| A Nepalese soldier walks past the idol of Akash Bhairav in Kathmandu
Thus spake the army chief of staff: as if the Armed Services (Special Powers) Act applies not just to Kashmir or Manipur, but to the entire country, including its judicial process. A judicial commission is investigating the circumstances leading to the death of Thangjam Manorama Devi; the army itself has instituted its own court of inquiry into the matter. Such facts are apparently of no consideration for the general lording over our army's affairs: how dare anybody cast a slur on his men posted in Manipur' They are the salt of the earth; ergo, they are above the country's laws.
Going by his pronouncement, the chief of staff is totally insensitive to the situation that the forces under his overall command have created in Manipur. The populace of that particular tract of our country has risen unitedly in revolt against a Centre whose army, they firmly believe, is soaked in the notion that bestial torture is the sole instrument of policy at the disposal of a practising democracy. Enough evidence has already been collected to pour doubt on the army's version of the Manorama Devi episode. In view of the turmoil currently on in the north-eastern state, the least one would have expected of the army chief is a temporary suspension of bluff and bluster. He is, alas, incapable of exercising such a restraint. This attitude on his part is perhaps influenced by an honest belief that everything is fair and square in the war against terrorism. He having said what he has said, his continuance as the country's principal army officer may well be reckoned as a further affront by the people of Manipur. Even otherwise, an individual with such open contempt for the nation's judicial system is ill-suited to fill in the most sensitive position he is occupying.
It is, moreover, not a simple issue of manners alone. The army is supposed to be the protector of the country's defence and integrity. But the happenings in Manipur ' and, there should be no qualms in adding, those in Kashmir over the past decades ' bear testimony to a rather unpalatable truth: in certain circumstances, the army can actually be a threat to the nation's integrity. The alienation of the civilian mind, in Kashmir as well as in the north-eastern states, is a cold, harsh reality. The impact of this reality is however yet to affect the decision-makers in the nation's capital. They go about as if Manipur, for instance, is a speck of dust which can be flicked away by a shuffle of one's little finger. Their underlings, including army and police personnel, follow their lead and behave in the way the army chief of staff has exemplified. Call it callousness, call it the meanderings of an absentminded administration, but its implications for the nation's future can be ominous.
The pattern is, by now, fairly predictable. Discontent brews in this or that outlying state; the administration leaves the problem to be tackled by army and security forces. The latter commit faux pas after faux pas, thereby aggravating the situation. While resentment of the people grows, official policy remains unchanged. Army and security advisers are given their head: they proceed to suppress, with ruthlessness, discontent of all manifestations, including open or clandestine acts of rebellion. Budgetary allocations are jacked up for army and security forces. The consequence is predictable. At one end, the degree of oppression intensifies; at the other end, funds for development purposes, including health and education, come under increasingly greater strain.
Meanwhile, ruling politicians are busy with their preoccupations. They have to address the annual session of the United Nations general assembly. They have to talk Kashmir with Pakistan's head of state, and promise more abstract strides towards the restoration of peace in the valley. They have to seek a tea-and-sympathy get-together with the president of the United States of America. For appearance's sake, they must arrange a brief photo session with President Putin too. The issue of inducting the assistance of foreign money and foreign advisers in chartering the country's development design hogs the headlines. Nobody bothers to address even a mild letter or reprimand to the army chief of staff; he has a free hand to counter terrorism, whether domestic or international.
The overwhelming concern is the containment of terrorism. Consider the matter of official Indian assistance to Nepal, again to fight terrorism. The Maoists by now control two-thirds of Nepal's countryside. Their urban constituency is hardly negligible either. That land-locked country continues to flaunt an absolute monarchy whose horrendously repressive role has assumed legendary status. The mon- archy is further boosted by the oligarchy of the Ranas, who have legal claim over most of the country's arable land. They also exercise control over the handful of industries that exist. Agriculture is still severely exploitative, the industries are mostly in the nature of assembling or processing activities, generating very little income and employment for the Nepalese people. Along with the Ranas, the co-beneficiaries of this exploitative system are a select group of Indian traders and industrialists. The Maoists have put to excellent use the collective resentment of Nepal's masses against the monarchy, the Ranas and the carpet-baggers from India; they are waging, in effect, a three-in-one war of national liberation.
But never say die. With the American concept of global terrorism now everybody's staple diet, the Nepalese establishment looks forward to tackle domestic upheavals with recourse to international support. The Americans have already arrived in Kathmandu to open another, albeit minor, front against global terror, of which the Maoists are taken to be an integral constituent. Now the regime in New Delhi, led by the Indian National Congress, is also seemingly itching to join the crusade: it has agreed to supply Nepal's monarch a substantial cache of arms and other logistical support to put down Maoist terror. And this, when India's minister for home affairs is addressing chief ministers of states afflicted by disturbances fomented by Maoists, suggesting that domestic discontent of this kind is often the product of social and economic inequalities, and therefore beyond the ken of mere law and order stratagems. There is a total disjunction between the country's domestic and external policies. Or is the home minister dissembling'
Conceivably, many of those now at the helm of the nation's affairs have not even heard such names as those of Bhagat Singh, Surya Sen, Binoy Bose and Rajguru. The contributions of such individuals were part of the total effort, which ushered in the country's freedom. The British however persisted to describe these national heroes as terrorists ' and worse, anarchists. Descriptions are the prerogative of whoever presides over description-allotting ceremonies. The US administration will be more than happy to find the government of India as its comrade-in-arms in the war against global terror in Nepal, where a Maoist putsch is threatening to overrun the ruling tyranny. At the next stage, American advisers may bear down hard on New Delhi: what is sauce for the Nepalese goose should be equally sauce for the Indian gander; wait a while, US army and security personnel will be only too glad to fly in to put down successfully such local species of international terrorists as a massive strike by bank employees in Calcutta or by port employees in Mumbai; all that will be needed is a certain flexibility in the definition of global terror.
As Bertolt Brecht once said, the truth unites: those reluctant to tick off an erring army chief of staff for a gross act of indiscretion are the same people who dole out arms to Nepal's monarch to suppress the uprising of land-hungry and employment-seeking multitudes. No pas- aran! to global terror.