[Reader-list] Generals as Governors(Sanjib Baruah) Courtesy: www.tripurainfo.com

Sagnik Chakravartty sagnik_chakravartty at yahoo.com
Tue Jun 4 20:43:10 IST 2002

(The following article has been downloaded from

By Sanjib Baruah
(Sanjib Baruah teaches political science in Bard
College , New York and is author of the
famous book -- India against itself )  

In the militancy-affected Indian Northeast, New
Delhi's containment policy of the last four decades
has produced a peculiar equilibrium, one in which
democracy and authoritarian governance coexist with
disturbing ease. The paternalistic carrot-and-stick
approach routine use of military force with
development money spread about in the backward region
assumes an imperious "foreknowledge of the destiny" of
the Northeast. Indian policy must respond with
constitutional reforms that respond to the region's
history which animates the insurgencies. It must
conduct a democratic dialogue involving the peoples of
the Northeast and not rely on secret negotiations
between bureaucrats and insurgents. But then will that
be allowed by a system that appoints generals as

"Isn't there a brigadier in Shillong?" This was how
Sardar Vallabbhai Patel, India's deputy prime minister
responded in 1949 to reports that the "native state"
of Manipur might be reluctant to merge fully with the
Indian Union. In September of that year, the governor
of Assam, Sri Prakasa, accompanied by his adviser for
Tribal Areas, Nari Rustomji, flew to Bombay to apprise
Patel of the situation. The fate of Manipur and other
indirectly ruled "native states" presented a
significant constitutional problem when British rule
of India ended in 1947. Indeed, the decision of the
Kashmiri Maharaja to accede to India was the beginning
of the Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan.
Patel and other senior Indian officials might perhaps
have pondered more on the potential diffi-culties that
could arise from decisions by major `native states
like Kashmir and Hyderabad on the postcolonial
dispensation in the Subcontinent. But the thought that
tiny and remote Manipur on India's border with Burma,
might hesitate about fully joining India had probably
never crossed their minds. The meeting of Sri Prakasa,
Rustomji and Patel was brief. As Rustomji recalls in
his memoir, Enchanted Frontier, apart from asking
whether there was a brigadier stationed in the region,
Patel said little else. It was clear from his voice
what he meant, wrote Rustomji, and the conversation
did not go any further.

Within days the Maharaja of Manipur, on a visit to
Shillong, found himself virtually imprisoned in his
residence. The house was surrounded by soldiers and
under the pressure of considerable misinformation and
intimidation, the Maharaja isolated from his advisers,
council of ministers and Manipuri public opinion was
made to sign an agreement fully merging his state with
India. When the ceremony to mark the transfer of power
and the end of this ancient kingdom took place in
Imphal on 15 October 1949, a battalion of the Indian
army was in place to guard against possible trouble.

The circumstances attending Manipur's merger with
India haunts the politics of the state to this day. A
number of insurgent groups regard the merger as
illegal and unconstitutional, and many among the
Manipuri intelligentsia are bitter about the way it
was effected. While Manipur today has an elected chief
minister and an elected state legislature like other
states in the Indian Union there is also a de facto
parallel structure of governance directly controlled
from Delhi that manages counter-insurgency operations.
Visitors to Manipur cannot but notice the strong
military presence. Even historic monuments such as the
Kangla Fort of the old Manipuri kings, and parts of
the complex in Moirang that commemorates the rebel
Indian National Army, are occupied by Indian security

It is not hard to see why there is such a massive
security presence in the state. Manipur, today, has
numerous insurgent groups with ethnically-based
support among Meities, Nagas and Kukis. In recent
years, smaller ethnic groups such as Paites, Vaipheis
and Hmars too have formed their own armed
organi-sations. The official count of lives annually
lost in insurgency-related incidents in Manipur in
recent years is in the hundreds. And somewhat
independent of the activities of these insurgent
organisations is the ethnic conflict between Nagas and
Kukis and, more recently, between Kukis and Paites.
Many of these conflicts appear intractable and some of
them are attributable to the profound social
transformation that these societies are undergoing.
Yet unless one believes that a coercive state is a
necessary instrument to manage change, it is hard to
avoid the question: were the symbols and practices of
the traditional Manipuri state despite the significant
erosion of its authority and power under British
colonial rule better-equipped to achieve social
cohesion? Was Patels readiness to use forcejust as the
rest of India was setting off on a path of democratic
rights and liberties an early acknowledgement that
Indian democracy in the Northeast would necessarily
have an authoritarian accent?

