by A Bimol Akoijam & Th Tarunkumar
Originally published by the Manipur Research Forum ( in their journal Eastern Quarterly (

AFSPA reveals that it is an act of legitimizing the involvement of the military in the domestic space, and that it does not supplement but supplant the 'civil power'. Continous enforcement of AFSPA and deployment of troops under the Act convey the presence of the might of the Indian state to the people and is reminder of militarism that has subverted the democratic institutions.

The three-month-long popular agitation (from July 11, 2004) in Manipur for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA) sparked off by the death of a thirtytwo year-old woman, Thangjam Manorama, 'in custody', has highlighted in unambiguous terms the anti-democratic and oppressive character of the Act. While the agitation has forced a grudging admission that there is a need to 'replace AFSPA with a more humane Act that addresses the human rights aspirations of the people', the Government of India continues to hold insistently that humanizing AFSPA must not be at the cost of 'national security'. Towards this end, the home ministry of the Government of India has constituted a committee to review AFSPA and recommend whether the Act needs to be replaced by a new Act or be amended (the mandate as perceived and advertised by the review committee).

Straitjacketed as the mandate is, the implementation is beset with procedural problems. For instance, how will the review committee decide whether AFSPA needs to be replaced or amended? What are the principles on which the review committee would rely to make a considered judgment either way? Will it be on the basis of the charter of human rights adopted by the United Nations or the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution?

Adherence to the letter and spirit of either the UN charter of human rights or that of the Indian Constitution would seem to be counter-indicated as both are suspended by the operational sway of the AFSPA in Manipur in particular and the Northeast in general. Moreover, while the mandate of the review committee is spelt out in terms of either replacing or amending the Act, its guiding spirit is to find the middle ground between 'human rights aspirations of the people and security needs'. Thus, a nominal realignment of the AFSPA in line with selective democratic/human rights is the likely outcome of the review committee exercise.

Need to Rethink the Premise

But such a patchwork solution is unlikely to reconcile the two opposite world views juxtaposed over the continuing sway of AFSPA, whether in its current form or in an amended/replaced version. So long as the basic premise that allows such an Act to exist is not examined, it would continue to justify the unjustifiable—two different standards of democracy in the same country spawning unstated association of a people and region (Northeast) as a lesser category. Leaving AFSPA's premise unchallenged also gives leeway for ruthless subversion of the basic foundation of society and polity in Manipur.

AFSPA is presented as an instrument 'in aid of civil power' (Section 3 of the Act) to 'suppress' 'armed revolt' or 'armed insurgency' in the Northeast. And it was supposed to be a 'temporary measure'. But over four decades of its existence has shown up all the stated claims ('in aid of civil power', 'suppression' of 'armed revolt' or 'armed insurgency' and 'temporary measure') as false. By legitimizing the use of military in internal affairs of the state, beyond what are already provided in the Criminal Procedure Code and the emergency provisions of the Constitution, AFSPA seeks to supplant civil authority with a military authority in the administration of the domestic space. This is an inevitable spectre because the hierarchical command structure of the army; the simultaneous acquiring of powers by its personnel under the Act, and immunity provided to military personnel (with or without AFSPA), the 'armed forces' under AFSPA is bound to operate separately or independently of the civil authority. Revisiting the nature of the state, how it conceptualizes spaces and violence within those spaces, and its implications will reveal the full import of these observations.

State: Its Violence and Imagination of Space

The modern state positions itself as the only legitimate authority to use absolute violence. Republican and democratic ideals seek to mediate and control the State's claim and capacity to use (coercive) violence by shifting sovereignty to the people. One crucial aspect of the effort to domesticate the violence of the state is the refashioning of its basic instrument of exercising (coercive) violence: the soldiers of the state. In most modern states, this instrument of coercion and violence is bifurcated into the police and military, and both are placed under the command of the people through their representatives. While the police are used to enforce law and order within the state, the military is left to deal with the business of war and to defend the state from external aggression.

