By Major General S.G. Vombatkere
The violence in Manipur which started on May 3, 2023, in Churachandpur and still continues, has complicated causes and sources, but one evident effect is that it is causing untold misery and suffering to the people of Manipur, and harm to the state of Manipur and the Union of India.
The role played by the government of Manipur and the government of India to establish public peace remains regrettably inadequate because violence continues even seven weeks later.
On May 31, 2023, chief of defence staff general Anil Chauhan opined that the violence in Manipur is primarily a clash between two ethnicities and is not connected with the insurgency. The violent conflict, or ‘civil war’, has economic, ethnic and communal facets. It is clearly a political issue, which must be solved by political means.
The Manipur government needs to proactively employ methods to restore peace by using the accepted political tools of negotiation, dialogue and discussion between governments, elected representatives and the parties in conflict, to create an atmosphere of public trust.
Reactively handling the situation as a law and order issue, and using the forceful methods of state police, Central Armed Police Forces and the army, is proving counter-productive, inasmuch as restoring public peace is concerned.
An atmosphere of trust can be created by disseminating news impartially, to keep the public informed and, more importantly, call for peace between the parties in conflict, so that loss of life and property is stopped, and positive governance is restored.
As public violence continues, people are worried about the safety and welfare of relatives and friends and would want to communicate with them and know what is happening in different parts of the state. The legitimate public need for valid news and information should rightly be supplied by the Manipur government in public and on social media.
In default, people’s anxieties are amplified by fears and frustrations and are expressed as public anger. People perceive the government as incompetent to restore peace or provide them access to genuine news and information. In this atmosphere, the Manipur government has completely shut down the internet and the public trust in the government has nose-dived.
Instead of politically proactive efforts, the Manipur government has up-scaled the use of state force. Violence continues, even increases, indicating political ineptitude, and further reduces public trust in the government.
Over the decades, social unrest and civil violence, especially in our northeastern states and in Jammu and Kashmir, have been due to political and administrative incompetence, and governance failures of successive state and Union governments. The reactive use of state force is almost a given and, along with it, states restrict the fundamental rights of people, in the name of restoring the status quo (state of affairs) of (mis)governance.
The Manipur government has followed the standard ‘playbook’ of successive earlier governments and issued a public order which seeks to curtail attempts by any person who, in the opinion of elected or administrative officials of the Manipur government, is generating or spreading fake news, lies or misinformation which can worsen the law and order situation.
The State Government shall not hesitate to act as per law, against those persons found to be generating or sharing or publishing any wrong information which can worsen the current law and order situation in Manipur. Every person, acting individually or on behalf of any group of persons, based within the state of Manipur or outside, shall verify any information before sharing or publishing on any social media platform or through any medium, by means of any tool whatsoever, physical, virtual, audio-visual or electronic.”
Thus, without proactively disseminating genuine news and information as it is duty-bound to do, the Manipur government seeks to decide what is “fake news, lies or misinformation”, which “can worsen the current law and order situation in Manipur”, and issues a threat by using the phrase “generation or spreading of wrong information will therefore amount to sedition”.
The Manipur government is undoubtedly well aware that on May 11, 2022, the Supreme Court’s Order in S.G. Vombatkere versus Union of India was issued “in the interest of justice”, and stated: “We hope and expect that the state and Central governments will restrain from registering any first information report (FIR), continuing any investigation or taking any coercive measures by invoking Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) while the aforesaid provision of law is under consideration.”
The Manipur government’s Order of May 29, 2023, inelegantly tiptoes around the Supreme Court’s directions.
Although the Supreme Court hopes and expects that the state and Union governments will refrain from invoking Section 124A of the IPC, it implicitly permits the state and Union governments to register cases under the impugned Section.
Even if the Manipur government’s Order only coercively threatens sedition, the Supreme Court’s hope and expectation in the interest of justice have been proven futile. A testament to this is that police have registered an FIR on June 12, 2023, under Sections 124A (sedition) and 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence) of the IPC, against Imphal-based politician Jagat Thoudam.
By including Section 124A in the FIR against Jagat Thoudam, the police have violated the directions made by the Supreme Court in their Order, which can perhaps be enlarged to constitute contempt. In the interest of justice, the GoM should have withdrawn Section 124A from the FIR as being wrongly included and proceeded against Jagat Thoudam under Section 153A only.
The attitude of the Manipur government towards the Supreme Court’s Orders is deeply regrettable. Further, in accordance with the hope and expectation of its compliance with the interests of justice, the government of India has failed in its responsibility of directing, or at least advising the Manipur government to remove Section 124A from the FIR against Jagat Thoudam.
The Supreme Court Order goes further to say, “If any fresh case is registered under Section 124A of IPC, the affected parties are at liberty to approach the concerned courts for appropriate relief. The courts are requested to examine the reliefs sought, taking into account the present order passed as well as the clear stand taken by the Union of India.”
Thus, Jagat Thoudam is “at liberty” to approach the High Court of Manipur for relief from the charge under Section 124A, or to seek bail. That this does nothing to reduce the ‘punishment-by-process’ implicit in charges under Section 124A, may have escaped the attention of the Supreme Court, whose order in the interest of justice has been thrown to the wind by the Manipur government.
In the fine balance between the “security interests and integrity of the State on the one hand and the civil liberties [sadly not fundamental rights] of citizens on the other,” it is apparent that the Supreme Court’s hopes and expectations that state and Union governments acting in the interest of justice did not leave its brick-and-mortar premises.
Unless the judiciary is formally apprised of the Manipur government’s coercive threat and (mis)use of Section 124A, people’s hopes and expectations of justice from an uncaring, cruel executive may not enter its hallowed precincts. (IPA Service)
Courtesy: The Leaflet