Discover more from ali’s version
The Big Fat Fib on the utility of force in Manipur
The debate on the No Confidence Motion threw up two diverse view points on the utility of force in internal security situations. While either option – use and non-use - can reasonably be adopted by a government in such circumstance, what intrigues is justification in Parliament for the non-use of force in Manipur.
During his intervention in the No Confidence Motion debate in parliament, Rahul Gandhi – profiting from the uncanny timing of reinsertion into the parliament – observed that Manipur need not have spiraled into violence had the Army been employed in time. With the Army in place, the violent political extremism witnessed there could have been nipped in 24 hours.
In his response to the No Confidence Motion against his government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared wary of the use of force to address such situations. He gave the example of Mizoram, wherein - to him - the then government was guilty of targeting innocent civilians with the employment of the Indian Air Force (IAF). For good measure, he added the example of the assault on Akal Takht.
The following day in a meet with the press to reply to Narendra Modi’s two-hour-plus-long speech in parliament, Rahul Gandhi clarified that Army deployment is one among many instruments the government has, which when deployed complementarily can control civil unrest in two-three days.
For his part, Assam Chief Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma - bête noire of the Gandhi family and resident expert of the Hindutva regime on the North East - was quick to attack Gandhi’s take. He held that the military would have served no purpose in the circumstance. Citing the Mizoram episode, he rhetorically queried, “They (the Army) should open fire on civilians? Is it his prescription?”
It’s rather obvious that both Modi and Sarma have a coloured notion of the use of the IAF in Mizoram. For their political purpose of beating back Rahul Gandhi’s charge, they have twisted the unfortunate deaths of civilians in the bombing by the IAF of Aizawl back in 1966 as deliberate targeting of civilians.
From the backlash on Modi’s take on the IAF’s operations in Mizoram is amply clear that the IAF close air support operations in Aizawl were undertaken in the extreme conditions of an attempted take-over of the then Mizo Hills District of Assam by the separatist, Pakistan-supported militant group, Mizo National Front.
The IAF operated in support of the beleaguered garrisons of the Assam Rifles. Given the technology of the times, undeniably there were some civilian deaths. Though regrettable, should the risk have led to dropping of the option altogether? That it yet required brigade-level land operations lasting almost a month to dislodge the insurgents shows the constraints India and the military faced.
It emerges that in a consideration of factors involved, including collateral damage, a judicious decision has to be arrived at the political master.
Misconstruing the aim of the operations – that civilians were targets – shows up a political motive. Modi’s lying in parliament must be appraised accordingly.
The obvious strand of the politics is in relation to the situation in Manipur.
A second less obvious one also merits a look: coup-proofing. More on the second later.
But, before addressing the politics is a look at use of force decision making.
On the use of force in internal security
The outbreak in early May of the internal security situation that persists till today witnessed brazen looting of arms from police premises and their subsequent use by ethnic militias for perpetrating what amount to crimes against humanity.
There is no gainsaying that both internal security situations – Mizoram and Punjab - were preventable. To argue however that military force should have been ruled out when it came to the crunch in both places - on the basis that civilians got killed - is debatable.
At the Golden Temple, the use of military force is easier to justify in retrospect since it turned out that the complex had been turned into a veritable fortress. It required extensive firing of the formidable main gun of tanks to dislodge its terrorist defenders, a decision taken after a rather steep price paid in lives of soldiers.
In Mizoram, when trouble broke out, the closest brigade headquarters was at Agartala. The forces to do the job of vacating the MNF threat required first being concentrated and then inducted. This would give the militants sufficient time to consolidate their gains in Aizawl and elsewhere, making deliberate operations with a larger force inescapable, at the risk of higher toll in lives.
Chief Minister Sarma is right that the employment of the Army does not resolve anything and can only quieten situations.
Incidentally, that’s precisely the intent. Army doctrine has it that its deployment is to reduce violence to levels even as political processes kick-in to resolve matters.
Rahul Gandhi was also quick to clarify at his press meet that he meant resort to military force is an option that cannot be ruled out and is only part of a package of measures taken with the instruments of State available.
On this the two politicians appear to be on the same page.
The applicability of force is a matter of judgment. The risk of civilian casualties must be factored in and the level of risk can serve to stall or moderate military action.
How does this conclusion square with the situations that sequentially obtained in Manipur?