The domestic space, where the police operate, is a highly differentiated space. Its inhabitants, i.e. the citizens, are conceptualized variously as normal, abnormal (insane), adult and minor, criminals, etc and their acts and intents are judged accordingly. Statutory principles lay down elaborate conditions (e.g. presumed innocent till guilt is proven, the principle of using 'minimal force' when necessary, etc.) for dealing with the domestic space. In short, republican and democratic principles and institutions seek to protect citizens from the violence of the state within the domestic space.

In contrast, the space where the military operates is less differentiated in that the enemy—largely seen as combatants and hostile or potentially hostile populations—inhabits it. Therefore, reading the intent and acts are also relatively undifferentiated; hostile intent is primarily assumed when the military enters alien and hostile space. Employing whatever necessary force to destroy and neutralize the enemy is the basic operative principle of the military. The hierarchical command structure and regimented ethos of the military are linked to this essential role of the military, namely, the business of war.

This compartmentalization of the military to the business of war does not exclude their involvement in the internal affairs of the state. They can be called in during 'emergency' situations to assist the other institutions (e.g. police). But such involvement of the military in internal affairs of the state is carried out strictly under the will of the demos and that, too, only as a temporary measure. In case, the military asserts itself in the inner space of the state without the sanction of the demos, it is a military coup de'tat; and when the military is involved continuously in internal affairs of the state or such involvement is legitimised by the state, it constitutes a military rule. Such situations represent an assertion of state's violence over the countervailing force of democracy, a violence that is rare in and inimical for a liberal-democratic state.

AFSPA &'Counter-Insurgency': Military to Militarism

Even a cursory reading of AFSPA reveals that the Act is an act of legitimizing the involvement of the military in the domestic space, and that it does not supplement but supplant the 'civil power'. The military character of the Act is reflected in more ways than one. To begin with, AFSPA allows 'use of armed forces' defined as 'military forces and the air forces operating as land forces' and 'any other armed forces'1 of 'the Union' (Section 3) in the domestic space. Section 2 (c) of the Act also clearly shows the close affinity between AFSPA and those laws governing the military such as the Army Act (1950). It reads, 'all other words and expressions used herein but not defined in the Air Force Act, 1950, or the Army Act 1950, shall have the meaning respectively assigned to them in those Acts.'

Subsequent sections of the Act unmask the military paradigm involved in the Act, and they unambiguously show that the Act instead of aiding, subvert and supplant the civil power. For instance, what constitutes the 'disturbed and dangerous condition' for an area to be declared a 'disturbed area' is not defined at all (Section 3). All that is required is to declare an area as 'disturbed area'. It is as good or bad as declaring war; once it is so declared, what it means is clear. In fact, the principle of war is unmistakable here. Just like declaring war, once an area is declared as 'disturbed area', the personnel of the 'armed forces' simultaneously acquire powers to use 'force as may be necessary', based on their 'opinion' and 'suspicion', to effect 'arrest without warrant' or 'fire upon or otherwise use force, even to causing death' (Section 4).

The nature of power conferred upon the 'armed forces' is quite in tune with the military paradigm. For instance, unlike assumption of innocence of a 'suspect' or 'accused' in the domestic space, hostile intention of the inhabitants of the alien and hostile space is taken for granted for the military personnel. Thus, the 'opinion' and 'suspicion' of the commanding officer of a military formation serves as the basis for exercising the powers to 'fire upon or otherwise use force', which he thinks is 'necessary', not only to 'search' any 'premises' or 'destroy' any 'shelter' and 'structure' but also 'arrest' or 'even to causing death' (Section 4). The presumption of hostile intent as the legitimate basis for the 'armed forces' to take action, characteristic of a war zone, is highlighted when these powers can also be exercised for acts that are 'likely to be made' or 'about to (be) commit (ted)' (Section 4)! Besides the nature of the power conferred upon the armed forces, the fact that commanding officers are given the power to judge and execute action on his own only proves that the Act is based on the business of war. In a 'war situation', any officer 2—irrespective of whether he is a Commissioned, Junior Commissioned or Non-Commissioned Officer—leading his men in the field has to be the judge as well as part of the body that executes his judgments. In the context of 'maintaining law and order' within the domestic space, the same person or body cannot be the judge as well as the one who executes the judgment.

