AFSPA: Why the Tilt towards Separatists?
The promise of amendments and dilution of powers of the armed forces, especially in the states like Jammu & Kashmir under the provisions of AFSPA, have rightly raised questions over Congress intent and the idea behind supporting the separatists
Daya Nayak among Mumbai cops is a known name and enjoys celebrity status and there have been many films including ‘Ab Tak Chhappan’ in which Nana Patekar also portrays the role of an encounter specialist cop. In retrospect, Daya Nayak was investigated by Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) court for links with the underworld. In 2006, Nayak was arrested by Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) ACP Bhim Rao Ghadge. According to Nayak’s lawyer, Daya Nayak has been framed and in 2010 a Court quashed all the MCOCA charges against him. Daya Nayak was later reinstated.

This story has its own relevance while we debate Congress party’s manifesto that talks about the intent of the grand old party to dilute or amend the provisions of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). According to security analysts, the AFSPA bogged down in controversies for decades in North-East and Jammu & Kashmir has come back in public focus after the issue of ‘human rights’ have been flagged off in the Congress manifesto. In effect, the AFSPA goes hand-in-hand with the Disturbed Area Act of 1976. Under AFSPA provisions, even a non-commissioned officer (rank of havaldar) is granted the right to shoot and to kill based on mere suspicions.
It is worth mentioning that the primary complaint against the Act—even in the past—has been that under its provisions all security forces operating in trouble-torn areas are given ‘unbridled power’.
Congress Promises
The Congress party will initiate a total and comprehensive review of all laws, rules and regulations to repeal instruments that are outdated or unjust or unreasonably restrict the freedoms of the people, amend instruments to bring them in accord with the Constitutional values of a democracy and codify and reduce the number of instruments that must be complied with by a citizen. The party also proposes to decriminalise laws that are essentially laws directed against civil violations and can be subject to civil penalties.
Congress leader P Chidambaram said the Congress pledge in the manifesto is only for ‘amendment’ and alleged that the BJP is only trying to blow up the issue. For its part, BJP fielded its articulate leader Arun Jaitley to slam the Congress intent. Shri Jaitley said some of the promises made by Congress about Jammu & Kashmir will encourage the opening of cases against security forces. “Those people who laid down their lives for the country, they (Congress) want them to be prosecuted at the behest of terrorists or their friends,” he said.
But there is a paradox and also the oft-pointed out double standards involved. “The Congress has always been soft on terror. Rajiv Gandhi introduced TADA. Later, Congress revoked it. It revoked POTA. Now it wants to go further soft on separatism and terrorism. There is only lip sympathy in the assault required on Maoists violence, which Dr Manmohan Singh had described as the greatest threat to India. In the recent elections, as also in the case of JNU and urban Maoists, Congress and Congressmen have always flirted with the Maoists as fellow travellers,” Shri Jaitley wrote in his blog page.
BJP Counter
There are 1799 applications filed for the prosecution of security officials under AFSPA when terrorists are killed or arrested. It is always torture, theft and misbehaviour including with women which is alleged. Take away the sanction provisions; this number will multiply ten times. Officers of the Armed Forces will only be facing trials not defending the sovereignty. Don’t play with the Armed forces.” The Congress is the principal creator of the Jammu and Kashmir problem. It created a special status; it unconstitutionally brought in Article 35A. It rigged 1957, 1962, 1967 as also the 1988 Assembly elections. This eroded the confidence of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and now its Manifesto only brings smiles on the faces of the separatists and the terrorists.” —Arun Jaitley in his blog
But the complexity of the demand for repeal or dilution of the ‘powers’ under AFSPA is summed up well by a northeast observer who says, “The intricacies of the AFSPA in the northeast and Kashmir could be understood by only realising how the locals believe that the Indian Army is only an instrument of expansionist designs”.
The Congress or for that matter parties like the National Conference, therefore, see the AFSPA as a mechanism to commit excesses, exploit the locals and curtail freedom. However, it goes without saying that to suggest that AFSPA powers can be abused can be easily countered by pointing out that left to disgruntled officials and people in power ‘any powers’ can be used.
Quick Take
The AFSPA says that encounter killings could be justified only when there’s a need for ‘self-defence’ by the security personnel. In Maharashtra context, former Mumbai police commissioner Rony H Mendonca had written a strong letter to the then Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal saying, “When you found I was not willing to comply with your wishes you resorted to posting officers directly. I was left with no choice but to voluntarily seek a shift from the post of Commissioner of Police”.
Thus, a natural question is why we have ‘fake encounter’ allegations in Mumbai and Uttar Pradesh. And so it means if the AFSPA is a ‘misused law’, other laws too can be misused. In this context, it must be noted that in 2012, Manipur police head constable Herojit got into trouble and even a CBI probe as he was alleged to have been involved in over 130 extrajudicial killings. In the national mainstream, between 2002 and 2013, Uttar Pradesh had the dubious distinction with the maximum number of 743 fake encounter deaths.
