Millennium Post

Season of surrenders and surprises

Two recent developments in the northeast are pleasant surprises. The first is a series of surrenders with arms and ammunition by militants of various groups in Manipur, which by now tally well over two hundred. In Assam, 1855 militants were reported to have surrendered in January 2012. The other is over 500 students applying for the National Defence Academy very recently. The fact that both these have been as a result of motivation of militants and students largely by the army/Assam rifles and also by the state government, despite all the pressure and hype by human rights campaigners against security forces, is indeed significant.

In the fourth surrender by terrorists in Manipur since October 2011, on 30 April 2012, a hundred and three militants belonging to 12 outfits laid down arms during a ‘home coming’ ceremony at inspectorate general, Assam Rifles [south]’s headquarters, at Mantripukhri, Imphal in the presence of chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh and others. The hardcore terrorists surrendering were of proscribed outfits including old and infamous ones like united national liberation front, People’s Liberation Army [PLA], Kangleipak Communist Party, Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup, People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak, United People’s Party of Kangleipak, People’s United Liberation Front, Kuki National Liberation Front, National Socialist Council of Nagaland [Khaplang] and lesser known ones like UNPC, KRPA and KRF.

Speaking on the occasion, Ibobi said that naxalites, who are already well-linked with the PLA, have posed a serious challenge to law and order machinery. 'Peaceful methods like elections are primarily meant for giving say to people’s aspirations. Parliament and State Assemblies are actually the forum for conflict resolution… a section of people perhaps does not believe in the efficacy of these democratic and peaceful means. I do not agree with such people.' Referring to of trend of democracy developing across the world, he further added, 'very recently even in the neighbourhood of Manipur in Myanmar we saw how the peaceful democratic movement of Aung Saan Suu Kyi met a great success…no government can deliver without active and continued support of the public…I am fully confident that people would continue to support our vision and policy for peace and development'.

While such a large number have surrendered, they largely represent not very well-known or very well-equipped groups. Neither has Gogoi mentioned how many are still at large. For peace to get a fair chance, terrorists of well-known groups like ULFA, who are still in hiding must be caught. It is amazing how they can survive for so long. And those who surrender must be kept under surveillance, unlike the so-called pro-talks ULFA members.

The other pleasant surprise in Manipur are school students’ joining the Armed Forces.  On 16 May 2012, the Army’s Red Shield Division organised a seminar for enhancing the awareness of Manipuri youngsters. Attended by students from all over Manipur, the seminar had eminent panelists who elaborated on the employment opportunities available in sectors like engineering, medicine, nursing, civil services and so on. The Red Shield Division also facilitated the online registration of prospective children for the NDA entrance examination. This received an overwhelming response, as more than 500 students, mainly from Senapati and Tamenglong districts and NCC Cadets, registered for NDA entrance exam. These applicants will appear for the written entrance exam on 19 Aug 2012, which will be followed by the Services Selection Board [SSB] interview for those who clear the written exam. The candidates who clear the SSB interview will thereafter undergo three years training at the prestigious NDA at Khadakwasla in Pune after which they will become commissioned officers. 

Many Manipuri students, including those from Sainik School, Imphal, have not only made it to NDA, but a fair percentage of them have graduated with flying colours, excelling in sports, services subjects and academics. The first lady Army officer from Manipur is Major Melody Senjam, who served with distinction in the Corps of Engineers. Manipuri classical dancers are no less fitter and there are sportspersons and martial artists. Polo, as known today, emanated from Sagol Kangjei [sagol meaning horse and kangjei, a game of stick and ball], the peacetime pastime of the Meitei Kingdom’s army.

While platitudes and promises are considered necessary tools by political leaders, if they are not followed up by the implementation of rehabilitation measures on the ground and within a reasonable time-frame, not only will the political leaders lose their credibility, but worse, the problem will escalate further.

In this case it is hoped that the union home minister and chief ministers of Manipur and Assam have some substantial plans for rehabilitating the surrenderees. A repeat of SULFA (surrendered ULFA) should not be allowed. They, after former Assam CM Hiteshwar
Saikia’s ‘amnesty’ to ULFA in early 1990s created a nuisance. One way of rehabilitating them is by raising more police battalions, which will address the problem of the police being under-strength. India has the lowest policeman to population ratio. Whatever may be the rehabilitation, the surrenderees must be kept under surveillance.

The other aspect is to ensure that the breakaway factions of these groups, still destructively active, are rounded up within India and at least from Myanmar. These factions hiding in Myanmar since the Awami League was voted to power in Bangladesh in 2008, are
being supported by China. Earlier, they were actively supported by Pakistan’s ISI. These factions are trying to unite.

While Bangladesh government has been cooperative in pushing out the Indian terrorists from its soil, India must now ensure their extradition from Myanmar, whose new government is expecting aid and cooperation from India.

Anil Bhat is a defence and stratergic analyst.
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