MANI TALK/ DEMOCRACY UNDER DURESS 

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By BY MANI SHANKAR AIYAR
  • Published 12.02.02
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The National Democratic Alliance, which claims in Delhi to be a leading partner in the international coalition against terrorism, is hand in glove with the banned National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) in the elections currently taking place to the Manipur Vidhan Sabha. In the hills seats, the NSCN(I-M) is demanding of the electorate, under threat of the gun, that it vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party in some seats and for the Samata Party in others. In the valley, terrorists and extortionists of all hues and description are jointly terrorizing the population to vote for any party other than the Congress. They are going to this length and trouble because they know that short of a bullet to their heads, the people of Manipur, fed up with the combination of NDA and regional parties who made a mess of the last assembly - resulting in this mid-term poll - would of their own volition wish to vote the Congress back to power. Thus the selective armed attacks on Congress candidates constitute a kind of left-handed compliment to the Congress, a recognition that the Congress is the preferred choice in this election. The operations of these terrorist groups are no clandestine secret. The underground in Manipur operates overground. The numerous groups are well-known and well-recognized. Their leaders live mostly in the capital city of Imphal or at district headquarters in the hills. The administration knows exactly who they are and what they are up to. But they will not act, they say, until formal police complaints are lodged. And formal complaints are not lodged because every Manipuri knows the writ of the government does not run beyond the secretariat. If he lodges a complaint, he or his family members will be killed while the state stands by wringing its hands in impotent despair. If the state will not safeguard the individual, how can the individual comply with the procedures? Thus, the state and the terrorist are in mutual accord: the terrorist is free to act against the complainant and the state will do nothing until a formal complaint is lodged - and, even then, who knows to what effect? Yet, in nine months of president's rule, a euphemism for rule from Delhi by Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani, nothing - absolutely nothing - has been done, not even since September 11, to prosecute the war against terrorism in Manipur. The very questions which the government of India is putting to the government of Pakistan are being put by the people of Manipur to the government of India. The authorities in the state are exactly as aware of the whereabouts of their resident terrorists as Pakistan is about Dawood Ibrahim. And the government of India is doing exactly as little about these terrorists as Pakistan is doing about Tiger Memon. Indeed, what is happening in Manipur is even worse than what is happening in Pakistan. For President Pervez Musharraf is not asking the Jaish-e-Mohammed to help him win elections. In Manipur, the nefarious nexus between the BJP and the Samata Party, severally and jointly, on the one hand, and the NSCN (I-M) plus assorted terrorist groups, on the other, is as clear as the blue skies in the February spring. For consider. Under the eyes of the administration, all Naga candidates are summoned to Dimapur, Nagaland, by the NSCN (I-M) on January 19, 2002, immediately after the filing of nominations. They go because they do not dare disobey a summons from this banned underground organization. They do not dare because they know the state administration can do nothing to protect them and prefers to turn a blind eye to what is happening under its unseeing eyes. In Dimapur, the candidates are held by armed militants, released to take part in the scrutiny, and re-summoned immediately thereafter to Dimapur. There, at pistol point, the Congress candidates for 41-Chandel and 42-Tegnoupal are forced to sign the withdrawal forms. This is not asked of the candidates of the BJP and the Samata Party. Indeed, according to an affidavit filed by L. Benjamin, the Congress candidate for Chandel, the withdrawal form was personally carried to Chandel by the BJP candidate, B.D. Behring, and submitted to the returning officer by Behring's proposer. When the returning officer refused to accept the withdrawal form of the Congress candidate from the proposer of the rival BJP candidate, NSCN (I-M) militants arrived at Benjamin's residence and threatened the family with dire consequences if Benjamin did not arrive in person in Chandel. Faced with this grim choice between his candidacy and his family, Benjamin arrived post-haste from his hiding place in Imphal and, according to him, submitted the form knowing full well that this did not count as the last moment for the presentation of withdrawals had passed. The withdrawal form of the other Congress candidate from the neighbouring Tegnoupal constituency was merely faxed from Dimapur, Nagaland, to Chandel, Manipur. The candidate has sworn on oath that his signature on the letter authorizing his proposer to submit the withdrawal form was forged. Thereafter, on January 31, V.S. Atem, chairman of the steering committee of the NSCN (I-M), an organization formally banned by Advani's home ministry, summons a meeting at the Viewlands Baptist Church in Ukhrul, headquarters of the district that goes by the same name, where the BJP candidate is Danny Shaiza, son of a former chief minister, and the very distinguished gathering, comprising NGOs, church leaders and other local worthies, is asked to vote against the Congress and specifically to support the BJP, whose leader, prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had met the NSCN (I-M) leaders in Osaka, Japan, the previous month. What, one wonders, did they discuss? Terrorist support to NDA candidates? Following the January 31 meeting, noted NSCN (I-M) cadres, including Lightson, Ngathingkhiu and Joseph, have, under the eyes of a quiescent and impotent administration, closed down the election offices at Phungyar, Kamjong and Kasom of the veteran Congress leader, Rishang Keishing, and warned him and his colleagues against venturing out to canvass for votes. Rishang has refused to submit to the threat and announced that he is beginning his campaign in the hills as soon as the campaign in the valley ends today, February 12. The latest outrage is a meeting called by the United Naga Council in the district headquarters of Senapati, right under the nose of the district administration (now reporting to a BJP home minister at the Centre) at which, in a patently illegal manner, all candidates (other than the octogenarian Rishang, who was not invited because it is known that he has consistently refused for half a century to bend his knees before insolent might) are forced to sign a pledge promising to "resign from the legislative assembly if called upon by the Naga people under the aegis of the United Naga Council". This is democracy under duress - and the home minister is doing nothing about it beyond securing partisan advantage from banned organizations for his own and George Fernandes's candidates. Is this not remarkably similar to Osama bin Laden's support to the taliban?