The Revolution Will Not Be Militarised

Imagine the impossibility of life in the so-called Northeast India if not for the men in uniform. We could have become dinosaurs a long time ago.

A recent argument and counterargument on the website of an independent think tank illustrate the veracity of these statements. Life in this corner of the globe is always a surprise test. It is even more surprising in a few areas, so to say. I belong to one of these more surprising areas. To get rid of generalisation let’s see into today’s issue.

On 3 June last, Thangkhanlal Ngaihte, a social science researcher, wrote an article on the website of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS).

In the new BJP-led government that has just been sworn in, Gen VK Singh has been given the charge of Minister of State (Independent Charge) of the Ministry of the Development of North Eastern Region (DONER), apart from other responsibilities.

...the appointment of a just-retired Army General (who is now an elected MP) to oversee a Northeast-specific ministry carries huge symbolism and evokes many unpleasant memories. It perpetuates the still widespread perception that the Northeast is always a troubled region and the patriotism and loyalty of its people is suspect, and therefore, needs a firm military hand to control it. The appointment alludes to a continuation of the practice of sending ‘Generals as Governors’ to the Northeast, as Sanjib Baruah put it. Only, it’s a General as a Minister this time.

An excerpt from India’s Northeast and the New DONER Leadership
By Thangkhanlal Ngaihte
Independent Researcher, New Delhi

Three days later Arvinder S Lamba, a Lieutenant General, rejected it right away.

Notwithstanding provocative writings against this institution, the Indian Army has continued to give to the people the environment, infrastructure, medical help, and employability to earn their livelihoods. Dubbed ‘scrupulously apolitical’, the Indian Army’s greatest achievement since Independence is keeping the Indian nation united despite ethnic dissonance and externally aided insurgencies. The large-scale development of border roads by the Army has led to the development of far-flung and remote under-developed parts of the country. In these outposts of the nation, the army is the flag bearer and visible face of India.

An excerpt from Generalship and the Northeast
By Lt. Gen. Arvinder S Lamba
Former Vice Chief Of the Army Staff and Distinguished Member of the IPCS Executive Committee

How true! First, disfavour exists because a former army man has been given the charge of a ministry, which looks over this highly militarised region in the so-called largest democracy of the universe. Then another army man is saying it is not so. If this was a literary piece, the works of GC Tongbra and GB Shaw are too lame and clumsy, leave alone their mastery over satire. We are not demanding too much but it would have been more telling should the writer was a civilian. Yet, that’s the whole story. It is security, security and security, regardless of the political party of the power that be.  

There is nothing personal against the army. I wish I can be more discipline like them. At the same time I wish not—because they are ready to do anything what the political class or their seniors tell them to, because they are just too discipline and obedient. Then, to use the expression of the respected Lt Gen again, the army is ‘scrupulously apolitical’. In the same breath, this whole issue is political than anything else. Silence could have been a better option like in some particular setting—but not in this case.

If the right perspective of ‘the history of conflict and military presence in this region’ is a pointer why the view of military picnic and adventure is rationalised, then we can see the big picture together; further without being emotional, though we know exactly how much the atrocities of the army have been etched into the memory of the people. Yes, let’s ignore as well the cause of origin of the self-rule movements in Northeast India for the time being. We can agree our folks have picked up the arms instead of discussing the issues without violence. And this has necessitated the involvement of the army. But this is just the surface as we will see later: the enemies of the establishment are internal as well external forces; or at least this has been our verbalised reality. And is this approach ever going to solve the problems? Unlikely, if we go by the trends over the last many decades.     

‘Northeast’ is still a contested term. But the Lt Gen, despite his five tenures in the region, still loves to group it under a common umbrella. He cites the former colonisers — to prove the point that the region had been in perpetual conflict and violence for eight hundred years. This is tantamount to stating that India is made up of only Central Asians, the Muslims and the sticky ends of the British. How could have been our written language, philosophy, world view, polo, plus martial and cultural arts, just to name a few, possible if we were head-hunters for hundreds of years? This is too arrogant view of an elitist. Is this why the presence of army is mandatory to teach the natives about the modern world?

For a state like Manipur, the Merger Agreement was not an issue but the disbanding of small ad hoc armies set up by the imperialists was the cause of self-rule movements. This is quiet a news. I appreciate the respected army official’s explanation. It is also valuable to learn that the Indian Army’s bond with the Northeast is older than we would even know. Does it mean the bond makes a sharp distinction between what India and the Northeast are as separate entities? Does it mean the Indian nation-building commenced before we know it? Does it mean we were just stupid then, hollering and running around trees and bushes—when the Great Indian Army arrived with military vehicles and machine guns, holding placards that read ‘Friends of the Hill People’? Or does it mean the statement is a plain drool?

It does follow that the British created India—the country was not possible at all if not for the people out of the cold storage who rule the subcontinent for a couple of centuries. Nationalism is such a funny concept, while we are still lost in the bloody unfinished politics of an erstwhile kingdom.

Authors and academicians, who have ‘lived and known the intricacies of this region have been scripting favourably’. How lucky are we with them, regardless of the army—how hard it would have been without! There are always two sides to a story, but unfortunately in a failed society like ours, there is no place for truth and justice. So who is telling the truth? Mere mentioning of these lofty words like truth and justice sounds as if the idea comes from a hopelessly romantic poet. Alternatively, who do we believe when (a) propaganda is the order of the day; and (b) ever since the colonial days until the recent past, the writers were mostly interested about the place as a human museum?

