Chaoba Thounaojam, the state unit president of the BJP, Manipur, has brushed aside the statement of the AICC vice president Rahul Gandhi that the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 was lifted from seven Assembly segments in the Imphal municipal areas as a “lie”. Mr. Gandhi made the statement during his 12 minute speech in a public meeting at Wangjing Kodompokpi in Manipur on March 19.

Mr. Thounaojam was speaking to reporters on Saturday at the function during which the Manipur People’s Party leaders had announced full suppport to the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.

He demanded a public apology from the Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh since the vice-president of the AICC had misled the people with his “lie”. Mr. Thounaojam said he does not know whether the white lie was made knowingly or unknowingly since Mr. Gandhi was merely parroting the written statement made available to him by the state unit Congress. If the lie was deliberate a public apology is called for. He contends that the Disturbed Areas Act under which AFSPA was promulgated is very much in all parts of Manipur.

Mr. Gandhi had said that the state government had lifted AFSPA from these segments as the law and order situation had improved. But this is not what the Chief Minister has been saying. The AFSPA was lifted from these segments from August 12, 2004 “on experimental basis”. He had done so in the hope that there would be a favourable response from insurgents who are operating in the state in general and these municipal areas in particular. But then the response, if any, from insurgents was very disappointing in the sense that within two days unknown insurgents lobbed hand grenades in the pandal of ISKCON near Imphal where the Ras Lila dance was being played. Six persons including a small boy were killed on the spot and many others wounded.

AFSPA was reportedly lifted from these segments after the gang rape and murder of a young girl on July 11, 2004 allegedly by security personnel. On July 14, 2004 some women vigilantes staged a nude protest in front of the Assam Rifles camp in Imphal. They shouted at the crestfallen personnel to rape and kill them also. During the protracted agitations one girl, Memita Konjengbam was fatally hit by a bullet on August 11, 2004. One activist, Chittaranjan Pebam committed self immolation on August 15, 2004 demanding repeal of AFSPA. In the meantime, Irom Sharmila who has been on a fast unto death on demand since November 4, 2000 drew world attention. Basically to evade blistering criticism from human rights activists and some foreign countries AFSPA was reportedly lifted from these segments.

On several occasions, the Chief Minister said that there were pressures from all sides to reimpose AFSPA in these segments since the security forces were hamstrung. He even disclosed that the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh told him that his government would be in an embarrassing position if other NE states and Jammu and Kashmir start demanding such partial lifting of the AFSPA from the respective states.

A seasoned politician, Mr. Thounaojam, is going to make political capital out of the statement of Mr. Gandhi. Because there is no indication that both sides, insurgents and security forces, are observing the rules. After all, police commandos gunned down a young housewife who was walking with her two-year-old son and then allegedly killed another former insurgent in Imphal town where there is no AFSPA. Insurgents had also attacked some personnel near the town in the past.