Moreover, the soldiers' operational space, i.e. 'alien and hostile', is a relatively undifferentiated space and it does not require elaborate conditions and procedures as in the case of the differentiated domestic space. Hence, unlike other Acts (including the erstwhile POTA) which provide explicit conditions and elaborate procedures running into pages, AFSPA is hardly a one-page Act with six sections! All that the Act requires is to restate the assumption of taken-for-granted hostile intent (based on 'opinion' and 'suspicion') of the inhabitants of the alien and hostile space ('disturbed area') to exercise the power to eliminate, destroy or neutralize the latter (Section 4).

AFSPA does not have any provision for interrogation and/or gathering evidence. Nor is it like any other so-called 'special laws' meant to 'facilitate' trial or 'enhance' conviction rate. It is plainly an instrument of war empowering the military and forces operating under it to eliminate, neutralize and destroy the enemy or 'suspected enemies', which more often than not practically include everybody residing, in the 'disturbed area'. Enough instances are there to show that civilians in a 'disturbed area' are also inherent targets under the Act.

That civilians are at the receiving end of the Act should not surprise anyone. Because even in peace zones, for the military the space inhabited by civilians constitutes the 'other' where regimes and rules different from those of the military (such as the Army Act, 1950) regulate life. When one superimposes that 'other' with a 'cultural other' (as in the Northeast), 'otherness' of that space is bound to be accentuated. Additionally, when one declares a disguised 'war' by terming that space as 'disturbed' under AFSPA, one is completing mapping of the space not only as an alien but also a hostile space inhabited by enemies and (potentially) hostile population. That is why attacks by 'insurgents' are 'retaliated' with indiscriminate firing and killing of civilians, including women and children, by security forces. In short, these instances are intrinsic to the 'use' rather than 'abuse' of the Act.

The envisioning of the 'disturbed area' as an alien space comes in a subtle yet powerful way in Section 6 of AFSPA. It reads,

No prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act.

This Section protects the security personnel operating under the Act from legal suits while inversely restricting the possibility of 'judicial remedy' for citizens in the 'disturbed area'. The underlying logic is the need to protect, and also not to 'demoralize', the soldiers who are fighting a 'war' for the Union.

prosecution under the laws of the foreign lands where they are fighting a war on the state's behalf. With a schizophrenic imagination of itself, the Indian state reinvents the principle of 'extra-territoriality', and seeks to protect the 'armed forces' of the Union who are fighting a 'war' in an alien and hostile frontiers!

In constitutional terms, a state where AFSPA is being enforced is a domestic space, and 'law and order' is a state subject. The position should invest the state government with the authority to take action against law-breakers, including those engaged in maintaining 'law and order'. But the 'armed forces' are not part of this scheme; they are fighting a 'war' on behalf of the Union and therefore they have to be protected from prosecution under the civil and criminal laws. Thus, Section 6 of AFSPA not only treats the constituent state and its inhabitants as 'alien' territory and people but also makes its government redundant. In this matter, the executive of the state is almost treated like a 'proconsul' who cannot be fully trusted and given the authority to prosecute the soldiers of the Union.4

It can be argued that, if exigency demands, the state can always promulgate an ordinance to use its military to deal with that exigency. But to convert such an ordinance into a regular law is to introduce an illicit military structure and ethos in the democratic polity and structure of the state. When that Act, which bestows powers to commit violence going far beyond what is legitimately permissible in a domestic space, is continuously enforced in an area, it sets into motion the process of reproduction and appropriation of the military structure and ethos by other instruments of the state (the paramilitary and police) as well as civil society itself. Ultimately, it leads to a complete subversion of the basic foundation of society and polity, as in Manipur.

