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Arunachal Pradesh is Indian Army’s tallest ally, don’t take its people for granted

The personnel of the 2nd Arunachal Scouts, the infantry regiment of the Indian Army stationed in Bomdila, West Kameng, allegedly rampaged through the police station and the PWD office, intimidating citizens and Arunachal Pradesh police personnel on 3 November.

According to the police version, two Arunachal Scouts personnel were picked up by them for alleged drunken behaviour on 2 November from the Buddha Festival Ground, which led to the incident of the next day.

Although the Arunachal Pradesh police are not admitting it, it is possible that the two personnel may have been beaten up while in custody. Instead of seeking redressal through laid down procedures, the Arunachal Scouts delivered mob justice the next day.

The videos that are being widely shared on social media are a testimony to the violent behaviour of the Arunachal Scouts. Their anger was also directed at the deputy commissioner, Sonal Swaroop, who was injured in the attack.

What does it say about the leadership of the Arunachal Scouts?

Such disgraceful conduct of the Indian Army is unheard of in the state, which has shared a cordial relationship with the Army. From giving way to passing Army convoys to donating land, mostly for free, post the India-China 1962 war, the relationship that people of Arunachal and the Indian Army share is remarkable. Unlike in other northeast states, where the Indian Army has been accused of using force, including killings, rapes and torture, which resulted in open hostilities, the Indian Army is widely respected in Arunachal Pradesh. Even festivals are organised to celebrate the friendship between the Army and the civilians in Arunachal.

However, not all places share the same emotion for the Indian Army, but those are rare exceptions. There have been reports about Army’s high-handedness and alleged atrocities in Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts in eastern Arunachal Pradesh, bordering Nagaland and Myanmar. The three districts remain under the dreaded Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives special powers to the Indian Army, emboldening them to crush all basic human rights.

Even as the Indian government claimed to have reached a framework agreement with the NSCN (IM) in 2015, although no one seems to know the details of the agreement, the districts continue to witness a bloody turf war between the Indian security forces and various sections of the NSCN.

Amid demands for the repeal of AFSPA by human rights activists, the Act is also enforced in eight police stations of Arunachal Pradesh (bordering Assam), with formidable presence of the security forces.

The entire state, one of the most militarised zones in India, has significant Army presence as Arunachal shares borders with Myanmar, Bhutan and China.

In most parts of the state, the Army, even as it patrols the border in hostile terrain and snow, has been able to maintain cordial relations with citizens.

With headquarters in prime locations across the state and in border towns of Tuting, Tenga, Tawang, Tezu, Hawai, Rayang, Mechuka and Aalo, the Indian Army is often seen as an ally and a major buyer of local produce as well as provider of menial jobs to the villagers. In many border villages, several homes depend on the Indian Army for their livelihood as the villagers are employed as porters for inaccessible mountainous terrain.

Therefore, the recent show of open hostility and alleged violence against the civilian administration and the police in Bomdila by the Arunachal Scouts has left many puzzled.

Whatever may have been the reason and provocation, attacking a police station and leaving government employees injured are not acceptable behaviour, even by the Indian Army standards. The Army isn’t really famous for its good conduct in the northeast.

Those heading the Arunachal Scouts need to introspect on their leadership qualities and the immediate repercussions of their alleged act. Several community organisations have already written to the Prime Minister’s Office seeking removal of the Arunachal Scouts from Bomdila. Perhaps, this is the first time in the history of Arunachal Pradesh that an Army unit has been asked to leave by the people of the state.

If the Indian Army is serious about maintaining cordial relations with the people, it is paramount that action is initiated against the officers and personnel of the Arunachal Scouts.

After a long studied silence, there’s finally some word from the government on the issue. Minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju, who hails from Arunachal Pradesh said Wednesday, “The Defence Minister and I looked into the ongoing conflict between the Army and state police personnel. I appeal everyone not to treat it as Army versus police and civil administration issue”.

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman visited Bomdila on Diwali and is believed to have met civil society representatives as part of confidence-building measures following the alleged attack by the Army.

Arunachal Pradesh has been the tallest ally of the Indian Army and, therefore, the goodwill of the people should not be taken for granted. Perhaps, to some extent, the goodwill among the people makes up for the hostile terrain and the difficult situations that the Army encounters along the border.

The Indian Army should always keep in mind that the border is secured not only by them but also due to the combined efforts of everyone, including the citizens and their goodwill.

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