Manipur is not unique. Except for Arunachal Pradesh
and Mizoram, five of the seven states of Northeast
India today Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and
Tripurahave insurgent movements of varying levels of
activity and intensity. Some of them, such as the
United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), Nagalands
National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN), now
divided into two factions, and the Manipur People's
Liberation Front (MPLF), which consists of the United
National Liberation Front (UNLF), the People's
Liberation Army (PLA) and the People's Revolutionary
Party of Kanglaipak (PREPAK), have separatist agendas.
Other ethnically based groups are typically dressed up
as national fronts defending this or that minority
ethnic group.

As a response to those insurgencies and to Pakis-tan's
Inter Services Intelligence's (ISI) inclination to
fish in these troubled waters, there are many more
brigadiers in Northeast India today than Patel could
have imagined. Military formations much larger than
brigades corps headed by lieutenant generals and
divisions headed by major generals are now stationed
in this part of the country. In Vairengte, a Mizoram
vilge, there is even a Counter-Insurgency and Jungle
Warfare School for training officers to fight the
militants. And the Indian Army is only one of the
security forces deployed in the region. Other
paramilitary units controlled by the central
government, such as the Central Reserve Police Force
(CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF) the Assam
Rifles, various intelligence bureaus and the police
forces of each state, are also involved in
counter-insurgency operations. And overseeing these
operations is a parallel political structure that
works outside the rules and norms that govern India's
democratic political institutions.

Political violence murders, bombings, kidnap-pings,
extortion by militants, and killing of militants by
security forces in actual or staged encounters has
become a routine part of news from the Northeast.
True, there is also news of elections, cease-fires and
talks or prospects
of talks with insurgents. But the two kinds of news
and images co-exist with disturbing ease. No one finds
the image of democratic elections being conducted
under massive military presence ano-malous. Nor does
anyone expect talks with insurgents to bring about
sustained peace. Indeed in some ways, insurgencies
themselves have become incorporated into the
democratic political process. Good political reporters
of the Northeast know the precise role that insurgent
factions play in elections or the ties that these
factions have with particular mainstream politicians.

For politicians, the use of the army to fight
insurgencies has now become something of a habit. For
instance, in the spring of 2000, after attacks on
Bengalis by tribal militants in Tripura, political
parties belonging to the states Left Front government
observed a 12-hour bandh to pressurise the central
government to send in the army to deal with the
situation. Chief Minister Manik Sarkar complained that
even though 27 police station areas in the state had
been declared disturbed, the Indian army had not yet
arrived. One would hardly guess from such statements
that the law that these democratic politicians were
relying on the law that permits army deployment in
disturbed areas is a law that contravenes all
coeivable human rights standards.

According to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act
(AFSPA), in an area that is proclaimed as disturbed,
an officer of the armed forces has powers to:

(a) fire upon or use other kinds of force even if it
causes death; 

(b) to arrest without a warrant and with the use of
necessary force anyone who has committed certain
offences or is suspected of having done so; and 

(c) to enter and search any premise in order to make
such arrests. 

Army officers have legal immunity for their actions.
There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal
proceeding against anyone acting under that law. Nor
is the governments judgment on why an area is found to
be disturbed subject to judicial review.

As Ravi Nair of the South Asia Human Rights
Documentation Centre in New Delhi has pointed out, the
AFSPA violates the Indian Constitutions right to life,
the right against arbitrary arrest and detention, the
rules of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code relating
to arrests, searches and seizures, and almost all
relevant international human rights principles. There
was a time when reports of human rights violations in
the Northeast were taken seriously. But most Indians
now regard human rights organisations as being at best
naïve, or at worst, sympathisers of insurgents
masquerading under the flag of human rights. The
violation of human rights in the Northeast is seen as
the necessary cost of keeping the nation safe from its
enemies inside and outside.