A truism in theory on controlling of internal security situations is that inter-community fights can be controlled within 48 hours, in case of political will and a clear mandate to the police. The Army must be called in timely in aid to civil authorities.
In Manipur, it was very much possible for the state government to firmly deal with the mobs using the police and central police forces at hand and call for Army deployment as necessary. Such demonstration of resolve on part of the ‘double-engine’ government could have prevented conflict spiral.
Using force - to the extent of causing loss of life - may have been inescapable. The argument that civilians would have been killed seems to view participants in mobs as ‘innocent civilians’, which is not the case when such mobs are raiding sensitive government premises with nefarious intent.
The circumstance was in no way reminiscent of instances of use of force against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir, as at Gow Kadal, on the Mirwaiz funeral procession and at Bijbehara.
Firing is under rules of engagement that compel proportionality and discrimination. The upshot is deterrence, preventing widespread unrest and resort to higher degrees of force. Therefore, though regrettable in every instance, any innocent lives lost must be seen in relation to good faith in conduct and expected outcome.
This reading makes Rahul Gandhi’s questioning of the response to the outbreak of violence in Manipur sustainable.
Next, let’s consider whether the induction of the Army and greater government resolve would have ended the largely tit-for-tat attacks.
The Army, assisting the police and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), would have had to contend with well armed militias. Forcible disarmament therefore recedes in priority as an option.
However, the Army could have proven more efficacious than CAPF alone in securing people in situ. The CAPF are held hostage to the police, which in Manipur was partisan. There is no ethic of independent professional action in the CAPF.
The Army’s availability would have resulted in credibility for any governmental thrust for a ceasefire. The ruling party, that has members of the legislative assembly from both sides, was well positioned to bring about such a draw-down. The double engine holds a promise that both communities might like to avail themselves of.
However, the lesser engine proved parochial, which explains why the Army was not more in evidence as part of the solution in first place. It would have been less responsive to the state administration, as was proved in the Chief of Defence Staff dismissing the lesser engine’s characterizing of the situation as one resulting from an insurgency-drugs nexus.
Prime Minister Modi indicates that stability is in the offing. It’s possible that the government is taking the ‘hurting stalemate’ theory rather too seriously and is waiting for the two sides to exhaust their firepower and angst. The trouble with this theory is that in the interim fissures widen, ruling out easy or early reconciliation.
An aspect worth reminding is the State must regain monopoly over violence, preferably in a politically brokered way, but, if necessary eventually, by use of force.
Such disarmament should not amount to a Jaffna redux. Recall at Jaffna, the Tamil Tigers has to be bearded in their own den, at a high cost in lives of Indian soldiers.
The situation is likely to be more fraught in the Valley, since the lesser engine has a pronounced bias towards the majority community. Selective impunity based on ethnic affiliation is likely. Instead, it should use affinity to encourage self-regulated disarmament.
That said, the assumption that the militias, having tasted power, will comply meekly is misplaced. It is not impossible that the militias will not be messed with, the excuse being they are ‘our boys.’
This implies Rahul Gandhi’s perspective on the Army’s continuing relevance in internal security remains valid as Manipur wades into an uncertain future.
The lesser engine’s actions are self-confessedly informed by majoritarian thinking – in this case ethnic. The senior engine played along, since it is likewise imbued with majoritarian thinking - in its case, cultural.
The glue between the two is the appropriation of nativist turn in Manipur to its own ends by Hindutva. Symbiosis between the two majoritarian strands – one local and the other national – led to the backing by the senior of the local.
Appeasement as a political strategy can be endorsed if capable of winning the day, but implementing it without covering the flanks – such as with the Army deployed as deterrent - is chimerical. The result is not political resolution, but political acquiescence.
This is excusable taking cue of the ‘Do No Harm’ principle. However, with the violence being largely one-sided, such posture tends to disfavour the victimized. This shows up the approach as instrumental. The grant of the impunity allows Hindutva to draw its local counterpart into a more intimate bear-hug.
Avoidance of civilian casualties is an alibi. The lesser engine was selectively gung-ho after Kukis, even launching an First Information Report against an Assam Rifles outfit for impeding operations against Kukis.