It bears noting that AFSPA does not only allow but also legitimises use of the military and its institutionalization in the internal affairs of the state. For instance, historically the Indian army had already moved into and started operations in the Naga Hills in March 1956, two and half years before AFSPA was enacted. But despite continuous enforcement of the Act and deployment of the military, in concrete terms insurgency has spread and thrived in the Northeast. This begs the question: What has the military been doing all these decades and how has AFSPA furthered counter-insurgency? Such questions, along with subversion of democratic institutions and principles through prolonged and continuous deployment of the armed forces under AFSPA, raise questions of militarism i.e. a 'phenomenon by which a nation's armed services come to put their institutional preservation ahead of achieving national security or even commitment to the integrity of the government structure of which they are a part,5 which goes far beyond the idea of the military or use of military per se in counter-insurgency.'

Interestingly, it was observed that American troops deployed and engaged in actual combat in the recent Iraq war primarily came from the American soil, not from its military bases in foreign countries. In this sense, the 'American network of (military) bases is not a sign of military preparedness but of militarism'.5 In a similar sense, continuous enforcement of AFSPA and deployment of troops under the Act seem to serve as a reminder of a 'presence' rather than 'combating' the insurgency per se in the region. The columns of 'armed forces' during 'combing operations' and troops patrolling the streets, towns and villages have not restricted the activities of the insurgents who are as active as, if not more than, they were twenty years ago. But these movements and activities of the 'armed forces' definitely convey the presence of the might of the Indian State to the people. This reminder is also communicated in frightening dimensions by the so-called 'excesses' in which men, women and children are killed in 'retaliation' to attacks on the 'armed forces' by the 'insurgents'. More than being cases of 'human rights abuses', those 'excesses' for which no accountability can be fixed on anybody are reminders of the militarism that has subverted the democratic institutions and ethos in the Northeast.

The devastating impact of militarism on the society and polity in Manipur is in a way understandable because it has the dubious distinction of having the longest experience with that militarism in question.

September Assault on Democracy & the Colonial Legacy

To most people, 9/11 conjures up images of hijacked aircrafts hitting the twin towers in New York and the crumbling of the World Trade Centre. But not many are aware that there was another 9/11 assault on democracy, the tragedy of which is not abrupt but incremental and prolonged. On 11th September 1958, the President of India gave his assent to a legislation enacted by Parliament to make it a law—the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958! It was not an attack on democracy carried out by 'terrorists' on a 'suicide mission'. It was an act of subverting democracy and unleashing State terror on its own population by the largest democracy in the world!

Like this unknown 9/11, not many are also aware that subversion of democratic institutions and principles in the Northeast by the militarism in question had begun long before the army was sent to the Naga Hills in 1956 and AFSPA enacted in 1958. That militaristic subversion of democracy began incidentally again in the month of September 1949!

Following the decision to 'take over' Manipur, the newly independent Dominion India effected the Merger Agreement with the Maharajah on 21st September 1949 through a militaristic manoeuvre without the sanction of the democratically constituted Manipur Legislative Assembly. Subsequently, an Indian army battalion arrived on 12th October 1949 in Imphal, and the first Legislative Assembly in entire South Asia constituted through an election based on universal adult franchise was unceremoniously dissolved on 15th October 1949 when the Merger Agreement came into force. From a state with its own constitution and a democratically constituted Legislative Assembly, Manipur lapsed into 23 years of rule by New Delhi through Chief Commissioners and Lt. Governors with no direct democratic accountability to the people. Manipur thus has the dubious distinction of being the greatest victim of democratic subversion represented by the September legacy6 in the Northeast. Therefore, its experience of the subversion can be an eye opener to the democratic subversion that AFSPA represents in the region.

