The AFSPA debate Revocation talk only for public consumption

The report based on an RTI response to review of Armed Forces Special Powers Act exposes the hollow claims of the state government in challenging this draconian law. For several months, in a bid to cover up for his endless list of failures and incompetence ever since he assumed the reins of power, chief minister Omar Abdullah has made much noise about revocation of AFSPA only being a matter of days.

The latest report, however, calls off the bluff, not only of Omar Abdullah but also his predecessors, as the RTI response claims that no proposal has come from the state government for a review of the AFSPA in 9 years. Much noise has previously been also made on the issue by Omar’s predecessors including his bete noire Mufti Mohd. Sayeed, even as his claims were far more subdued than the loqaciousness of the Abdullahs, whose stand on AFSPA has already been exposed by his selective opposition to patterns of impunity. By raising up the ante against AFSPA in recent months, Omar Abdullah has only ended up proving two things. First, he has brought to fore the ambiguity about who is competent to call it a day when it comes to AFSPA. The debate has become sharper and confusing and even with some voices in the Centre may not sound very hawkish about AFSPA revocation or its partial withdrawal, it is the army that refuses to relent, strangely even as the AFSPA has been extended by the executive – a matter that may need some sorting out between the state and the central government.

Legally, it may well be within the competence of the state government to deflate the AFSPA balloon by withdrawing the Disturbed Areas Act, which is the necessary pre-requisite for extending AFSPA. Once DAA is revoked, the AFSPA automatically and immediately stands revoked. The inability of the state government to do anything about it, other than making much noise, manifests the powerlessness of the state government with total control of the state in the hands of the Centre, particularly the home ministry, with some role of the army which finds itself at liberty to speak about decisions on the fate of AFSPA without even being ticked off. On the one hand successive regimes in this state have been crying much hoarse about autonomy and some kind of a self rule and on the other, the hopeless AFSPA debate, which eventually turns out to be a mere mollycoddling tool for public consumption, exposes that all legally existing autonomy too has been willingly bartered for the sake of petty political benefits.

The second thing that the AFSPA debate exposes is the double standards of the state government. The only reason that AFSPA needs to be opposed is because it is extra-constitutional, giving unbridled powers to the armed forces personnel and bringing up the graph of human rights violations while ensuring complete impunity to the men in uniform. But when a government simple raises the ante against AFSPA, merely for display without having the competence and the power to challenge it, but continues to use the Public Safety Act to the hilt for anything from targeting anyone who raises voice against its might to teaching teenagers a lesson, it is evident that the government is not inspired by any passion for democracy and restoration of democratic rights. When a government makes the selective decision of speaking out against human rights abuse by men in uniform only when central forces are involved or when the CISF wrongly claims some legitimacy to AFSPA but choses not to lodge even an FIR or murmur when its own police personnel are involved in similar crimes of torture, arrests and killings of innocents, it has amply demonstrated its own hypocrisy. It has revealed that it is unconcerned about the brutal denial of civil liberties of the citizens or about the unconstitutional impunity that men in uniform enjoy. It has revealed that AFSPA is a mere tool that it can use to befool people and create confusion.

The state government cannot expect to win any credibility by raking up the AFSPA debate without acting for the same and doing the bit it can within its competence. If indeed, it is powerless when it comes to challenging the AFSPA or the DAA, its genuineness could only be proved by challenging the impunity that its own police personnel enjoy and by challenging laws like Public Safety Act, over which there can be no central interference.