Between Tolerance and Intolerance: The Army and Its Nation

Dr. Malem Ningthouja

On December 3, 2015, the Attorney General of India (AGI) Shri Mukul Rohatgi told the Supreme Court, “The army is only discharging its sovereign function of defending the country from external aggression and terrorist attacks [by anti-national forces], it cannot be blamed if some people are killed. The killings are part of the sovereign function discharged by the Union of India through the army” and he rejected the Supreme Court created Justice Santosh Hegde Committee’s report (2013) on alleged fake encounter killings. This came about as a surrogate to the agenda of militarisation, to hold onto the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), and to defend the personnel who have been charged with fake encounters and violation of human rights.

Opinions are divided about if it was timely and politically correct for the AGI to come up with such a statement. But the regime that the AGI represents, seems to be quite happy with the statement, as it probably wants to a make some bold statements as a prelude to more ‘chest thumping’ surgical operations vis-a-vis the ‘anti-nationals’. At the same time, such bold statements in the court room that embody the utilitarian aspects of advocating ‘killing’ to serve the ‘nation’, can generate the euphoria of an ‘imagined nation’ and help in increasing the number of ‘national’ zealots. At the same time, as one reads beyond that the exact testimony of the justification in the court room; the statement unveils the following: (a) Shift from denial to justification; (b) Ongoing trend of militarisation; (c) Utilitarian aspects of propaganda and; (d) Modus operandi on the ground.

(a) Shift from denial to justification

The AGI’s statement was the latest attempt to defend the personnel who were involved in cold-blooded murder of innocent civilians during peacetime. As it happened, fake encounters have been covered up by interplaying processes of denial of involvement in crime, tampering of evidences by all means, impunity enjoyed under AFSPA and, complex legal proceedings. However, fortunately, in 2012 the Supreme Court responded to a writ petition filed against alleged 1528 fake encounters, and in the following year the Justice Santosh Hegde Committee was commissioned to investigate into six cases. When the report of committee, on the basis of testimonies and hectic hearings, have confirmed fake encounters in all the six cases, the denial of murder or criminality became defeated. It is against this backdrop that the AGI, had shifted towards devising a politically emotive statement to stimulate public ‘jingoism’ and to mount pressure on the judiciary, so that those killings become legally justified because of political factors. The objective is clear, the Hegde report should be thrown away, so that penalty against the culprits become redundant.

(b) Ongoing trend of militarisation

The AGI’s statement was not a new thing if seen from the trend of militarisation in post 1947 Indian context. The edifice of India has been built on the military destructions of pre-existing independent kingdoms and suppression of recalcitrant communities and tribes. Till date, insurgency in Kashmir and the Northeast have been held responsible for militarisation and AFSPA. The AGI’s statement came about as a reverberation of what the then Union Minister of Home Affairs Shivraj V. Patil had told the Lok Sabha, on 17 August 2004 that, it was “our bounden duty to see that the morale of the armed forces also is not allowed to be attacked.” Similar position was expressed in 2008, to the Human Rights Watch, by the former DGP of Manipur Y. Joykumar, who said ‘insurgency’ was an incurable disease that had left with no other choice than eliminating the insurgents. In fact, the AGI was reinforcing to what the DG Assam Rifles told in 2010, “we (soldiers) function under orders and hence our interests need to be protected.” The logic is; insurgency demanded militarisation, and wherever troops are deployed there had to be some degree of indiscriminate killings and violation of rights. This falls on line with ‘global’ military ventures to eliminate ‘terrorism’ in the Middle East.

(c) Utilitarian aspects of propaganda
The Indian context has unveiled that there have been lack of political and economic initiatives to create structural equality so that insurgency becomes redundant. However, while these initiatives have been lacking, the regimes in power have been indulging in the errors of mediation through militarisation to forcibly transplant ‘official nationalism’. It had different repercussions. Many suspected that proxy insurgencies have been devised to keep contentious insurgent groups indulge in sectarian conflicts. At the same time the policy makers and responsible officers do not want insurgency to come to an end, as whereas more fund could be pumped in in the name of counter-insurgency, a large part of which will go into the hands of the corrupt officials responsible for counter-insurgency. Whatever many be the reasons, the impact of militarisation has been unpleasant at the receiving ends. As the EPW had rightly pointed out in 1988 (Vol. 23, No. 34), the military personnel—theoretically meant to assist civil administration, but practically trained to suspect people, fight war or kill and suppress— followed “different norms” of decency and indulge in violation of rights. All these excesses have been covered up by articulating deceptive jargons such as national security, counter-terrorism, law and order problem, et cetera. To cover up all these negative repercussions, the regimes in power set up a vast complex of political disinformation to dehumanise insurgency by reducing them to a few insistently repeated negative phrases, images and concepts. When such misinformation becomes the status of objective truth in millions of uncritical consumers, it places the victims of militarisation outside the perimeter of human rights and democratic safeguarding. The AGI’s statement that justified killing in the name of counter terrorism and nationalism, is a mere repetition of the military propaganda.

(d) Modus operandi on the ground

Interestingly, the Supreme Court, in November 2012, expressed shock and asked ‘how can a State Government file an affidavit stating that they are killing ‘us’ and so we are killing ‘them’... Are we in a state of war?’ The fake encounters reported by Hegde Committee, as those were carried out in a cold-blooded manner during peace time had nothing to do with collateral mistakes as wrongly interpreted by the AGI. The AGI can challenge Kishalay’s recent book Blood on My Hands: Confessions of Staged Encounters, but how will he console the thousands of victims of ‘state terrorism’? How will he change into goodness the ‘System’ that allows its troops to indulge in killing and torture to fulfil vested personal interests, such as: (1) to score more ‘points’ for promotion and pride, (2) to extract money on flimsy grounds, (3) to settle personal grudges, (4) to fulfil malicious intentions such as sexual violence, jealousy, hatred, etcetera, and (5) to enjoy as fun, gaming and domination. The culture of impunity promotes the growth of a category of criminals and ‘collusion forces’, who indulge in different levels of crimes without fear because of their connection with the armed personnel.


The AGI’s statement reflects the degree of militarization in some parts of India where citizens and their constitutional fundamental rights such as the rights to life are being ‘officially’ treated as secondary to the ‘nation’. The priority in those areas that the Centre would declare ‘disturbed’ is to uphold an objectively construed ‘national interest’ even at the cost of innocent lives. As the statements mentioned above have reflected, there has been the Centre’s ‘tolerance’ to the unrestrained spread of the culture of impunity by the army and other law enforcing forces (in the name of the ‘nation’). The ‘tolerance’, in this context, has been built on the basis of national euphoria centred on ‘mainstream’ jingoism, which has been continuously invoked, promoted andjustified by the polemics of an infallible ‘mother nation’ and ‘intolerance’ towards insurgency. Most people hardly care to know the manner that the ‘national rhetoric’ have been manufactured and blunders have been created in the name of the ‘nation’. In the ‘disturbed areas’ the level of impunity enjoyed by the personnel in uniform is deeply rooted to the extent that many youth want to join the army and police, not for the cause of defending India, but for money and to fulfil malicious goals. If this remains unchecked, gradually the ‘national defence’ will eat up the ‘nation’. This begs for the questions: what nation, whose nation, who rules it and where is it heading?

Fellow, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla

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