Thus in 1991, when the United Nations Human Rights
Committee asked the Attorney General of India to
explain the constitutionality of the AFSPA in terms of
Indian law and to justify it in terms of international
human rights law, he defended it on the sole ground
that it
was necessary in order to prevent the secession of the
northeastern states. The Indian government, he argued,
had a duty to protect the states from internal
disturbances and that there was no duty under
international law to allow secession. State within a

In the insurgency-hardened Northeast, democratic India
has developed a defacto political system, somewhat
autonomous of the formal demo-cratically-elected
governmental structure. This parallel system is an
intricate, multi-tiered reticulate, with crucial
decision-making, facilitating and operational nodes
that span the region and connects New Delhi with the
theatre of action.

The apex decision-making node is the Home Ministry in
New Delhi housed in North Block on Raisina Hill. The
operational node which implements the decisions
consists of the Indian Army, and other military,
police and intelligence units controlled by the
central and state govern-ments, and involves complex
coordination. This apparatus also involves the limited
participation of the political functionaries of
insurgency-affected states. Elected state governments,
under India's weak federal structure, can always be
constitutionally dismissed in certain situations of
instability. But New Delhi has generally preferred to
have them in place while conducting counter-insurgency
operations. Since the insurgencies have some popular
sympathy albeit not stable or stubborn the perception
that the operations have the tacit support of elected
state governments is useful for their legitimacy.

Consequently, the command structure may include some
state-level politicians and senior civil servants.
This is perceived to be the weakest link in the chain
because of the fear that the presence of these locals
might potentially subvert the counter-insurgency
operations. Consider the following news reports:

1. In December 2000, the central government asked the
Manipur government to investigate links between at
least five ministers and insurgent groups. The Home
Ministry forwarded a report to the state authorities
that included evidence of such a nexus between the
ministers and insurgents. Manipur's caretaker chief
minister Radhabinod Koijam, just before the fall of
his government last month, dropped six ministers from
his cabinet. Koijam was in the middle of a political
battle for survival, and there were other reasons for
their removal. But he defended his action saying that
their names appeared in the Home Ministry's list of
tainted politicians.

2. In January 2001, the Union Home Ministry proposed
the setting up of a judicial enquiry commission to
probe into the allegations and counter-allegations of
the insurgent-politician nexus in the northeastern

3. In the May 2001 elections just concluded, former
chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta repeatedly
accused the Congress party of having a nexus with
ULFA. The Congress party dismissed the charge as
election propaganda and claimed that its victory
proved that the electorate did not believe the
accusation. In the elections of 1996, the roles were
reversed: the Congress had made similar charges
against Mahantas party, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP).

There are, of course, many reasons why
demo-cratically-elected politicians of a region, where
insurgent groups and mainstream political parties may
share the same social, political, and cultural space,
would sometimes know and have ties with each other.
Pervasive corruption also leads politicians to
cultivate ties with insurgent groups. They, like
others with a reputation for making illegal money,
consider it prudent to try to keep the insurgent
groups happy by sharing parts of their illicit income
with them. Rather than a hard boundary separating
insurgents and mainstream politicians, in these
circumstances, a nexus between some of them becomes
inevitable, despite the fact that such ties may cost
these politicians in terms of their credibility as far
as New Delhi is concerned.

