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Northeast Echoes

Take the bull by the horn

The observations of K.P.S. Gill, the former director-general of Punjab police, about Maoist violence in Lalgarh in West Bengal (in the July 3, 2009 edition of The Telegraph) are reflective of what happens when the state abdicates its basic responsibility of curbing rebellion and appeases groups that hold it to ransom.

Talking of his days in Assam, Gill stated that the Naxalite outposts that had spilled over into certain districts of Assam from West Bengal were systematically demolished through reliable intelligence networks. Are we to assume then that the intelligence-gathering mechanism today is so weak that violence cannot be anticipated and therefore innocent blood is spilt on the streets of Guwahati, Kokrajhar, Haflong and Dhemaji? Or is it because the state does not act on intelligence provided to it?

Whichever of the two is the reason for widespread violence needs to be identified and carefully analysed.

Faulty policing

Roberta Wohlstetter, a famous American author who explored why the US failed to anticipate or prevent the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbour in 1941, says the relationship between intelligence and policy making is one of warning and decision.

After more than six decades and with better and more sophisticated intelligence-gathering mechanisms in place, the US is still asking itself what went wrong with intelligence inputs which allowed terrorists to strike with impunity and cause a devastation of the scale of 9/11.

We in India are still wallowing in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks and it is doubtful if we have learnt any lessons, particularly since state investment in the police in the current fiscal have fallen woefully short of expectations.

It is a fact that our policing system depends a lot on the personalities guiding it at the helm. That begins with the Union home minister and the home secretary.

A good, conscientious officer like Hemant Karkare is definitely an asset to the force and the antithesis to the rapacious types who collude with politicians and criminals to feather their nests. But policing is a state subject and depends a lot on the politicians ruling the roost at any given time.

Very often counter-insurgency measures are marked by a tentativeness which demoralises the police. If the signals are clear and the government of the day means business, we would not have seen the proliferation of so many armed groups in the Northeast.

Unfortunately, in states like Manipur, the government has completely capitulated to the diktat of militants, including channelling development funds into militant coffers. One wonders how a no-nonsense cop like Gill would have behaved if he were posted in Manipur today.

Nothing noble

The problem with militancy in the Northeast is that we have not even reached a consensus on the nomenclature of the terror-mongers.

Having been completely stripped of their claims to being defenders of peoples’ interests, all that these groups are doing today is striking terror and making use of the fear psychosis as leverage for extortion.

So there is nothing noble about these renegades anymore. Nor do they have ideologies that are worth respecting. If at all they had some, those have since evaporated into thin air.

Ajai Sahni of the Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi, said at a workshop that it is high time we call these groups by the correct name of terrorists because what they do is simply strike terror and use that to extract compliance.

One of our problems is also the doublespeak of academicians who use convoluted language to rise in defence of terrorism by giving the rebels the euphemism of national workers deserving of great honour and trust. In Assam today one does not hear or see too many devil’s advocates, but in Manipur, the incestuous relationship persists and the reasons are not far to seek.

Terrorism has ravaged Manipur far more than any other northeastern state, so much so that the people of that state, particularly those in the plains, are literal asylum-seekers in every part of this country. Outside Manipur they have no fear of extortion or intimidation and do not have to fear their own shadows. In Manipur, their liberty is curtailed and mobility restricted. If that curtailment on civil liberties had come from the state, the spate of protests from the civil society would have been cacophonous. But when militants take away those rights, there is absolute compliance. Our own hypocrisies, therefore, need to be unbundled.

Before calling the bluff of the militants, it would be necessary for the central government to come down heavily on politicians who aid and abet terrorists. Today the situation in North Cachar Hills, Bodoland and in the Manipur Valley warrants creative intervention. Left to their devices, the states are hardly in a position to disarm militants or plug the extortion channels. It took the National Investigating Agency (NIA) to nab Mohit Hojai and zero in on the most notorious gun-runner in the Northeast who straddles between Myanmar, Mizoram, Manipur and Assam.

What were Assam police doing until now in NC Hills? Why was the DHD (J) having a free run there? If there are policemen who are hand-in-glove with militants, they too need to be flushed out of the organisation.

Right policies

It is high time to take the bull by the horns, as Gill says. This eccentric ‘supercop’ has many detractors and human rights activists are bound to go ballistic at his suggestions to go for the jugular of all anti-state actors of whatever nomenclature. But after having lost so many lives to terrorist bullets and bombs while human rights groups and apologists of terrorist outfits shed tears in private, we need to assess the damage that terrorism has caused to polity in the region.

With time, the extortion racket is so ingeniously organised that in places like Dhemaji, young boys of Class VIII and above are trained to collect money from victims. Kidnapping for ransom is still common and extracts a huge cost from development projects. These have to be dealt with an iron fist minus the velvet gloves.

Peace does not come from smoking a pipe in the comfort of a home and hearth and praying that gun-toting rebels have a sudden change of heart. Peace comes with the correct policies on tackling terrorists who have taken away our right to live life on our terms. Look at the media in Manipur where terrorists have strangulated our very right to freedom of expression. Can we tolerate this continued infringement on our rights to disseminate the information we believe the public have a right to know? How can we be true to our professions when somebody is putting the guns on our heads as we compose news? This madness has got to end!

(The writer can be contacted at patricia17@rediffmail.com)

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