Centre’s rigidity over the AFSPA issue makes mockery of ground reality in J&K and NE

Subverting rule of law
For the umpteenth time, the Union Government has refused to soften or lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from Jammu and Kashmir and the North-Eastern region. NDA2 under the BJP’s Narendra Modi has, in this case, adopted the same approach as that of its predecessor UPA2 regime under Manmohan Singh’s leadership. The grounds cited for rejecting the demand, voiced in the Parliament, to do away with the draconian enactment are also same as before: Security risks that warranted the imposition of the AFSPA in the first place, in the thick of armed insurgency two decades ago, ‘continue to lurk’ even after the sea change in the ground situation and return of near-normalcy in the affected states.

The central government’s reiteration on the AFSPA issue comes on the heels of Prime Minister Modi’s recent J&K visit during which he had talked about dovetailing the developmental plans of J&K and the NE states in view of their ‘identical’ nature of problems and requirements. It now appears that the centre’s approach in this regard is motivated more by its warped security considerations than objective ground conditions. The ground reality is that the circumstances under which this extra-constitutional measure was adopted way back in the 1990s simply do not exist at this point in time. Moreover, improvement in the ground situation has shown a constant rising trend with militancy-related incidents declining year after year and day after day. Also, by now the affected states have considerably strengthened and expanded their own security mechanism including notably their own police and intelligence force.

The tragedy is that this undeniable improvement in the ground situation is sought to be arrogantly ignored while putting forth totally unconvincing arguments to justify prolongation of the AFSPA. Government’s obstinate refusal to even soften the AFSPA or to go for its phased de-application reveals its narrow mindset. It is an open secret that in this particular case the ruling political class in New Delhi, of whichever colour or complexion, does not mind surrendering its constitutional prerogative and be dictated to by the military ‘advice’.

Political leadership in J&K as well as in the North-East, whose patriotic credentials are supposed to be no less genuine than those ruling at the Centre, have been crying and craving for getting rid of the AFSPA. Perhaps, it would be no exaggeration to say that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s failure to live up to his public commitment to either soften or partially lift the AFSPA had quite a lot to do with his party’s as well as that of its Congress ally’s humiliating drubbing in Kashmir in the recent Lok Sabha elections. Omar had sought to make it a prestigious political issue, hoping that his friend Rahul Gandhi would do the needful in New Delhi. Omar’s position became all the more embarrassing as the local military commanders went to the town with their views, trashing any idea of even so much as touching the AFSPA, leave alone getting rid of it. ‘AFSPA is a holy book’, was the theme articulated by the military while asserting that it ought to be left ‘untouched’. The chief minister’s position became more ridiculous as he also happened to be the notional head of the state-level Unified Command empowered to takes decisions relating to matters of security.