Lawyers can quibble over ‘civilian’ status. Logically when engaged in raiding an armoury or, as members of a mob perpetrating crimes against humanity, individuals lose their civilian status for the duration. When busy violating the law and humanity, they can be at the business end of the law enforcers’ stick, with due regard to restraints on the use of force.
That the senior engine does not think so begs the question: Why?
Manipur is the new laboratory. Were the two engines to intercept and intervene in concert, they would be acting against their very own foot-soldiers pursuing an agenda set by the two engines themselves.
Styling these as ‘innocent people’, Modi seeks to justify mobocracy – for a second time. Recall the 48 hours given to malevolent mobs in Gujarat of late February 2002. It is necessary to expose this sleight of hand.
Perversely interpreted, Command Responsibility requires that having put their unauthorized forces - militias and mobs - to work, majoritarian masters cannot also simultaneously exercise Command Responsibility - rightly interpreted - over the authorized forces at their disposal to stop the proceedings they have themselves set unauthorized forces on.
Militias are Hindutva’s private army, meant to undercut the State’s monopoly of force. The State as bystander allows for Hindutva to fashion India in its own image. For this, the State’s sword arm needs first to be neutered.
This brings up the second political factor: coup-proofing.
While on the one hand is the visible setting up of the soldier on a pedestal, such as through Parakram Parv, National War Memorial, One Rank One Pension; alongside, is the insidious hollowing out of the military as an institution, with, for example, deep selection, Agnipath and the decolonization bogey.
In Manipur, the Assam Rifles - that identifies more with the Army and less with the ministry it is administratively under - has been on the cross-hairs of the lesser engine. Controversially, the lesser engine wanted to redeploy it away from a non-existent post! The Spear Corps has also had occasion to point out the manner an unarmed women-only militia interferes with military movement and operations.
Operationally, the sidelining of the Army and Assam Rifles, ostensibly for the cover of Armed Forces Special Powers’ Act not being available from parts of the Valley, shows intent to retrench the military from its traditional remit as the last bastion on internal security.
Where was the need for importing a retired CAPF chief as Adviser to Chief Minister Biren Singh, when the commanding general of Spear Corps was near at hand and when two divisional level formations - one of the army and the other of Assam Rifles are readily available.
The AFSPA could have been re-promulgated under its Paragraph 3, by a mere declaration by the Governor of the Valley as a Disturbed Area. In any case, while in aid to civil authority, the Army is covered by the indemnity clause included in the Code of Criminal Procedure (or whatever the Hindi term the statute now goes by).
To be sure, the military is a blunt instrument. But from recent killing of Muslim passengers by a railway cop; the killing of a Muslim youth forced to chant the national anthem by cops beating him; and the setting upon of girl students of Jamia Millia Islamia by baton wielding police, show there is no substitute.
The service ethic of political subservience of CAPF needs contrasting against the professional ethic of the Army. The Army, though subordinate to political masters, can only deviate from the professional ethic at the cost of national security.
Normally, the military’s reading of national security takes second place to political considerations of political decision makers. The military can validly input decisions, but not disobey them. The political decision maker does not owe the military an explanation, but is democratically answerable to the people – through the parliament and at elections.
However, in abnormal times, there are limits to obedience. And, the times – as seen in the previous section - are abnormal.
In such milieu, the military’s national security mandate is independent of and in contradistinction to its political subordination. The Army cannot let go of its moorings on a parochial political say so.
Its political inertness is limited by its institutional self-regard. The political cannot will the military out of existence and the military cannot willfully comply.
The explanatory variables together
Two political facets have been explored with Manipur as backdrop. The first is majoritarian incest, between the local and the national. The second is the marginalization of the military in a sphere of its professional mandate and competence.
Taken together, they forecast a national disaster ahead.
The clue is in the latest Big Lie: the risk of civilian casualties must stay the Leviathan’s hand.
The corollary is to let majoritarian mobs be. Rather than nipping their sway at the outset with a bullet below the knee, allow them maraud through a minority neighbourhood, killing, raping, burning. Demolitions can follow.
To allow majoritarian mobs play, the professional military requires neutering.
A de-facto change to the Constitution has already been made that has it that some are more equal than others. This puts a lie to the last Modi phrase, ‘One House – One Law’, coined in reference to the Uniform Civil Code.
State supported mob-militias will administer the de-jure constitutional shift to dissenters, with the military defenestrated.
Manipur is a test bed of New India.