The use of the military in Manipur was by no means a unique case in the 'integration' of erstwhile 'princely states' into the Indian Union; the 'police action' in Hyderabad is a case in point.7 However, what sets the case of Manipur apart from the rest was the unique democratic character of Manipur, and the modus operandi employed by the founding fathers of the world's largest democracy to extract the Merger Agreement from the Maharajah of Manipur by disregarding the very democratic institutions and principles with which they were trying to reconstruct the post-colonial Indian State.

Military intervention in Hyderabad was a result of the Nizam's reluctance to join Indian Union and violence of the Razakars and communist insurgents or in Kashmir it was due to, amongst others, intrusion of tribal militia from across the border. In contrast, reasons cited for the decision to 'take over' Manipur are revealing: Manipur is a 'border state' and 'backward'8 and therefore a 'strategic necessity'! Curiously, the phrase used by V.P. Menon, the 'arch manoeuvrer'9 of the integration policy, is not 'integrate' or 'integration' but 'take over' of Manipur.10

The preponderance of strategic thinking married to the implications of 'backward(ness)' (while effecting Manipur's merger) is what we know today as the 'stick and carrot' approach that defines policy towards the region. The 'stick and carrot' approach is thus not an insurgency specific response but one rooted in the very imagination of the region and its people. To attribute such an approach—an understandable policy for imperial masters to follow towards 'intransigent' colonial subjects, but a reprehensible one for a democratic country to adopt towards people it claims as its own—to insurgency in the region is to obfuscate the historicity of the underlying principles. And so will the underlying premise of AFSPA also reveal its historical reality beyond its seemingly obvious raison d'etre: insurgency.

Given that AFSPA is essentially an Act envisaged for the Northeast, there is something about the region that allows the envisioning of the region as an 'alien and hostile' space. And that something is the typical 'absence' of the Northeast in the imagination of the Indian 'nation state'. This 'absence' primarily informs policy towards the region. The presence of this 'absence' can be sensed in the way the first act of militarism in the Northeast, the Merger of Manipur, is registered in the post-colonial history of the Indian State.

In his book, 'Integration of Indian States', Mr. V.P. Menon went into details, with separate chapters running into pages, not only on 'police action' in Hyderabad but also that of Junagadh and Travancore-Cochin! Curiously, he not only disposed off Manipur in hardly a page but also got the merger date wrong! The book is silent about the Assembly or what had happened in Shillong between September 17 and 21, 1949 or the decision to send the army to Imphal, etc. It is not size or distance or Pakistan factor that led to trivialization of such a critical historical rupture as the Merger of Manipur. Junagadh (3,337 sq. miles) is less than half the size of Manipur at the time of Merger (8,628 sq. miles) while not only Travancore-Cochin is far away from Pakistan but also from Delhi by over 2,800 km. In contrast, Manipur is almost adjacent to the then East Pakistan and China, and 2,400 km from Delhi! In terms of size, distance or a democratic or strategic challenge, Manipur's merger thus could not have been told in one page. But Mr. Menon did. And in doing so, he is reflecting the mind that 'imagines', in Benedict Anderson's11 sense of the word, the Indian nation into existence.

It is an imagination with a crucial 'absence' that continues to make its presence felt in the absent history of the region and maps where Northeast is marked as a 'blank space'12 in school (history) textbooks! This absence accounts for ignorance—even of informed people like historians, political scientists and bureaucrats—in the country that Manipur had an Assembly in 1948 or the widespread misperception that all northeastern states are 'carved out' of Assam!

While, at a conscious level, myths of insurgency, strategic consideration, distance, and size compensate this 'absence',13 at unconscious and subconscious levels the 'absence' is compensated by twin imageries of the national self: the benevolent self who patronizes the 'backward', 'exotic tribal' and people with 'colourful dances and handicrafts' of the Northeast, and the valiant patriotic self (typified by soldiers and people's identification with them) who fights 'enemies' and 'terrorists' in the alien and hostile Northeast trying to 'maim' Mother India! This is the psycho-cultural fantasy that shapes policy towards the region and assuages any sense of guilt and inadequacy that Indian national consciousness may feel due to 'absence' of Northeast in its imaginaire. Embedded in the deeper recess of the Indian state's political culture, this powerful fantasy connects with the inherent primordial fear of the Indian national self: 'disintegration'.

