Sunday, October 7, 2012

Celebrating Gandhi Jayenti in a Conflict Zone

The Government of India as a token of acknowledgement declared 2nd October, 2011 as a national holiday celebrating the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. He was fondly remembered for his ideas of self-sufficiency, grassroots governance and non-violent struggle against the mighty British. Even though Gandhi did not travel to Manipur, his idea and style of protest was seen in the early 20th century. Some even claimed themselves Gandhi’s followers. The struggle in Manipur was different from Gandhi’s movement as Manipur was a British Protectorate, not a occupied territory. Thus, the Armed Forces Special Power Ordinance 1942 (AFSPO) which was imposed against the Quit India Movement did not apply in Manipur. Now, it is the contradictory. Manipur is under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 (AFSPA)-the democratic India version of Armed Forces Special Power Ordinance 1942. Unfortunately, the democratic (sic Indian) version of AFSPA is more draconian than its colonial predecessor, permitting even a non-commissioned officer to killed anyone on mere suspicion. In the case of coloniser (AFSPO)- a written order and officer of the rank of captain and above can only executed the Ordinance. Thus, it was claimed by many particularly who witnessed both the British Protectorate and democratic India that the human rights situation was better during British Protectorate.
Manipur was already in the process of independence when Quit India Movement under the leadership of Gandhi was escalated. It is worth recalling that the British Cabinet Mission suggested on 12th May 1946 that the British paramountcy over other princely states would lapse after their departure. Thus Manipur regained her independence after the British left. The King proposed to surrender power to the people through a Constitution and on 15th May, 1947, Manipur Draft Constitution was ready and on 26th July 1947, Manipur State Constitution Act was adopted. So, Gandhi’s movement was seen more of a lesson from a neighbour. He died physically on January 30, 1948 but his idea was killed or the process of uprooting his ideas was processed consciously or unconsciously by the people who swore to bear the responsibility to cloth, food and shelter the people of India. For instance, the leaders especially Patel were close to the Business house class and looked to private capitalists to affect the industrial modernization of India. Partha Chatterjee argued that the nationalists were committed to the establishment of modern, western style institution in the public sphere, and their criticism of colonial rule was precisely that it restricted or even violated the principles of modern government in India (cited in Corbridge, Stuart & Harris, John., 2000, Reinventing India: Liberalization , Hindu Nationalism and Popular democracy, Oxford University Press, New Delhi). Similarly, Dr. MC Arun in a discussion on Doordarshan as a part of 2011 Gandhi Jayenti celebration has clearly elaborated the process.
The Indian state, perhaps as a legacy from its colonisers-the British, adopted the model of western concept of nationhood and tried to construct its national history and consequently it’s nation-state in the single narrative. As part of the project, it evolves a national culture, adopts a national language, interprets its history, specific academic curricula and medium of instruction, declares public holidays, select national heroes, adopts certain rituals of ceremonial national culture, which the state tries to inculcate in all its citizens. But it is not neutral; it tends to express the culture of the dominant community (Sheth, D,L & Nandy, Ashis, (1996), (edt) Introduction in The Multiverse of Democracy- Essays in Honour of Rajni Kothari, Sage Publication, New Delhi). This is how the Gandhi Jayenti celebration emerged in Manipur. Having not much idea how to celebrate, the people of Manipur along with the government emphasis more on cleaning activities rather than the ideas of Gandhi. But since the last decades, these activities have reduced drastically and it remains a government activity. For instance, this year celebration was marked by the cleaning activities conducted by SPs of Imphal East and West. On contrary, the NATIONAL CLEANLINESS DAY which is celebrated on 30 January is insignificant.
However, the United Nations celebrated the day as an International Day of Non-Violence, which is more meaningful to Manipur. But this day is celebrated more by the non-state actors who are struggling for the rights and livelihood of the people of Manipur. Besides, the non-violent movement of Irom Sharmila has legitimised the celebration. The state either consciously or unconsciously ignored to celebrate in a bigger way like other UN declared days. It may be because of the fact that any movement either violent or non-violent is always responded violently by the state. So they must have felt that celebrating International Day of Non-Violence in the land of violence is a waste of time and energy. Money is not a problem as it always flows from the Centre. 
On the contrary, the state is getting more and more militarized with the support of central government in the name of counter-insurgency via national security, in spite of Ministry of Home Affairs  claiming that (annual report 2010-11) “the security situation in Manipur is improving with noticeable decline in incidents of violence and casualties of civilian and personnel of Security Forces in 2010 as compared to last year”. Besides the scheme for reimbursement of Security Related expenditure (SRE) for States seriously affected by insurgents. As of 02.02.2011 since 2000-01, Manipur received a sum of Rs 185.73 crore for the SRE. In the name of assisting the State Governments for augmenting and upgrading the police forces, nine Indian Reserve Battalions (IRB) have been sanctioned. As on 1.1. 2007, seven IRBs was have been raised so far. Another parallel stream of assistance is the  police modernization scheme. Manipur gets 100 per cent assistance for being included in the “A” category states. As of 17.02.2011, Manipur received Rs 213.87 crore since 2000-01.
The state government has 10695 Armed Police as on 31.12.2009 (Men + Women) against the sanctioned post of 14413.  In addition, there is  8541 Civil Police Including District Armed Police as on 31.12.2009 (Men + Women) against the sanctioned post of 14964. There are also 2211 Home Guards and Auxiliary Force During 2009 (Crime in India 2009, National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, 2010). Thus the strength of state forces is increasing in the last decade. Besides the state forces, Central Paramilitary Forces (CRPF and BSF) numbering around 10, 450 are deployed in Manipur; Assam Rifles has 26 battalions; and Army has 10 battalions. Each battalion has an approximate strength of 1000 security personnel (Democracy ‘Encountered’: Rights’ Violations in Manipur, Independent Citizens’ Fact Finding Report, November 2009).
With the increase in security forces either by recruitment or by deployment of central forces, the number of militant groups are also increasing. In July 20, 2009, Chief Minister O Ibobi Singh informed the Assembly  that there are more than 30 militant groups in Manipur including 10 KCP factions. Interestingly, all these expansion of security forces as well as increase in factions are mostly seen since 2000. This period also marks the most ever stable government “ Secular Progressive Front” led by Congress in the history of Manipur. This period is also remembered for the maximum number of people killed.
So the whole brains of the state must be busy maintaining, upgrading or expanding the security forces (state and Union). But the state government celebrates the Gandhi  Jayenti as so to impress the national leaders to clear their fund flow. Similarly, The Union Government is actively promoting and supporting these functions before the international community but their reason is different. They need to make the international community feel that the Indian Government is respecting the Gandhian principles which by virtue of being a developing country is not upholding in reality. Violence or military crackdown is the response for any dissident voice in the nation building process. If ever they were concerned, they could have celebrated the International Day of Non-Violence which is more significant in Manipur. The celebration will not only acknowledge the conflict situation but can also be an initiative for peace process. When the Government of India is not willing to celebrate International Day of Non-Violence in commemoration of MK Gandhi’s (fondly called father of the nation ) birth anniversary (October 2), its sincerity to herald peace in conflict zones  would automatically come under intense scrutiny. Or should we sum up that the Government of India is committed to violence ?

This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, October 7, 2012 

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