General (Retired) Shankar Roychowdhury is the 18th Chief of the Indian Army. General Chowdhury was commissioned in the Indian army on the 9th June, 1957. In his tenure in the army he actively took part in 1962, 1965 and 1971 war. Before his assignment as chief of the Army, General Roychowdhury handled many responsible positions in Indian army. He was awarded the PVSM (Param Visist Seva Medal) for his contribution. After his retirement from the service, he was elected as Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) and completed a term for six years. It was obvious that a Retired Army general will see the Armed forces Special Power act in the lens of an army officer, but according to him the major reasons of the problem of Manipur are mired in the Political and Economic spectrum heightened by the absence of political will. In an exclusive interview, with Kolkata Correspondent of Imphal Free Press, General Shankar Roychowdhury expresses his frank opinion on AFPSA and the reasons responsible for the situation of Manipur… Following are the details.
IFP is carrying this exclusive interview today to coincide with the completion of 50 years of the AFSPA coming into force.
Free Press: What is your opinion about continuation of Armed Forces Special Act?
General: Where ever army is deployed to aid civil authority, it can be Manipur or any corner of India, this act is required to back the Army so that they can help the respective state government to bring normalcy. But there are certain preconditions to be met by the state government, on the basis of that preconditions army will be asked to support civil authority.
Free Press: This act was notified in Manipur since a long time to counter insurgency, at that point of time, there was only one group and presently the groups multiplied in many fold, they are now about 20 to 25 groups approximately. How do you logically look at this situation?
General: This act is not meant to counter insurgency, it is meant to assist the armed forces, who has been deployed not at their own decision but directed to deploy in an area, where internal security has gone out of the hands of the civil authority.
Free Press: But how long can army be expected to aid civil authority. It can not be an on going and permanent process can it.
General: If the civil authority regains control of the civil situations, there will be no requirements of the armed forces, they can go and with them Armed Forces Special Power Act would also go.
Free Press: As you know a committee to review the ” Armed forces (special powers ) act- 1958 was constituted by Prime Minister office order, on the 19th November 2004, under the chairman ship of Justice B.P Jeevan Reddy , retired judge of Supreme court. The committee submitted their report on 6th June 2005 with one of the recommendation of repealing the act. – What is your opinion about this report?
General: I have not studied the report. Until I I know the comments on the reports, I will not be in a position to put forward my views. Is it really they recommended to repeal the Act? If the act is to be repealed, it should apply not only to army, it also applies civil armed forces like state police, CRPF, Assam Rifles. They are engaged to aid the civil authority, for which, they at times need to take actions, for those actions armed forces require some legal support. If it is desired to deploy armed forces to aid civil authority then they must have a legal backing. If AFPSA is repealed or removed they armed forces should also go from respective area along with it.
Free Press: Shoot at sight under doubt by a non commissioned officer; arrest without warrant is some of the powers of the armed forces as per the provision of this act. Don’t you think these are greater deal of contradiction with article 21, right to life of the constitution of India?
General: The situation of internal security on insurgency is in total contradiction with our constitution. The situation itself is abnormal and not covered by the constitution. The Constitution was not designed to cater to situations that are abnormal in nature like insurgency.
Free Press: Second administrative reform commission of Government of India has also recommended repealing the act. And the same has been echoed by United Nation committee on “Elimination of all forms of racial discrimination” – Will you be at one with this recommendation?
General: I have already commented on AFPSA
Free Press: What are the major factors responsible for this situation or problem?
General: The major reasons are in out side. Armed forces have nothing to do. Major reason is political, major reasons are economic. The government responsible at the centre in particular at the state of Manipur is the example. They have decided not take actions to elevate that basic problem that is why the situation has not been improved. Armed forces not gone there at their own invitation. They have been ordered to go there. They would be the happiest people, if the situation comes under control, and they will be able to quit the place. Political heads and civil administration should be able to solve this problem, if these leaders invite armed forces there is no answer to AFPSA.
Free Press: Would you like to comments further on the Political leaders and their will?
General: I will go to the extend of saying that roots of the problem lie in the short comings of our politician, what ever ideology, what ever party and what ever state, they are all the same. The essence of the problem is it could not be handled politically, so got in to the army. Armed forces will be happy to be out if the state police can handle the situation.
Free Press: I am coming to that point General; there are other parts of the country where in, inspite of existence of armed group, AFPSA is not there? Don’t you think state police with proper training and skill is in a position to counter this? Our armed forces are responsible to guard our boarder protect the country during the war against enemy.
General: The task of armed forces is to protect the country against external aggression. And internal disturbances have to be tackled by civil administration, but it is not as simple as that. These internal problems are strongly supported by external agencies…
Free Press: But what about Police to handle these internal Problems instead of armed forces?
General: If the state and central police can handle the problem, armed forces will be happy to get away from the situation… If state police can handle army will say, “Thank you very much and let’s go and take back AFPSA with them”. If armed forces go special power with the police may remain in different forms.
Free Press: What is your message for the people of Manipur?
General: I am deeply pained about Manipur. I am deeply sympathetic to the people of Manipur. I like the people of Manipur, they are very good people reach in their culture, and they should be at peace. There is lack of proper support by the government at the centre. The central government failed to support them and they have had the misfortune having series of state government, which has not at all looked after their interest. I really feel for Manipur. This is a beautiful part of our country.
Free Press: Because of this situation the worst victims are Children and women. They are in the traumatized situation – What is your message for them.
General: I have no message for them, I have got message for the leaders of Manipur. These women and children, who have been traumatized and are worst victim, it is the job of Manipur political leaders to see that peace returns to the state. This political will has to come from within them.
Imphal Free Press