Monday, December 5, 2011

Chapter-2: Rivers of Blood

What transpires in Lord’s court is never known to mortals. But Arambam Kamei, the chief of UNLF had met his maker in a style he had never anticipated. With a romantic full-form like United National Liberation Front, there was nothing romantic about what UNLF did. Established in 1964 to demand and fight for a separate state of Manipur, they had killed number of civilians and security personnel over half a century. Over a period of time, security forces prevailed and gradually UNLF started facing problems in recruiting and arming cadres. In due course, UNLF left the battlefield and returned to dialogue with the government. But then there were those who had vested interests and those were being threatened by peace in Manipur. Such powers encouraged likes of Kamei to stick to violent means and cause maximum damage to India. For this he was provided a safe sanctuary in Bangladesh, while his followers fought it out with security forces in hills and valleys of Manipur. Flush with funds, weapons and training from their tall and fair ‘instructors’, his followers felt confident about achieving their goal of separate Manipur. Little did they know that they were mere pawns in a major game that their chief and his friends were playing. A new round of violence had erupted in entire North-East India. Security personnel operating in North-East India were no strangers to insurgent attacks, but latest wave of violence shocked them. These new crop of insurgents were far cry from those they had faced in NE earlier. They operated in smaller teams and were focused on targets that would get them prime time slot in all news channels. Their aim was to paint India as an oppressive state and highlight UNLF as savior of the people of NE.

Unlike past operations where they were localized to Manipur, UNLF had started contacting other insurgent groups across NE and sending members to train and co-ordinate with them. Such actions not only increased scope of UNLF operations across NE, but also consolidated their position amongst insurgent groups.Collaboration between various insurgent groups under aegis of UNLF had created a monster that now threatened to severe not only Manipur, but entire North-East from Indian Union. Indian government’s first response was to deploy additional troops of various non-military units like CRPF, BSF and ITBP. Their deployment was purely defensive. Their orders were not to conduct operations except for patrolling and aid to Army and local civil authorities. Even normal cordon and search operations were not allowed. While Indian government insisted on dialogue to bring peace to the region, local Army commanders and intelligence officials knew that dialogue was only the second step. First step was to hit at the heart of this monster which lied elsewhere, only then could insurgent groups be persuaded to join negotiations and arrive at a solution. In fact for a change, armed forces and intelligence agencies were working closely and had identified key players of this play. Crack units of SFF and Army Special Forces were just waiting for the green light. Their warnings and suggestions ricocheted off the ears of a government plagued with inaction. Brains behind increased tempo of insurgency had done their research well. In spite of ghastly terror attacks, Indian government had deterred from taking any concrete steps. Instead of action, mere statements were released and citizenry was just fooled and made to forget about it till the time of next terrorist strike. This was the routine script after each terror strike. Over a period of time, India was tagged as a soft state and considered to be a safe haven for terrorists and insurgents. All these failures had been kept in mind by planners inside and outside India before fanning the fires of insurgency in North-East.

BSF women troopers positioned at Indo-Pak border
BSF women troopers positioned at Indo-Pak border (via Bharat-Rakshak)

UNLF was guiding insurgents across North-East to adopt newer techniques and incite local population against security forces. Most used method was mingling with local crowd and opening fire on security forces. When security forces fired back, insurgents hiding in buildings and trees would fire carefully aimed shots at security personnel as well as innocent civilians. Couple of days after such incidents, some villagers would ‘witness’ truckload of ‘men in Indian uniform’ driving up to their village to rape and kill those responsible for attacks. Indian Army and other security forces were being hammered on both sides. They were losing men to attacks and their reputation was being tarnished due to such theatrics. Leftist media had a field day showing interviews of so-called witnesses and branding security forces as barbarians invading paradise of North-East. Government was feeling immense pressure from pseudo-liberals and international community to sort out problems in North-East and reign in a ‘bunch of psychopaths in uniform’. As history shows, such pressure always translated into curtailing powers of security forces which in turn led to increase in number of such attacks. Commanders of security were not only worried about maintaining order in the region, but also the effects of multi-pronged attacks troop morale. Then there was this incident in Gangtok that sent shock waves across the world. Termed as “St. Joseph’s School massacre”, it was the deadliest and most dastardly attack by insurgents.

