North East India’ and ‘Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth’)