AT every meeting on internal security called by the Union home minister in the national capital, the National Counter-Terrorism Cell is discussed animatedly but aborted due to vociferous opposition by chief ministers, including those of the Congress-ruled states. That the same theme should reverberate year after year without any progress shows the intransigence of both parties and also the lack of creativity of the Union home ministry to come up with a better model.
Delhi could have achieved much more through a participatory approach where states could have been asked to suggest ways and means of strengthening and working around the present template that forms the NCTC&’s core.
In the meanwhile, the country continues to bleed at a hundred different places. The recent incidents in Chhattisgarh where Congress leaders were mowed down by Maoists whose objective was probably to make the Centre sit up and take notice are a cause for concern. It is evident that New Delhi does not have a very coherent action plan to deal with Naxalism other than by reacting and launching a massive search operation to find the culprits. In the bargain many tribals have left their hearths and homes, fearing state fury which they are quite used to by now. There will be atrocities on unsuspecting villagers and they will be accused of sheltering the Maoists, which, in other words, means being guilty by association.
One read reports about the recent meeting of the chief ministers with the Union home minister and one wondered why P Chidambaram, who is no longer looking after home affairs, is prominently featured in this meeting. Is he still the de facto home minister doing backseat driving?
Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma was reported to have launched a tirade against the several militant groups of the North-east. His senior colleague, the chief minister of Assam, has been harping on the growing Maoist activities in his state and has even asked for drone missiles to track them down. But the Tripura government has done something quite remarkable. Two days ago, it was reported that since insurgency was on the wane, the Disturbed Areas Act had been withdrawn from nine police stations. According to the cabinet decision, if the situation improves then the Act will be further reduced. Tripura has been the most sensible state by far and good governance has shown to be of the essence in curtailing militancy.
In the case of Meghalaya and Assam, however, both chief ministers have made a pitch for more forces, more ammunition and, I suppose, more money as well to strength the police force as if money is the vitamin for boosting the flagging morale of guardians of law and order in Meghalaya or Assam. For the uninformed, the Garo Hills is today in a state of absolute anarchy. Gun-toting militants have sprouted like mushrooms and, with imaginative acronyms, are openly roaming around in the market places and there is no one to stop them. What is Mukul Sangma talking about? He should be looking at the governance deficit in his state and his ministry, instead of lashing out at militants. Rogues will claim their space if they are allowed to. And the reason we have a police force is to control such law breakers. But in the Garo Hills things have just spiralled out of control. A rapist cop was allowed to escape and is now absconding. Another rapist cop has been reinstated even before the final order is passed by the court of law in a case where he was accused of raping a schoolgirl in a city hotel.
Two days ago, the Garo National Liberation Army, which was started by a former police officer, was so emboldened as to torch a public bus bound for Shillong from the Garo Hills. The militants gave the passengers just four minutes to collect their belongings and get out of the bus. Many students panicked and left without their bags. Their certificates and marksheets went up in flames along with the bus. The militants did this in the morning and not a cop was in sight. It would be fair to say that law and order has virtually collapsed in the Garo Hills and the chief minister and his team seem to be floundering. What&’s the point of spending quality time in Delhi when the state is virtually in anarchy?
The cops in the Garo Hills, however, never fail in their duty of extorting money from drivers of coal-laden trucks. The militants do the same. This is the reason why militants don’t give a damn about the police. They know the police are as greedy as they are, except that the police wear khaki and they their fatigues. It sounds weird but superintendent of police-level officers send their drivers to collect money from the hundreds of coal-carrying trucks and because there is no system of giving receipts since the collection is illegal, the drivers make a kill, too. Some have become as rich as their masters.
And we are talking law and order here? I am sure the cops benefit more from chaos than from orderliness. Chaos enables them to incur expenditures they need not account for. They can claim that money has been spent in intelligence gathering or some such bunkum. Now how much intelligence do cops need in their area of command? And if militants are coming out in the open and harassing ordinary citizens in broad daylight, unhindered, what do the cops have to say? The system of accountability has just broken down and this is part of governance deficit.
The Meghalaya chief minister has been able to impress the Planning Commission and to get a bulky financial package for a number of schemes that look very attractive on paper. This time he succeeded in getting over Rs 4,000 crore. He is working on getting an additional package for schemes he has personally been the architect of. But the question is, will these schemes actually reach the people with the kind of obtuse bureaucracy we have in Meghalaya? Many of the “babus” do not even know the field. They assume a lot of things and the schemes that are constructed in the secretariat are often not implementable on the ground. But in the absence of any monitoring mechanism, money has just gone into the private coffers of politicians and bureaucrats, with militants getting a big chunk of it.
In the Garo Hills, militants have not spared even the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which is the UPA government&’s flagship programme for the poor. Village Employment Council heads have been kidnapped by militants and ransoms of Rs 10,000 apiece have been demanded for their release. Nothing can be worse than this. Yet the chief minister continues to spend more time in Delhi than in his own anarchic backyard. His noisy outbursts in Delhi are no longer humorous because ordinary citizens are today held under siege. They don’t know where to turn to. Even young women are now enlisted into the different outfits, some forcibly, others for a livelihood. I am not sure that Delhi knows all these shenanigans which are carrying on under the very nose of the law. The one thing that will bother Delhi is when full blown terrorism takes over in Meghalaya and people begin to die like flies. By then it will be too late!
The writer is editor, The Shillong Times, and can be reached at