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Repeal of AFSPA, top agenda for NE parties

Even though CM O Ibobi Singh managed to get the Act repealed from around a 45-square-kilometre area in the capital city, reports Drimi Chaudhuri.

india Updated: Feb 01, 2007 21:47 IST

Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is the most dreaded word in Manipur like in other parts of the North East and to get it repealed is what all the political parties promise.

With the Congress-led government failing to get it repealed, barring seven Assembly constituency in Imphal, opposition parties BJP, Manipur People's Party (MPP) and United Naga Council (UNC) have made it their poll plank, besides the broader issue of development and economic progress.

AFSPA, which empowers security forces like the Army and Assam Rifles to conduct search-and-arrest operations without warrant even in civilian households, has been a major bone of contention for people across the communities - Meitei, Naga, Kuki, Zomi or Pangal.

Even though Chief Minister O Ibobi Singh managed to get the Act repealed from around a 45-square-kilometre area in the capital city of Imphal, other than the de-notified area, the rest of Manipur still has AFSPA being used to its full extents.

While women activists or Meira Paibis and other human rights groups continue to complain of widespread civil rights violations, the BJP and others are taking the Act as a major tool to be used in their poll campaigns.

Avinash Koli, BJP's North East coordinator, pointed out that his party's stand is not to have the Act repealed but have it scrapped totally.

"Our sate committee has taken this resolution at a high-level meeting and it has been also been endorsed by our national leadership.

Even though the Congress has been promising to do something about it ever since it came to power, nothing has been done and in the meanwhile, hundreds have been killed or gone missing in the name of curbing insurgency," he said.

The Congress, however, is presently basking in the glory of having it removed from seven constituencies in Imphal valley, where polls would be held in the second phase on February 15.

"The decision to have AFSPA completely repealed is presently being considered by the party High Command since it is not possible for us to take the decision without the intervention of the Union government," Congress election committee chairman Seram Mangi Singh said.

Senior officials at Inspector General Assam Rifles (IGAR)-South head quarters at Mantripukhri near Imphal, however, refute allegation of human rights violations and point out that AFSPA has been tagged 'draconian' due to the protests of Irom Sharmila Chanu, who has been on 'fast unto death' for months against the Act.

"Since the security forces are not empowered to enter houses to search and arrest like the civil police, we need AFSPA if we have to manage insurgency. The issue is a to know the limitations of one's power and stay within," a senior Assam Rifles official said.

The Ministry of Defence spokesman in Kolkata, Wing Commander RK Das pointed out that since AFSPA was removed from the seven constituencies in Imphal, the graph of insurgency activities have shown a steady rise.

"Ever since the Act was in place, crimes like abductions, civilian deaths, explosions and recovery of weapons or explosives have gone up.

While civilian injuries in blasts and gun battles between insurgency factions have gone up from 10 to over 50 and from five to around 20 cases of weapons or explosives recovery. In the last two months there have been around 10 incidents of grenade blasts," he said.

Even as the security forces justify the need for AFSPA, common people seem tired of being bullied by both the insurgents and the armed forces.

Professor L Chandra from Imphal's esteemed DM College put it into perspective. "The state and central administrations need to understand why despite enough reasons to impose AFSPA, the Act is so unpopular.

Even when AFSPA was in place throughout the state, the security forces could not curb insurgency. The Act needs to be repealed not from Manipur but from the country," the professor of political science said.

Email Drimi Chaudhuri:

First Published: Feb 01, 2007 21:47 IST