A former home minister of Nagaland, Dalle Namo, who
had been part of the Naga underground, once movingly
acknowledged his debt to the pioneers of the movement
for Naga independence. He told journalist Nirmal
Nibedon that he is conscious of the fact that he lives
in this big bungalow because men like Phizo and
Imkongmeren and many others once lived in caves. All
these chandeliers and lights [are there] because for
them the stars were their only light; [I have ] these
expensive wall-to-wall carpets because they walked on
moss and grass. Nibedon recalls this conversation in a
foreword to Namos autobiography, The Prisoner from

Of course, such sentiments connecting insurgents with
mainstream politicians are far from universal. It is
unlikely, for instance, that Prafulla Kumar Mahanta of
Assam or Nagalands pre-sent Chief Minister, S.C.
Jamir, whom militants have tried to kill more than
once, would share similar ideali-sed views about
leaders of the Assamese or the Naga underground.
However, even these leaders have not always been free
of ties with militants. The Khaplang-led faction of
the National Socia-list Council of Nagalim, for
instance, is reputed to enjoy the patronage of Jamir.

This is the paradox of counter-insurgency. On the one
hand, it must draw on the legitimacy of the elected
establishment. On the other, it must protect itself
from this establishments suscepti-bilities. Namos
account and the repeated charges of a link between
politicians and insurgents underscore why India's
security establishment would want a parallel structure
of governance that is as autonomous as possible from
the democratic politics of the state in question. For
instance, in the case of the Indian government's
allegation of a nexus between the five Manipuri
politicians and insurgents, if the Home Ministry had
provided evidence of such a nexus to the authorities
in Manipur, it is unlikely, that this
report would go to the elected members of the state
govern-ment some of whom were themselves the object of
suspicion. The most likely person to have received
that report from New Delhi, one can reasonably
speculate, was the Governor of Manipur.

Bending the rules of constitutional democracy, and
building and maintaining a parallel structure however,
is not always easy. Not all elected state governments
have been willing to give up their constitutional
prerogatives. For instance, in Assam, thanks to the
consent of
former chief minister Mahanta, counter-insurgency
operations since 1997 has been conducted by a Unified
Command under which all forces including the state
police come
under the operational command of the Army. Tarun
Gogoi, in one of his first statements as Assam's chief
minister, following the Congress election victory this
May, said that he would like to see the Assam police
play more of a role in the Unified Command because of
superior knowledge of local conditions. It is unlikely
that Gogoi will seek to end the use of Uniform Command
structure in Assam. On the other hand, elected
politicians in Manipur have so far resisted pressures
from the Indian Home Ministry and the Indian Army to
have a Unified Command structure. Former chief
minister of Manipur, W. Nipamacha, for instance, had
maintained that since legally speaking, the army was
deployed in the state only to assist the civil
administration, it should remain under the command of
the state government. 
Such potential conflicts between the compulsions of
the civil dispensation and the concerns of the
security establishment make the governors of these
states crucial nodes in the counter-insurgency
network. The management of this difficult equation, in
fact, confers on the governor's office a role that far
exceeds the more ceremonial functions it is
constitutionally restricted to elsewhere and in normal
circumstances. The career profiles of
the incumbents in the Northeast provide an index of
the importance of the gubernatorial office to the
parallel political system. All the seven governors of
the northeastern states today have either occupied
high and sensitive positions in India's security
establishment or have had
close ties to it.

Arunachal Pradesh: Arvind Dave, former chief, Research
and Analysis Wing (RAW)

Assam: Lieutenant General (retired) S.K. Sinha

Manipur: Ved Prakash Marwah, retired Indian Police
Service officer

Meghalaya: M.M. Jacob, former central minister and
deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha

Mizoram: A.R. Kohli, former businessman with political

Nagaland: O.P. Sharma, retired Indian Police Service

Tripura: Lieutenant General (retired) K.M. Seth

Two are retired military men, two are retired police
officers, and one is the former head of India's
espionage agency, RAW, engaged in clandestine
operations abroad and at home. Of the two without any
ostensible ties with the security establishment, M. M.
Jacob, governor of
Meghalaya, was once Minister of State for Home Affairs
in New Delhi; and A.R. Kohli, recently appointed
governor of relatively peaceful Mizoram, who had a
career in business, has strong ties with the RSS,
suggesting proximity to Home Minister L.K. Advani. The
fact that all the appointees have had fairly intimate
connections with the security establishment
cannot be mere coincidence. As appointees of the
central government and as facilitating
agents in the counter-insur-gency regime, such
antecedents serve very practical ends, parti-cularly
in ensuring that the demands of security override the
rules of democracy in the event of a conflict between
the two. Governor as judge Instances of gubernatorial
interventions point to the role they play in
insulating counter-insurgency operations from
democratic processes and scrutiny. Governors often act
in ways that not only stretch constitutional propriety
but also sacrifice democratic procedures at that altar
of security expediencies. A case of what can be called
counter-insurgent constitutionalism took place in
Assam in 1998 when the Governor, Lt. Gen Sinha,
intervened to stop the Central Bureau of
Investigation (CBI) from prosecuting then chief
minister Mahanta on a serious corruption charge.
Mahanta's acquiescence in the Unified Command
structure was clearly important to the security
establishment. At the same time, the legal pursuit of
a credible corruption charge against an elected chief
minister could have significantly raised the
legitimacy of India's democratic governmental
institutions in the public eye. There was a choice
between two
sets of values: the perceived political requirements
of counter-insurgency versus an opportunity to raise
the public esteem of India's democratic institutions
in a region where those institutions lack legitimacy.

The corruption charge against Mahanta went back to
what is commonly referred to as the Letters of Credit
scam, involving at least INR 200 crores between 1986
and 1993. Mahanta was not chief minister at that time.
Fake letters of credit were issued by the states
animal husbandry and veterinary departments to draw
money from the treasury, and a number of
politicians of both the then ruling Congress and the
opposition AGP, were implicated. It was also suspected
that a part of the money found its way to the ULFA.

The CBI investigated a number of politicians. The case
against Mahanta was that the kingpin of the scam,
Rajendra Prasad Borah, had paid him INR 40 lakhs
during the 1991 elections, and that Mahanta's air
travels during the campaign had been financed by
Borah. According to the CBI, in that election, Borah
had distributed house-building material to purchase
in Mahanta's electoral constituency. Bank drafts
distributed by Mahanta, in his electoral district,
according to the CBI, were paid for by Borah.

For a governor a former military general to make a
legal judgment on whether a chief minister should be
prosecuted pushes the limits of constitutional
propriety. To be sure, this power of Indian governors
is not limited to the Northeast and as the Delhi-based
magazine India Today pointed out in an editorial,
there is something profoundly undemocratic
about a mechanism which requires the governors
permission to even begin legal proceeding  against a
chief minister seen as corrupt. In the Northeast,
given parallel power structure in place, the potential
for abuse of that power or, perhaps its use as a means
of securing support for the security regime from a
corrupt chief minister is enormous. 

The governor's reasons for disallowing the CBIs
prosecution of Mahanta, involved a number of legal
rationalisations. Sinha pointed to the lack of
evidence, and questioned the reliability of the
witnesses who formed the basis of the CBI's case. The
CBI, according to the governor, had not established
Mahanta's criminal culpability. The governor rejected
charge that Mahanta had entered into a criminal
conspiracy with Borah to defraud the state claiming
that no evidence of such conspiracy has been provided.

Obviously, governors enjoy extraordinary powers to
influence chief ministers in the interests of the
parallel regime. In this particular case, it is
difficult to avoid speculating on a very obvious
connection. In Assam since 1997, the Unified Command
structure has been
possible because of the consent given by Mahanta. That
was a year before the governor was called upon to make
this crucial judgment in the corruption case. Was
there a quid pro quo in the governor's decision to
protect Mahanta from legal prosecution so as to ensure
his continued support for the Unified Command
structure? Did the perceived needs of
counter-insurgency trump the value of achieving
greater transparency in government? More
importantly, what has this entire edifice and its
strategies achieved by way of ending insurgency and
restoring peace? Why is peace so elusive?