'Disunity' as a factor that led to British rule over South Asia had been a part and parcel of the awareness of nationalist awakening since 19th century. The trauma of Partition at independence accentuated the anxiety of 'disunity'. Emergence of Communist regime in 1949 in China heightened the sense of persecutory anxiety once represented by 'castrating Muslim plunderers' and 'bad-British colonial mother'. Thus, long before insurgency became the defining characteristic of Northeast, referring to the land of nationalist Gopinath Bordoloi, and political leadership of Manipur who swore by Gandhi and demanded 'integration' of Manipur, Sardar Patel wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru,

The people inhabiting these portions have no established loyalty or devotion to India. Even the Darjeeling and Kalimpong areas are not free from pro-Mongoloid prejudices.14

Disowning Indian nationalists in the region who were presumably as passionate about the idea of India as those from Indo-Gangetic plains or South of the Vindhyas, Sardar Patel formed this judgment on 7th November 1950. There was no armed or unarmed 'secessionist' insurgency then in Manipur or Tripura or Mizoram (then Lushai Hills of Assam) or Assam. Moreover, much before the voice of 'secessionism' was heard from Assam or Manipur, the call for Dravistan in the South came in the 1950s and 1960s. Movements in Manipur and Assam became clearly visible only in the 1980s; so did those of Sikh 'secessionism' or movement in Kashmir. This being the case, why does the lack of 'loyalty' tag appear a 'truism' for people in the Northeast while the same cannot be ascribed easily to Tamils or Sikhs, or Kashmiris?

The answer lies not in the proclaimed fact of 'secessionist' insurgency in the Northeast but in the 'absence' of the region (including in its civilizational term) in the deeply rooted pro-Indo-Aryan (and to some extent Dravidian) imagination and its narratives of the Indian 'nation state'.15 In fact, it is the racially grounded pro-Indo-Aryan prejudices that create an oriental out of the Northeast while constructing an Indian 'nation-state' in the image of the occidental.16 It is this 'orientalized' consciousness that allows the narrative of the 'revolt' that started in a small corner of the region (Tuensang and Naga Hills) in the mid 1950s to inhabit the entire Northeast. The same 'orientalized' consciousness also envisioned the Northeast as an alien space warranting AFSPA for close to five decades.

While nationalism has become 'the avatar of orientalism in the later colonial and post colonial periods',17 the post-colonial state in South Asia has also inherited many aspects of the preceding colonial state. Interestingly, the 'unbroken continuity' between the colonial and post-colonial aspects of the state vis-à-vis the armed forces are conspicuous in the way the Northeast is being envisioned. In the 1930s, describing the 'permanent mark' left by the colonial presence in India, British historians Edward Thomson and G.T. Garratt wrote,

Whatever the future may hold, the direct influence of the West upon India is likely to decrease. But it would be absurd to imagine that the British connection will not leave a permanent mark upon Indian life. On the merely material side the new Federal Government [Government of India recognised under the 1935 constitutional arrangements] will take over the largest irrigation system in the world…some 60,000 miles of metalled roads; over 42,000 miles of railways…scholastic institutions…a great number of buildings.... An effective defensive system has been built up on its vulnerable Northeast frontier, it has an Indian army with century-old traditions, and a police force which compares favourably with any outside a few Western countries.18

That the imagery of a 'vulnerable' region called the 'Northeast' (frontier) came together in the same sentence as that of the 'Indian army' and 'police force' as part of the 'permanent mark' left behind by the colonial presence is prophetic. Except for the fact that the post-colonial Indian state claims the region and its denizens as part of 'we the people of India' while simultaneously insinuating them of having 'no established loyalty to India' from almost day one of the republic, the colonial imagery of the region continues in the post-colonial Indian state. AFSPA, a reinvention of the colonial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance promulgated by the British to suppress the Quit India Movement, is an uncanny reminder of the continuing colonial legacy. Sadly, it is this colonial legacy that is obfuscated by the post-colonial nationalist discourse of all hues—and recently invented fashionable discourse on 'terrorism'—of the political class and intelligentsia. The tragedy and decades of suffering of the people in the region are the direct results of that obfuscation rather than 'foreign hands' or '(dis)loyalty' of the people in the region.

