The Army owes it to itself, and the nation, to forcefully press for a comprehensive, high-level, multi-speciality probe ~ preferably an inquiry commission headed by a sitting Supreme Court judge ~ into the vexing issue of alleged extra-judicial killings by the “uniforms” in Manipur.
For as long as murky clouds hang over Army and Assam Rifles personnel, not only will the people of the North-east fail to be fully integrated with the mainstream, but sections of thinking people across the country will suspect the professional integrity of an organisation of which they were once extremely proud.
The cloud will also darken the efforts of soldiers battling Pakistan-sponsored militancy in Jammu and Kashmir ~ can the Army afford to live with a situation in which the Supreme Court finds cause to query its functioning? This is a question that neither the Army Chief nor the defence minister can afford to evade: particularly when the government is repeatedly stressing the criticality of the North-east to national development.
That criticality does not gel with as many as 1,528 cases of extra-judicial killings requiring investigation. Remember why Irom Sharmila undertook her marathon fast? Only a couple of days back their Lordships Madan B Lokur and UU Lalit noted with regret that a court-appointed SIT of the CBI was “playing snakes and ladders” with the investigation into a handful of specific cases.
That only appeared to confirm apprehensions of a concerted bid at a cover-up.
Further confirmation comes with the recent arrest/release of an officer of the rank of lieutenant colonel who had “blown the whistle” on three specific extra-judicial killings by a counter-intelligence unit of the Army.
Since his affidavit has just been submitted to the Manipur High Court comment on its contents is best avoided at present, but what cannot be ignored is that the issue has re-opened the can of worms that had dragged two, if not three, former Army Chiefs into a cesspool.
When perceived along with the matter before the apex court, the functioning of the troops in Manipur must send out strong shockwaves ~ the physical distance from the Capital may have averted a political storm, yet the people of the region cannot be treated as children of a lesser God because they are ethnically different.
That would fuel the allegations of excessive force being used in the Kashmir Valley because of religious differences. No amount of screaming “anti-national” or “sedition” will dispel such cancerous feelings.
While it is true that victims of Manipur’s extra-judicial killings cannot be resurrected, not even by punishing their perpetrators, justice will perhaps help avert repetition. The situation poses both challenge and opportunity for Nirmala Sitharaman: she has frequently exhibited muscle, does she have the moral fibre to press for a probe and elevate herself to the stature of YB Chavan, Jagjivan Ram, or even maverick George Fernandes?