This counter-insurgency apparatus and its modus
operandi are geared fundamentally, and more or less
exclusively, to containment. So long as insurgencies
are only contained, and no sustainable peace processes
are in place, democracy in the Northeast is likely to
continue to co-exist with the use of authoritarian
modes of governance. With the significant exception of
the Mizo movement, most insurgencies in the Northeast
have been transformed, or are currently transforming,
into long-term, low-intensity conflicts. The perceived
need for
counter-insurgency operations never seems to go away.
Even in Mizoram, at least if one goes by military
presence in that state, the end of the insurgency has
not meant that the state within the state has been

There are three reasons why most northeastern
insurgencies turn into protracted conflicts of
attrition: (a) the goal of counter-insurgency is
limited to creating conditions under which particular
insurgent groups or factions surrender weapons, come
to the negotiation table on the governments terms and
make compromises in exchange for personal gain; (b)
counter-insurgency operations do not dramatically
change the conditions on the ground that breed and
sustain the insurgent political culture and lifestyle;
and (c) the political initiative that
accompany and supplement counter-insurgency operations
try to utilise former militants in the war against
insurgents, thus creating a climate of mistrust and a
cycle of violence and counter-violence between
anti-government and pro-government insurgents.

The need for a powerful security presence can hardly
disappear under these conditions. Assam's growing
violencewhich includes a large number of secret
killings by death squads exemplifies the results of a
counter-insurgency strategy which in fact transformed
an insurgency into a wider and long drawn-out
conflict. The bloody elections of May 2001
in which scores of people lost their lives is at odds
with Lt. Gen Sinha's euphoric claim of
the ballot having won against the bullet .

The Mizoram exception, of course, is important. In
1986, Laldenga, the leader of the Mizo National Front,
signed an accord with prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, and
this remains the only instance of an accord
successfully bringing about an end to insurgency in
northeast India. Laldenga became the chief minister of
Mizoram and when he lost elections two years later,
there was no call for a return to insurgency. Among
the factors that accounted for the successful end of
the Mizo insurgency were the following: the undisputed
leadership of the insurgency in the hands of a single
individual who was willing to compromise and who could
deliver his part of the deal; the feasibility of
offering Laldenga the chief ministership of Mizoram in
exchange for ending the insurgency; the existence of
large and organised
church-related civil society institutions that were
actively involved in creating and supporting the
consensus for peace; and a political climate in New
Delhi during the Rajiv Gandhi years that was
relatively open to making significant political
compromises with insurgents.

But to date, the Mizo case has been the only
exception, and insurgency refuses to die down despite
the sophistication and resources of the
counter-insurgency establishment and the leeway given
it to use the governor as political administrator. In
seeking to understand why peace continues to elude
Northeast India, it is important to study how
insurgencies are able to sustain themselves in the
face of such enormous military action. It is important
to keep in mind the fact that while the security
establishment runs parallel administrations that
circumscribe civil administrations politically,
insurgent movements run similar parallel fiscal
administrations at the ground level through illegal
tax collection and extortion.

One perspective on the longevity of armed civil
conflicts focuses attention not so much on the
grievances that are articulated by insurgent groups
but to the ability of these groups to finance their
activities. For example, economist Paul Collier in an
article, in a recent volume, Managing Global Chaos,
looking at the global patterns of armed civil
conflicts, concluded
that the most significant factor of civil conflicts is
the ability of rebel organisations to be financially
viable. He also found a strong correlation with a
specific set of economic conditions such as a  regions
dependence on exports of primary commodity and low
national income. 

It is not that poverty breeds armed civil conflicts,
Collier surmises, but that certain economic conditions
are conducive to the mobilisation of revenue by armed
insurgent groups. Primary commodities are highly
lootable, primary production centres located in
conflict-zones are easily accessible, and production
cannot be moved elsewhere. Unlike a manufacturing
which is not worth much once production ceases, owners
and managers of such centres continue to be dependent
on existing production sites, making them vulnerable
to extortion. Low national income, Collier argues, is
co-related with armed civil conflicts not because the
objective condition of poverty sustains rebellion, but
because in a context of poverty and unemployment, an
insurgent group that is able to raise enough money can
recruit new
members . 
Courtesy - HIMAL

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