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Dr Singh's mantra for conflict resolution: military and money

June 14, 2013 09:53 IST

Political conflicts with deep social roots are not resolved through ill-conceived surreptitious deals. They require a bold political vision to resolve them. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech at the recent annual conference on internal security showed a vision that is cynical, sterile and bureaucratic, writes RN Ravi, former special diretor of the Intelligence Bureau

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, while addressing the chief ministers at the annual conference on internal security on June 5, informed the country about the state of security in the country and his government’s achievements.

His speech, like his previous ones on such occasions, was banal, a load of trite, inanities and platitudes. Still worse, it was replete with half-truths -- a devilish cousin of lies. With no flash of light or a fleck of hope, it was indeed an insipid piece of dull bureaucratese.

One’s language reflects one’s train of thoughts and depths of understanding. To the consternation of the countrymen, Dr Singh, in his speech, once again, betrayed his bureaucratic-military orientation to internal conflicts and total absence of a statesman’s vision.

On all the fronts that constantly undermine the internal security of India -- the left wing extremism, militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, and insurgencies in the North-East -- Dr Singh echoed the language and thoughts of his joint secretaries in the ministry of home affairs. According to him, all that could be done has been done and is being done, and the country should be beholden to him and his government for that! 

Dr Singh, on the Maoist front, claimed credit for the relative statistical decline in “deaths caused by the left wing extremists” in 2012.

He asserted that his “two-pronged strategy” against the Maoists -- “proactive operations” (read more militarisation and indiscriminate killings including those of innocents) and “development” (read pumping more money) is bearing fruit and needed to be “pursued with rigour”.

He reposed unwavering faith in his team of bureaucrats comprising the cabinet secretary, the home secretary and the Prime Minister’s Office for overseeing implementation of this strategy for building ‘offensive and defensive capabilities’ against the Maoists.

Similarly on Jammu and Kashmir, he seemed content with the decline in terrorist violence and attributed it to effective ‘counter-terrorism operations’.

In both the theatres, he touted his successes merely in terms of relative decline in the number of body bags in 2012.  It is a simplistic military interpretation of the conflict. Anyone familiar with elements of guerrilla warfare knows that this is a grossly misleading account of the situation.

Such a situation arises mostly on account of either the tactical retreat of the guerrillas or the corporate unwillingness of the State forces to take casualties. It conceals more than it reveals.

It does not reflect the true ground situation, the plight of the people, or the actual capabilities of the guerrillas: their organisational morale, inventory of their ordnance, status of their political campaign and social reach, their strategic and tactical alliances with like-minded entities and their future strategies.

He dubbed the situation in the North-East ‘complex’, essentially a cliché term, a fig leaf for lack of understanding.

It is a pity that Dr Singh did not invest himself in resonating with the region that has unwaveringly hosted him a seat in Parliament all through his political career of over 20 years.

If only he could care to return the gratitude with at least a little understanding of the region he would have soon realised the vacuity of his vaunted claims and saved the benighted people of the region of much gratuitous sufferings caused largely by the flawed policies of his government.

He patted his back with assertions that ‘considerable’ progress in dialogue with ‘several insurgent groups’ had been made by his government, ‘Memorandums of Understanding’ had been signed with the Dima Halam Daoga, an ethnic militia of Assam and three Metei militias of Manipur.

His government has the dubious distinction of cutting perverse deals with over 30 sundry militias -- non-state agents of violence -- in the N-E with moneybags and other largesse.

The hallmark of such preposterous deals, euphemistically called by his government as ‘ceasefires’, ‘suspension of operations’ or ‘memorandum of understanding’, is that the security forces and the militants agree to live in mutual peace, leaving the people sandwiched and vulnerable at both ends.

Militants are free to kill, maim and extort the people with impunity. The cavalier commanders of security forces must kill and apprehend certain numbers for their career enhancement.

These deals are so alluring to the unemployed youths that hundreds of them join the ranks of militants with an understanding with militia leaders that they will be discharged from active militancy after a few years of availing the benefits from it.

A few years of gun-toting give them the badge of militants and make them eligible for the spinoffs of the deals. Every deal promises blanket impunity to the militants for all the gruesome killings done by them, besides monetary and other gains. Quite a few among them continue carrying guns even after the deal.

During Dr Singh’s term as the prime minister, in his foster state Assam alone, over 8,000 youths have come ‘overground’, although at no point of time the aggregate number of ‘undergrounds’ in the state has been more than a thousand. That aggregate is still valid. Dr Singh has fostered a culture of the gun and created an entrepreneurship of violence.

His government has finessed the art of raising militias and then cutting ‘deals’ with them. The militias proudly mentioned in his address by Dr Singh for having signed a memorandum of understanding with are all examples of it.

The first ever attempt by Delhi to woo a rag-tag small band of Metei gunmen began in 2008 with a very tiny splinter of the Kangleipak Communist Party-Military Council, one of the militias in Manipur.

The state government, aware of dangerous potentials of such an enterprise, opposed it. When the Intelligence Bureau also expressed reservations over it, I was asked by the then home secretary for a ground assessment.

I visited Manipur and met the leaders of the outfit. The rag-tag group could not muster more than 12 men. The director general of police, Manipur, was peeved with the Assam Rifles for sheltering these ‘criminals’ wanted by the police, in a local AR camp.

I reported the facts to the home secretary and warned him of the dangerous implications of wooing them. Within the next two years, with the patronage of Delhi, this group grew to over 400. Indeed a respectable number by any standard to have a deal with!

Manipur is rife with rumours about the shenanigans of a buccaneer bureaucrat, flush with slush funds, and how he helped revive another defunct Metei militia and lured them to sign an  MoU. The misfortune of the country is that the prime minister has no ear for the people.

Similar is the story of the Dima Halam Daoga.  In 2006 it was a band of hardly half a dozen criminals that indulged in petty crimes under the banner of Black Widow. By 2008, with the blessings of Dr Singh’s party colleagues in Guwahati, it grew into a lethal militia of over 250 that killed several hundred innocent labourers in bouts of wanton violence to extract huge protection money from their employers.

By 2010, it was public knowledge that the ruling Congress had co-opted it as a political asset for the ensuing assembly elections in 2011. After the elections, Dr Singh’s government signed a deal with them and the National Investigation Agency, created with much fanfare by his government in the aftermath of the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, was forced to corrupt the investigation of its very first case that was against leaders of this militia that had killed over 350 innocent persons.

Being the first case of the NIA, political corruption of its investigation subverted the professional culture of this nascent institution.

Every Naga knows that the unending circular tour of the mulberry bush over the last 16 years by the government and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-M is a travesty of a peace talk, a deliberate hoax on the Nagas.

Political conflicts with deep social roots are not resolved through ill-conceived surreptitious deals. They require a bold political vision to resolve them. Dr Singh’s vision is cynical, sterile and bureaucratic.

The conflict resolution matrix of his government has only two elements, military and money. The most crucial element, the people, is woefully missing. India suffers!

The author is a retired special director, Intelligence Bureau

R N Ravi