In fact, the bipolarity of an alternate swing between an aggressive and a patronizing posture that marks policy towards the Northeast is an outcome of an internally rather than externally located threat emanating from the schizophrenic condition of the Indian 'nation'. Through militarism, the state is trying to secure a sense of (national) security for this schizophrenic 'national' self; it is a response born out of the inability to come to term with its multifaceted persona (e.g. the 'absence' of the Northeast in the 'national imagination') and its corresponding sense of insecurity. It is the political culture rooted in the above psychological dynamics that drives the above bipolarity and also rationalizes and defends AFSPA till date. Unfortunately, this madness continues to subvert the basic foundation of a civilized democratic order in the Northeast and in a way also critically threatens the very future of these societies.

Road to Sanity

It is a suicidal act when a democracy seeks to protect itself by giving in to a militaristic paradigm. When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC with his army, it marked the beginning of the end of the two-centuries-old Roman Republic. Similarly, observers like Chalmers Johnson,19 former CIA analyst and political scientist, point out that the United States is also on a similar journey with its inability to reverse the military paradigm after the end of the cold war; the military-industrial complex and financial burden of running and maintaining nearly a thousand American military bases across the globe are sure recipes for self-destruction. In the US, huge election expenditure has already made mockery of the American ('dollar') democracy by disenabling most people from effective political participation. While there are some concerns in India to avoid such a trend by incorporating election codes on finance, there is hardly any concern on the threats to democracy from a militaristic thinking. However, given its diversity, poverty, and the culture of using military against itself, the largest democracy in the world has more to lose than to gain from such a policy.

Today, the political class and the democratic republican Government of India cannot have a policy towards the Northeast that is not dictated by the military and security agencies. It is a sign of republican democracy becoming subservient to the military-bureaucratic security complex. It started with the 'distant', a psychological more than physical, Northeast but the inward journey of the same thinking has begun to creep deeper into the so-called 'mainstream'. TADA/POTA are reminders of the trend that is threatening to subvert the basic foundations of a liberal-democratic polity. Inability to reverse the militarism could very well mark the beginning of the end of the Indian republic.

Security of a state can never be guaranteed by the might of the military; it has to have a basic foundation in equality, respect and trust amongst its diverse population, particularly in the post-imperial democratic order. That being the case, it is time for a review of the basic ideology and politics towards the Northeast rather than a review of a piece of legislation called the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. The challenge of reversing the militarism and a review of the said ideology and politics towards the Northeast should lead to taking immediate steps to remove the Act for good from the statute book.

Notes & References

1. Paramilitary forces like the Border Security Forces, the Assam Riffles, and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

2. Rooted in a mistaken premise, most critics of AFSPA lament that the power is given to an officer of a lower rank, i.e. Non-Commissioned Officer. However, one does not wage a war only with the formations of platoons or companies or battalions or brigades. In war situation, especially that does not involve large number of men and materials, the Non-Commissioned Officer plays an important role as he commands a section—the smallest formation of the Indian army. Unlike the task of making complicated choices under many restrictions in a differentiated domestic space, in a war situation this officer is more than capable of making the decision to exercise the powers conferred upon him under AFSPA. Thus, the problem is not the officer but the Act that allows the army to engage in a 'war' in the domestic space against citizens inhabiting it.