To quote the respected army man again, ‘Nation-building and the development of the Northeast has been a prime focus of the Indian Army that has struggled to requisition maximum funds and resources to reconstruct and rebuild this region.’ Is this an unconscious admission of the fact that our cynicism about democracy holds true? Besides, no matter the degree of sincerity, this development exercise gives an impression of a veil to cover the atrocities and misdeeds. 

We know the civilian government is an authority for namesake, living on the charity from New Delhi. But is it not the duty of this puppet? Or there must be a close relationship between Delhi and the army that only the strategic analysts and wise policymakers can understand. For us, it is obvious that our politicians are always sleeping together with the bureaucrats and contractors. It is worthy though; the army is working for the so-called country while our representatives are mainly worried about themselves and their families.

Such a bold statement that the army is reconstructing and rebuilding the region also raises more question than answers. ...Why the army? For a while, it appeared like we were in Myanmar. And if there is resistance, better sense dictates that we have to cure the disease rather than keeping on treating the symptoms. Neither being apolitical will solve the problem either; as we have learnt this lesson the hard way. Again it appears like everybody needs to keep themselves occupied; and a failed society is just the right solution for many of us.

This is not a provocative writing. We are also professionals, albeit in different fields and understand the essence of duties and responsibilities. Why should we stand against the institutions as if we have nothing better to do in life? Please admit we are not in a democracy. Please admit the Indian policy makers made a mistake with the Merger Agreement. Then we can go on. Why should we hanker about the past? —and if we have to go back to history, we have several glories and triumphs to cherish about. On the other hand, we have been force fed with lies and nonsense and hopeless lectures on nationalism and patriotism. We are already mired in the maze of patriotism from the most local level. People know it as ethnic discord.

It is human nature to long for belonging to a larger whole. Have the army men ever consider, apart from yielding to every whims and fancies of their seniors, that nationalism is a part of our mind, when we are in a collective? Guns and bombs can never unite the people. The army should learn from their arch rivals, which are known by different names such as militants, insurgents, rebels, ‘naharon’ and so on—which even after six decades of armed struggle, the condition has gone from bad to worse.

How can north Indians grow up with the strong sense of Indianess, but it is not the case in the Northeast? Pray tell, is state-sponsored violence going to be the catalyst to determine the process of nation-building? It seems so, if we look back to the 1950s and 1960s, but all has been in vain till now. The only difference we can see from this side of the fence is the growth and decline of multiple black laws like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. ‘Decline’ would be an understatement if we stop and see that the solutions to these multiple problems are still far beyond our sight. 

‘Ethnic dissonance and externally aided insurgencies’ are not the agenda of only the army. There are many stakeholders, covering from the highest authority of the state government to each individual. We cannot help but bring up the concept of a frontier, which in military jargon, is a region that needs to be controlled militarily. Democracy can go to hell. Unsurprisingly it is a hogwash that ‘the Army has led to the development of far-flung and remote under-developed parts of the country’.

The tummy of patriotism swells to know that the army is the flag bearer and visible face of India. For the sake of clarification: are we a faceless people? Even if we are so, we request that gun-slinging bhadralok be NOT our identity. We are in a crisis already. Now let’s agree that we have a concept like a frontier. But who can say convincingly that the soldiers would not be called back to the mainland if, by chance, the external agencies encroach upon while a leader cries on the social media how his heart bleeds for the people of the lesser god?

If insurgency is not an issue of employment, then it is an offshoot of the outside powers, real or imaginary. Lies, damned lies and ridiculous lies. In the name of the country, the natives have become a guinea pig to test the power of a nation. This is the problem. When ‘aggression, transgression, infiltration and militancy are more than any region or state of India faces’, militarisation is seemingly the only solution. But no authority would admit it again. Then the clichés follow: bad law and order situation, the Chinese threat, the need to open up and what not. In this context, the practice of Generals as Governors is evidence that India views the region only from security perspectives, while reducing the people to mere subjects.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, and the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
― Dwight D. Eisenhower

Except the first insignia image, all the images
in this post are sourced from
the Anonymous ART of Revolution
If it is told repeatedly that the army is inevitable then let it be known that, legally, it is not fighting with external forces, howsoever the authority want to boost the Chinese ego. Sometimes this has raised the question whether the state is intentionally supporting the violence so that the army will be justified—so do their camps inside schools, universities and tourist spots—all in the name of the national interests. The army is apolitical but it does not mind stepping in the ways where a civilian government is supposed to tread. It is a hokum that an experienced person; more precisely that a former army man will deliver better. For instance, just consider the HRD portfolio given to a former television actress in the Modi government.

We admit we live in a divided house with clarion call for separate yet overlapping demands in political sphere. But there is a great chance for reconciliation if the authority stops acting like the proverbial monkey that mediated and ate up all the breads of the two fighting cats. All’s not lost though. In a region like ours, the authority can kill and rape with impunity. And some of them are so smart that they would indulge in drug smuggling while keeping up the spirit of nationalism. When you go home, tell them and say, today or tomorrow, the military approach will never solve the multiple conflicts in the Northeast. At the end of the day, the army is a part of our life. It is inexplicable if we were not without them.



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