Rajat Sharma

Nagaland killings: Mistaken identity is no excuse

AKBThere was widespread outrage over the unfortunate incident in Mon district of Nagaland when commandos of Army’s Para Special Forces opened fire on a pickup truck carrying coal miners killing six civilians on Saturday. Soon after the incident, a mob surrounded the soldiers leading to more firing in which seven villagers were killed. Nagaland Police has registered an FIR against the 21 Para Special Forces unit, while the Army has set up a Court of Inquiry headed by a Major General.

The Court of Inquiry will examine the “credible intelligence” received that resulted in the ambush of mine workers, who were suspected to be NSCN(K) rebels. The chief ministers of Nagaland and Meghalaya have demanded repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). In Parliament, Home Minister Amit Shah, in his statement, said it was a case of mistaken identity. “The government sincerely regrets this unfortunate incident and offers its deepest condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives”, Shah said.

The commando unit involved in Saturday’s botched-up operation claims that a rifle-like thing was seen being carried by one of the eight mine workers in their open pick-up truck, but was later found to be an airgun. The commandos, Shah said, opened fire only after the vehicle did not stop despite being flagged down by their scouts. After the commandos realized their mistake, they called for medical help for two of the eight workers who were still alive, but, by then, a mob of local villagers reached the spot, carrying machetes and attacked them, killing a paratrooper. Both the Centre and Nagaland governments have announced ex gratia help to the kin of those killed.

While demanding the repeal of AFSPA, Nagaland CM Neiphiu Rio, and Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma, whose parties are part of BJP-led NDA, alleged that it was a draconian measure that allows the Army to arrest anybody without warrant and kill without any accountability. Rio said, “the AFSPA has blackened the image of India and this draconian act must be removed”. AFSPA, he said, has been in force in Nagaland for the last 59 years, and in the last 25 years, despite a ceasefire with insurgent groups, the act is still in place.

Neiphiu Rio said, “The Centre argues that insurgency and the Naga movement are still alive, and till the conflict is resolved, they cannot remove this Act. I am asking them, when all insurgent groups are in ceasefire and there is peace, why do you tag our state as a disturbed area?..We have seen that putting AFSPA has not really given any result and in the last many years that the Act has been there, it has only been counter-productive.”

Opposition parties are now trying to politicize the issue. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “This is heart wrenching. GOI must give a real reply. What exactly is the home ministry doing, when neither civilians nor security personnel are safe in our own land?” On Facebook, he claimed that local Congress leaders were the first to attend the funeral of victims. Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress leaders also visited the area.

The popular outrage is understandable because innocent people died in firing by Army commandos. The army has admitted that there was a mistake, but it was not deliberate. It is now being investigated why the commandos fired and on whose order. Why the local police was not informed before the ambush was carried out. Why did the army commit such a major mistake? I spoke to experts on North-east, and what they revealed was surprising. One of them said, the army became a victim of conspiracy. There are many tribes in the northeast who are patriotic and they side with the army. This conspiracy was aimed at creating a wedge between the army and these tribes.

Retd Col D P K Pillai, a Shaurya Chakra awardee, said, the victims belonged to Konyak tribe which is against the separatists. Pillai said, the informer deceived the army by passing on incorrect information about the mine workers. The separatist rebel group NSCN(K) wanted to drive a wedge between the Konyak tribe and the army, and used the informer to pass on incorrect information about rebel movement.

On the question of why the pick-up truck did not stop, one of the experts said, there is rampant illegal coal mining in Nagaland, and the mine workers thought that it was the local police trying to stop them. They had mining implements inside the truck, and that is why, the truck did not stop. Supreme Court has already ordered ban on all illegal mining in the northeast.

Retd Col Pillai pointed out that during last month’s ambush by NSCN(K) rebels, five persons were martyred including army Col. Viplav Tripathi, his wife and son, and among the martyrs was an Assam Rifles jawan, who belonged to Konyak tribe. At the funeral of this Konyak jawan, his brave father did not shed a tear, and vowed to send his second son in the service of the Indian nation. Such is the level of patriotism among the Naga Konyak tribe.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Monday night, we showed the video of this brave father exhorting people to come forward and serve the nation. Retd Col Pillai says, there could be the possibility of the rebel group bribing the informer to pass on incorrect information to the army, so that the Konyak tribe could move away from the mainstream. At this moment, there is much outrage among the Konyak tribe because of the killing of innocent youths.

Now that the Centre and Army have admitted that it was a case of mistaken identity, and that the airgun that was found among the mine workers is a normal weapon kept for hunting purpose inside forest, experts say that the feelings of Konyak tribe must be assuaged at the earliest. Merely admitting that it was a case of mistaken identity is not an excuse for the killing of innocent youths.

We salute the bravery and valour of our jawans, but no amount of patriotism can justify the killing in cold blood of innocent people. Recently, an army officer was court martialled for carrying out a fake encounter in Kashmir. Similarly, in this case, the person who made the mistake, must be identified and action must be taken against him. He should be charged for carrying out mass murder. The saddest part is that this issue is still being politicized.

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