The Die Is Cast: Whither Meghalaya

Patricia Mukhim

The election to the 17th Lok Sabha had no wave until the Pulwama attack that killed over 40 CRPF personnel followed by the Balakot air strike of February 26, right inside Pakistani territory. But for most Indians the fact that Wing Commander Abhinandan was handed back to India within 60 hours of his being taken captive by Pakistanis when his MIG 21  aircraft which was in a dog fight with a Pakistani F16  was brought down, was the one big score for Modi and India. The above actions reinforced India’s status as a country that’s capable of fighting back and is not weak-kneed and indecisive. And who would know this better than those in the armed forces who very often become casualties because they are cannot fight back and are sent to the frontiers with their hands tied.

While as civilians we have a lot to say about the armed forces going rogue and committing violence against their own people – the perspective from the other side is also instructive. Fighting insurgents is not the brief of the army but they are pushed into it because state and central police forces are not adequately trained for it. Tackling insurgency is a tricky business. Insurgents are usually part and parcel of the local population and they have their sympathizers amongst the locals. Naturally the army raids those homes to get information. And because the military is trained to fight an external enemy, they cannot suddenly be expected to undo years of training and to wear a humane face. In the battlfield where they come face to face with the enemy, they either kill or are killed. Considering that India is beset with internal insurgencies the country should, in all these decades, have trained a counter-insurgency force to deal with the insurgents in the North East and the Maoists in Central and Western India.  As a pragmatist with no empathy whatsoever for gun-toting groups that have sprung up on different pretexts and live off the fat of the land by extorting from the public and from development funds (vis a vis Nagaland and Manipur), I believe that those who live by the gun will die by the gun. There can be no soft peddling with groups like the ULFA, NSCN(IM), NSCN (K), NSCN( R), and the plethora of outfits in Manipur and in our own backyard.

The recent gunning down of Tirong Aboh, the MLA of Khonsa, his 20-year old son and nine others by the NSCN(IM) reeks of utmost cruelty. Hence, I find it distasteful when people hold a benign, almost patronising view of insurgency. How can an outfit that is holding peace talks with Government of India also carry out such gruesome, cold-blooded killings which are possibly contract killings. The comments and outpourings on Mr Kiren Rijiju’s Facebook timeline are a commentary of how people feel about these ghastly killings. Rijiju has been challenged to get out of his comfort zone and  to urge the Union Home Minister to flush the militants out of Tirap-Changlang-Longding districts  of the State. The three districts are bordered by Nagaland, Assam and Myanmar and the people of all three districts have asked Rijiju to fence off the Myanmar border as it allows free movement of insurgents.

There is much anger and disgust from the people of Arunachal Pradesh at this incident and it might have well affected the election prospects of Rijiju and the BJP had it happened before voting. They all wonder why not enough security bandobast was given to the MLA while travelling through this exposed area. Ironically a defence spokesperson said it was not possible for the armed forces to be present in all places in a mountainous territory despite “area domination by the Army and the Assam Rifles.” Consequently, perhaps the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which was partially withdrawn on April 2 this year would have to be re-imposed in view of the onslaught by the NSCN(IM). This is not the first time that the outfit has been used by one or other political aspirant in the three districts. And Aboh and his entourage are not the first to be gunned down by them.

Facebook comments responding to Rijiju’s post where he expressed grief at the death of Mr Aboh and his family members and security personnel were sharp and critical. They asked why Government of India which could enter inside Pakistan and bomb Balakot, not do the same in sanitising the three districts by flushing out the NSCN of all three acronyms from Tirap, Changlang and Longding. These are questions that Mr Rijiju must answer and also his seniors in the Party, particularly the Prime Minister and the next Home Minister. Can the NSCN(IM) and its other offshoots be given free rein merely because they are in talks with Government of India? Is the army given strict instructions to treat them like interlopers when they venture out of Camp Hebron?

Coming closer home we have seen that the verdict in Meghalaya is split between the Congress and the NPP. Clearly, out of the 11 districts, six have voted for the Congress for reasons best known to the electorate but mainly because of the shadow of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), while five have voted the NPP. Is there a divide then between the people of Khasi-Jaintia Hills and the people of Garo Hills about the CAB? The BJP has been very upfront in its objective of implementing the CAB should it come to power. Now that it has, it will be a matter of time before the Party pushes its agenda. Let’s also not forget that the BJP has retained seats in Assam and added more to its kitty because most Hindus believe that CAB would help offset the Muslim population there. Those who don’t believe in this ideology are a minority in that state.

So what would be the position of the NPP-led Government should the Citizenship Amendment Bill be introduced in Parliament? There are people with a short-sighted, somewhat benevolent view of CAB. They believe that only those Hindus who have lived in India without papers, before December 2014, because they were persecuted on account of their religion in Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan would be given full citizenship. The Bill, however does say that it will not have a prospective effect. At any point of time the 1.13 crore Hindus from Bangladesh who decide that they would prefer to live in India, (read North East India) and claim that they are persecuted, might be allowed to settle here for reasons of vote bank. No wonder Sheikh Hasina the premier of Bangladesh said recently that the CAB is a vote-winning propaganda of Mr Modi and the BJP because Hindus are not persecuted in Bangladesh.

There are also many others who have expressed anxieties about the return of the BJP and fear its anti-minority stance. Perhaps it is time for civil societies of Meghalaya to engage better with Prime Minister Modi and his team rather than leaving all that in the hands of obsequious politicians who do not dare to make claims on behalf of their people. Indeed the only engagement by the Government of Meghalaya so far with the Centre has been to reopen the coal trade. This is such a shortsighted agenda. This is precisely the fear when you leave everything to politicians just because you have voted them in. Our duties as citizens begin after we have voted. It does not end with voting. The reason why we are where we are today is because we rely on unreliable people who are in politics not to serve their constituents but to serve their private interests. Not every politician in this state or region has the commitment of a Modi; not even those in the BJP. They are all businessmen first. That is the travesty of politics in Meghalaya.

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