3. See Johnson, 2004.

4. The massive public protest against AFSPA, sparked off by the Monorama incident, in Manipur reveals such a relation between the Union and the constituent States. For instance, at the height of the crisis, the Chief Minster had to fly to Delhi more than once to 'consult' and take 'advice' from the authority in New Delhi. It is not unnatural for him to do that; neither the 'armed forces' of the Union are accountable to him, nor has he, as the authority in charge of maintaining law and order in his State, the power to initiate legal actions against the alleged offenders (personnel of the 'armed forces'). Instead, the Government of Manipur, with or without advice from the authority in Delhi, turned against the very aggrieved people of his own State and tried hard to suppress the protests. Trapped between being a 'representative' of his people and that of the power that can decide his fate albeit located miles away from his State, he took the 'risk' of lifting the Act from some parts of Imphal (admittedly against 'the strong advice of the Centre'). The central authority responded with patronizing words and veiled threats (read 'President's rule'), saying that the Chief Minister was 'working hard', and 'we (Union Government) won't let him down' as long as he did not go against 'national interests'. This dependent relation that smacks of the relation between an imperial power and its 'proconsul' is promises of more money and more troops from the Centre.

5. Johnson, 2004, p. 24.

6. Incidentally, since 8th September 1980, the whole of Manipur has also been under AFSPA.

7. See Menon, 1956, p. 4.

8. Menon, 1956.

9. Menon, 1956.

10. Menon, 1956.

11. Anderson, 1983.

12. It is a reminiscence of how the Europeans used to mark the world beyond Europe as 'blank spaces' as lands inhabited by history-less people.

13. Here one might also note that electoral dynamics is an important aspect in the working of a democracy, which is defined primarily by the ideas of procedural democracy and majoritarianism, in the post-colonial politics of the Indian State. However, the number of legislatures (Members of Parliament) from the region as an explanation for the 'neglect' of the region by the Government of India or the media or its absence in the historical discourses of the country etc. acquires a similar mythical character in that the number of MPs from Assam do not necessarily mean that Assam ensures a better conspicuous presence in the 'national mainstream' than those states with lesser number of MPs such as Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Kashmir.

14. It is letter written on 7th November 1950. See Das, 1974, p. 338.

15. Perhaps, Tagorian and Gandhian conceptions of the Indian nation do not carry this absence but the visions of these two thinkers have already been clearly marginalized as Indian nationalists reproduced a nation-state of a European variety. See Nandy, 1993.

16. Ironically, it is the Germans whose Indologists gave the foundation for the westward looking self-definition of the Indian 'nation-state' also produce the Aryam racism of the Nazis which looks at Indian as impure Aryans. It is also all the more ironical that the Bengalis, the community whose part in the modern Indian renaissance is crucial, have Indo-Mongoloid as one of its roots.

17. See Breckenridge and Veer, 1993, p. 12.

18. Cited by Chatterjee, 1994, p. 15 (Italic added).

19. Johnson, 2004.


Anderson, Benedict. 1983. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.

Breckenridge, Carol A. & Peter van der Veer. 1993. 'Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament'. In Carol A. Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer (eds.) Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament; Perspectives on South Asia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Chatterjee, Partha. 1994. The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Das, Durga. 1974. Sardar Patel's Correspondence (1945-50), Vol. 10, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House.

Johnson, Chalmers. 2004. The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Menon, V.P. 1956. Integration of the Indian States. Madras: Orient Longman.

Nandy, Ashis. 1993. The Illegitimacy of Nationalism: Rabindranath Tagore and the Politics of Self. New Delhi: OUP.

Rustomji, Nari. 1971. Enchanted Frontiers: Sikkim, Bhutan and India's Northeastern Borderlands. Bombay: Oxford University Press.

Shandilya, Charan. 1998. Sino-Indian Relations: History and Politics, Reality of McMohan Line, India-China War of 1962. Ghaziabad: Surya Art Press.

Popular posts from this blog



Lamyanba Hijam Irabot (Two-article series)



Importance of 9th January in the History of Manipur


Sovereignty and integrity of Manipur