Notably, there were 1,788 such “extrajudicial” killings across India during the same period. While in Jammu & Kashmir, the AFSPA has come into the debate and Congress says it is for ‘comprehensive review of all laws’; it cannot be forgotten that in Punjab between 1984 and 1995—people and media more often debated about ‘police encounter’. Observers also recall that the infamous forest brigand and sandalwood smuggler Veerappan was ‘killed’ by the Special Task Force (STF) in an encounter on October 18, 2004, in Tamil Nadu.
Omar-Rahul Nexus?
Is there a relation between Congress promises and Omar Abdullah’s push for reviving ‘Prime Minister of Kashmir (Wazir-e-Azam)’ post? Prime Minister Narendra Modi lashed out at the opposition parties and said it was ‘shameful’ that National Conference leader Omar Abdullah has made a demand for revival of the post of ‘Prime Minister in Kashmir’. “National Conference wants 2 PMs, 1 in Kashmir & 1 for rest of India. Does Mamata Didi agree? Does U-Turn Babu agree? Does Pawar Sahab agree? Does former PM Deve Gowda Ji agree? Shame on the Opposition! Till Modi is there, no one can divide India,” Prime Minister said demanding responses from leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar and former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda on the issue. The BJP is certainly not willing to let National Conference leader Abdullah go scot-free on his missives on former cricketer-turned-BJP leader Gautam Gambhir and his knowledge about Jammu and Kashmir. “Surely Gautam Gambhir is proud of how he started. So is the PM. Still, dynastic-roots are not the path to political acumen,” tweeted BJP leader Nupur Sharma. Nupur Sharma reacted to the tweet from Omar Abdullah on former cricketer-turned-BJP Gautam Gambhir in which former J&K Chief Minister said, “I never played much cricket because I knew I was not very good at it. You do not know very much about J&K, its history or the role of National Conference in shaping that history yet you insist on displaying that ignorance for all to see. Stick to the stuff you know about, tweet about the IPL”. Coming in defence of Gautam Gambhir, Nupur Sharma wrote: “Spare Kashmir the agony. Stick to the stuff you know about—being a Hotel receptionist”. Taking exception to reference to ‘receptionist’ Abdullah shot back: “The arrogance of these people. Their leader’s humble origins are bragged about. My small start is something I am supposed to be ashamed of. There is dignity in any honest job and I am proud of how I started”. Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Abdullah has come under severe criticism after he suggested that the post of Prime Minister in Kashmir should be revived. In two missives on micro-blogging site, Gambhir, who joined the BJP, said, “Never mind your lack of cricketing prowess but Kashmiris and our country would have been well served if you knew a thing or two about selfless governance. By the way, history is always consistent but perspectives are subjective. Better clean your reading glasses”. “Omar Abdullah wants a separate PM for J&K & I want to walk on oceans! Omar Abdullah wants a separate PM for J&K & I want pigs to fly! More than a separate PM Omar Abdullah needs some sleep followed by a strong coffee! If he still doesn’t understand then a green Pakistani passport”.
In Delhi, people do remember September 19, 2008 ‘encounter’ by Delhi Police in which inspector Mohan Chand Sharma was killed along with two suspects in what is now known as Batla House encounter.
Wide Angle
But coming to the essential issue of ‘diluting of AFSPA’ powers and the Congress pledge, BJP sources claim in fact such a move was pushed around 2011 also by the UPA regime, but there were differences between Chidambaram (the then Home Minister) and AK Antony (the then Defence Minister). The army cannot be left ‘severely handicapped’ to operate in the troubled areas of Jammu and Kashmir, Antony reportedly had said. In the wider perspective, it may be relevant to quote a former Nagaland Chief Minister the late Vamuzo, who years back, had said, “There is a cycle effect involving governance, deployment of armed forces and opportunistic stand taken by politicians on AFSPA”.
“Locals would demand to withdraw AFSPA, but when AFSPA is removed comes the issue of law and order challenges,” The late Vamuzo had said in connection with certain developments in Manipur. In fact, in the nineties, one Manipur Chief Minister had favoured revoking AFSPA but declined permission to withdraw armed forces from 60 posts in the state. His refrain was—“What will happen to the law and order situation in the state?” Hence, military officials have often called it a ‘necessary tool’. In this context, one BJP leader in northeast Tapir Gao has said, “When UPA tried to bring about changes in the AFSPA related laws during its tenure Mulayam Singh Yadav, a former Defence Minister, opposed the move at an all-party meet”.
(The writer is a Delhi based freelance journalist)