Sunday, June 23, 2024

Wanted a consensus on militancy


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By Patricia Mukhim

Militancy in Garo Hills is taking on a political hue with the NCP saying that GNLA should be called for talks and the current operation “annihilation” against the outfit should stop. GNLA is now more than a thorn in the flesh of the MUA government. The outfit is a killing machine and its target are all cops of the Meghalaya Police. Already 13 policemen have lost their lives. The other day Champion Sangma (Pakchara) the GNLA supremo wrote us an email saying that the family members of his outfit were being harassed. He told us to talk to his wife’s lawyer to find out the truth. While I sympathize with the family members of the GNLA because while they may themselves not subscribe to the ideology of their kinsman, they will always be objects of suspicion by the state. In nearby Assam we have seen how innocent family members of the ULFA were secretly mowed down by unidentified killers. However, this is to be expected when a member of the family turns into a rebel and takes on the state. In this business there are no rules. It’s a war with the ‘enemy’ within. You don’t wear kid gloves in a war. Period.

Some politicians may disagree with me. In fact the NCP as a party has been accused of playing footsie with the GNLA. Recently, former Lok Sabha Speaker, PA Sangma attended the mini Wangala fest at Rongsak in Williamnagar as chief guest. Present at the function were village elders and NCP workers amongst others. In his inimitable style, Sangma allegedly spun the issue into a communal rhetoric. He is reported to have praised the GNLA militants, “who are Garos and in whom Garo blood is flowing.” “Why is the Government hunting down the GNLA and asking the police to eliminate them?” thundered the elder Sangma. Having known PA Sangma to be a statesman of sorts and a person with sagacity and vision I found it hard to believe that he would eulogize the GNLA. He said the GNLA are addressing all the problems faced by the Garo people. Are they really? And how, may we know?

The NCP patriarch then went on a tirade against present government for sending additional forces to tackle the GNLA. Some Garo intellectuals and responsible citizens I spoke to said, “Does Mr Sangma want the GNLA to go amuck killing more policemen and going on an extortion spree? Not once did he condemn the GNLA for the deaths they have caused.” Will Mr Sangma respond?

I have often been accused of subjectivity in my columns and I suppose that is a right I enjoy as a columnist. But this time I decided to give a fair hearing to PA Sangma. Was he saying all these things to score political points and give a boost to the beleaguered NCP? Does he have an alternative policy on how to tackle the GNLA? Mr Sangma was quick to respond. He said the policy of the present government and particularly of the Home Minister is to make the Garos fight each other. “Remember how he said he would use the ANVC to tackle the GNLA?” Sangma tried to jog my memory. As far as I recall the Home Minister had sheepishly retracted that foot-in-the-mouth statement. But I guess politicians have selective memory and amnesia as well!

Next Mr Sangma did a spin on the word “annihilation” ostensibly used by Chief Minister, Dr Mukul Sangma. How can someone use such a word he asked? ( How can PA Sangma let go off an opportunity to rebuke Mukul? The two are not exactly buddies!). “How can a Garo annihilate his Garo brethren (out of the jungle or inside it)?” Sangma stormed. The MUA government he said is adopting a policy of ‘divide and destroy.’ “The militants, both ANVC and GNLA are Garos, the Meghalaya police posted in Garo Hills are all Garos and they were all killing each other. That was what “saddened” PA (or is it ‘Pa’) Sangma. My last question was whether the NCP has any policy for tackling the GNLA. Sangma said the Government should call them for talks; have a dialogue with them etc etc. The call ended abruptly and BSNL is not very supportive especially when you call someone in Garo Hills. I tried to connect to Mr Sangma once again to clear my doubts but for the life of me could not reach him. My mobile screen flashed, ‘Call not allowed’. So I decided to put these questions up for Mr Sangma to answer publicly. When is a good time to call the GNLA for talks? What does the GNLA want? Have they made their demands clear? If the demand is for a separate state does Mr Sangma support this ‘divide and destroy’ policy? Has Mr Sangma followed the ULFA history? If Tarun Gogoi were to have fought shy of taking on the ULFA because they are “Assamese”, the police too are Assamese and Tarun Gogoi too is Assamese, would Arabinda Rajkhowa have climbed out of the rat hole in Bangladesh?

It is easy to play politics with militancy but difficult to tackle Frankensteins. If RG Lyngdoh as Home Minister in 2001-03 has used the same yardstick and said “HNLC cannot be taken on because they are ‘kith and kin (Khasi), police too are Khasi and I’m Khasi,” we would still be living in the dark era of killing and extortion by the outfit. Hard decisions have to be taken when dealing with ruthless thugs. The problem is that politicians have a penchant to use militants during elections. Hence most of them are already gearing up to play ball with the gun-toting lads. That these short term gains will destroy the peace of Meghalaya does not seem to bother them.

And what about the police and their morale? Everyday they are putting their lives on the line fighting the rebels who use all the tricks of the trade to kill and maim. If politicians are seen to be taking sides with militants, their questions naturally is, “Is it worth sacrificing our lives for this cause?” Mr PA Sangma’s speech has already demoralized the police force in Garo Hills.

Conrad Sangma of course has another take. He says the government has no rehabilitation policy for surrendered militants, GNLA included. He says the DC and SP East and South Garo Hills are now paying them allowances out of their district funds. Even the families of the cops who have died, he said, are yet to receive their dues. Conrad proposes a multi-pronged strategy: Continue with the operations but also think of socio-economic packages and also use the Church, NGOs and all MLAs from Garo Hills to work towards peace talks.

Well said, but Champion Sangma in Bangladesh is allegedly enjoying the hospitality of a certain Garo bigwig there. He is also helping the GNLA source all their arms and transporting it across the border. Will Champion agree to talk as long as he is safely ensconced across the border? No way! Not by a long shot!

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