Despite being a region of great diversity and promise, positive news from the Northeast is rare. It is not the region’s fault, the fault lies in the way ‘mainland’ India views the place.
So while there is a steady flow of insurgency-related news coming from the Northeast, there is very little on all that is going right in the region. On Wednesday, the Tripura government’s bold decision to lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa) broke the bad news cycle from the Northeast.
This Act, which confers sweeping powers on the armed forces, was imposed in the state in 1997 following a spurt in insurgency.
The draconian Act had been in force in the state’s 26 police station areas and last November, it was extended for six months.
The demand to lift the Act had been growing for some time: The Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura and the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura had been demanding the withdrawal of the Act, saying it was aimed at suppressing the State’s 33% tribal population.
In the light of this, the pronouncement is a political masterstroke by CM Manik Sarkar; he wants to display confidence and project a rights-friendly and tribal-friendly image and how he is different from his counterparts in the region.
This is important because the results of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council election, which happened a month or so ago, showed a dip in the CPI(M)’s popularity. The Left Front won the election but lost a 9% vote share to a tribal party and since then, reports suggested that the CM was looking into strategies to recoup the loss. The CM has thus taken the wind out of the sails of the tribal parties who have levelled accusations against him.
While the government’s move must be lauded, Tripura’s case cannot be equated with those of other northeastern states since each of them has different issues and different degrees of insurgency-related challenges, which, according to the government and the security establishment, necessitate the continuation of the Act. In fact, there is a school of thought that says that for many in the Northeast it does not matter whether Afspa stays or not since the most serious killings — at least in Manipur — are done by police commandos, who are not covered by the Act.
Having said that, there is a strong case — as we have said several times in these columns — for the removal of Afspa from the Northeast. The very nature of the Act and the human rights violations it has led to do not gel with the broader principles of democracy and are a blot on India’s image.