Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Apropos Military in North East and Quality Journalism

The people are the creatures of habit and lovers of comfort. Who else can hold the mirror other than the media? But media in the northeast needs to walk the talk vis-à-vis the role of the military and security forces.

Two Army officers who served in the east and North-east hit the headlines recently. Former Chief of Army Staff and ex-governor of Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura, General KV Krishna Rao passed away on 30 January 2016. He took part in the 1965 war against Pakistan, in Jammu and Kashmir, in 1947-48 and from 1970-72 commanded a mountain division in Nagaland and Manipur. He also fought in the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war.

On 13 January 2016, Lt- Gen (retd) JFR Jacob passed away in Delhi at the age of 92. The Kolkata-born Jacob was best known for his role as Army Chief of Staff, Eastern Command, during India's victory over Pakistan in the war of 1971.


Prior to him, on January 13, 2016, another olive green hero Lt Gen (Retd) JFR Jacob breathed his last at Army Research and Referral Hospital. He was 92. Kolkata-born Jacob is best known for his role as the Chief of Staff of the Indian Army's Eastern Command during India's victory in the Indo-Pak War of 1971 and the Liberation of Bangladesh.
I am referring to these two military officers in this column with a purpose as recent weeks also saw wide range of public debate on the role of Governors, powers of military and the prospects of peace talks with the ultras in the northeast. Both the former army officials served as Governors – and Gen Rao as Governor of Nagaland also was in some sort of controversy when he had recommended dissolution of the state assembly when Hokishe Sema government was reduced to minority in 1988.

But to me always more important has been the debate about the role of the army in these insurgency-hit states. In this public discourse is certainly always the media coverage of the army role vis-à-vis the common people of this region. 

Generals: Jacob, Krishna Rao
This would naturally lead us to discussions on the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA).  This law is also in debate over a supposed confession by a Manipur police constable on fake encounters.
I am a frightfully placid nature journo. But there’s hardly a debate that the media coverage of AFSPA and related events in the northeast – especially by the local press - is generally followed by the spirit of 'popular will'.

This sounds bitter but unfortunately is true. But this happens not without good reasons. We can see such media reports more than often because the local readership wants anti-military stories. And there's some 'safety cushions’ as the retaliation from the state/central governments would not be as harsh or drastic as by ultra groups.
This in no way is an attempt to justify the numerous cases of human rights violations by the security forces.  On the other hand, study on the issue of human rights violations both in the northeast and elsewhere including in few neighbourig countries reveal some interesting findings.

One likes it or not, media needs to point out clearly that the Indian military prowess or the Government of India itself has not yet lost a serious counter insurgency campaign within the country. 
Blogger: Field Duty
Former Indian diplomats and military officials deployed in Sri Lanka have told me that we can perhaps safely conclude  that only unsuccessful campaign has been against the LTTE in that island country.

Now, why the success rate against insurgency in India is so good? I am not touching at the instances of human rights violations or unfortunate killings of a number of innocent civilians. But the success in counter insurgency campaigns owes a lot to government of India's "political approach" to counter insurgency. 

We ought to admit that in this context, even the Indian army has generally played second fiddle and cooperated with the civil administration and political leadership and endorsed the numerous processes of peace talks.

Even army leadership has appreciated that the insurgency problem -- barring the Mizoram handling in 1960s - is political by nature and the solution lay in political landscape only. And even for Aizawl bombing, the decision came from higher ups and not from military officials unilaterally. But it’s the army alone who get the blame.  
Now what difference does it make if media does not mention or does not cover this aspect of military role vis-a-vis the peace process?

Not covering well this crucial aspect of insurgency warfare is actually depriving the readers and not informing the common people that the peace talks have been successful and can be successful only with the cooperation of military.

The moment the locals understand the importance of 'political talks' to resolve these insurgency problems, we can guarantee that any insurgency outfit would be compelled to come forward for talks. This has been the case with ULFA and also the Naga militants. This pragmatism of Mizos was actually a great booster in leading the late rebel leader Laldenga come forward for talks and finally end the Mizo insurgency.
The media in the region needs to introspect on its role in highlighting or not doing so on these finer points. Such media reportage can influence Indian army strategists deployed in the region too. So the moot point I have tried to argue is effective and detailed coverage on these issues can force both the military and insurgency outfits stay away from violence and warfare and accept the reality that talks is the only answer. And to add to it - Peace is a must for development.

Importantly, however, in all these games the role of politicians is an important facet. Those who have followed affairs of northeast are well aware of the ‘damaging power’ of this neta class.

All the way through every single thing done is essentially and purely aimed to help politicians improve their own position and harm or spoil the position of other players – including the security forces and even the police force.  I know of politicians in northeast who remain tight-lipped when enjoying the loaves of ministerial power and open up mouths against army and AFSPA when they are not in power. 

This blogger has made a case on the need for a rightful balance between maintenance of law and order and protecting the civil rights of citizens. But what the politics of double standards have turn things into a mess. You cannot administer a state or a country if one person in the office has the power and tendency to veto and undo the good works of military and security forces.


  1. This is the really amazing article


  2. Very informative & full of anecdotes...Media suffer from New Delhi obsession & thus fail to go places