2nd December 2013 - 17:00 local time

Assistant Commandant Himanshu Negi of BSF was writing a letter to his wife in Palampur. He was missing her as he sat in a tent on outskirts of Gangtok. He had been married for a week when orders came from HQ to move to Sikkim due to increased insurgent activity. He and his platoon were tasked to patrol on the outskirts and report anything suspicious. He had decided to rest his platoon before going out on a night patrol. He wrote to his wife every single day and she wrote back with same frequency. Today he was writing to her about his day and that his second in command Ratan Lal’s wife had given birth to baby boy. He mentioned that he planned to start his effort towards bringing a new life to earth once he got leave. He was thinking about other things that happened on that day when a bullet from silenced Sterling L2A1 went through his head. His bleeding head fell on the ground soaking his last letter in blood. Few seconds after that three figures wearing BSF uniform entered his tent carrying silenced weapons. Their leader gave instructions and they started wrapping up tents and collecting gear of dead soldier. Within minutes corpses of 30 BSF troopers were loaded in civilian trucks and taken to unknown location. 30 men wearing BSF uniform now boarded the trucks that once belonged to Negi’s platoon.

2nd December 2013 - 17:45 local time

Shivam Mahesh Agrawal was son of a prominent businessman in Gangtok. Shivam’s grandfather had started with a small shop in Gangtok. His father expanded his business and spread it across entire North-East. He had high hopes for Shivam who was not only good with studies and sports, but also showed sharp business acumen expected from a Marwari. Shivam was good at making friends and a favourite of his teachers. So when he returned from national level Judo championship bagging a gold medal, his schoolmates and teachers decided to take out a procession from St. Joseph’s school to his house carrying him on shoulders and singing school anthem. It was then that this procession was stopped by two BSF trucks that appeared out of the blue. Before any inquiry could be made, men in uniform climbed down from trucks and opened fire on the procession. Students and their teachers were taken by surprise by this sudden firing. They spent precious seconds to take evasive action and paid the price. Shivam was shot through his heart and stomach. By the time those men had stopped firing and boarded their trucks that sped away in different directions. Official figures quoted 167 dead and 230 injured. Out of these, 38 would later succumb to their injuries across various hospitals. Rivers of blood flowed for a long time.

BSF Mi-17 performs CASEVAC
BSF Mi-17 performs CASEVAC (via Bharat-Rakshak)

News of this genocide shocked entire world. Media hounds had gone hysterical and were asking for government to pull out security forces from North-East. Government was in a dilemma. If they kept security forces stationed in NE, they risked losing faith and support of people of NE leading to loss of entire NE. And if they withdrew security forces from NE, insurgents will see to it that India lost control over NE. all in all, it was lose-lose situation for India. While this episode was taking place, Al-Jazeera interrupted its current program about malnutrition in South Sudan to air live interview with leader of a local organization named Sikkim Sabha. Registered as a NGO working for spreading education in villages of Sikkim, this was the first time that they had gone public. There were four other insurgents visible besides their leader who was speaking excitedly in crisp English. He was telling his interviewer how Sikkim had been forced to be a part of India and how they were being oppressed. He went at lengths to describe cruelty and cowardice of Indian troops in firing at children and their teachers. He talked about jealousy that Indian troops had felt when someone from Sikkim had won a gold medal. His inane talks went on for almost twenty minutes and then his tone changed. He started speaking softly and slowly to let meaning of his words sink in. He asked interviewer and cameraman to follow him. After walking a few steps he asked cameraman to point his camera to his right. As soon as cameraman focused his camera there, corpses lying there became visible. They were wearing BSF uniform. Cameraman shot each corpse slowly as if they were some shrubs. There were 30 corpses in total. After shooting corpses, cameraman turned towards the leader who showed a bunch of identity cards belonging to deceased BSF personnel. He also showed trucks that had belonged to BSF troopers and were later used to whisk away those who attacked Shivam and his friends. Then he proclaimed “Sikkim Sabha has grown fangs and claws to attack those who try to harm our people. My brothers and sisters, I ask you to rise against man-eaters from India and throw them out of our glorious home and give a safe and prosperous Sikkim to our children. We have suffered under this regime, but let us vow that our children will inherit a heaven that our Sikkim once was”. At this point feed goes back to the studio where a female anchor starts giving her opinion on what could be done.
News of this interview spread like wild fire. Ageing PM summoned an emergency meeting of his ministers and chiefs of security apparatus. Manish Joshi saw his boss run off towards his car with his aides in tow. He had seen that interview and was raging inside. He and his colleagues had discussed about different pattern of violence in North-East immediately after it appeared. They knew who all were behind this, but their hands were tied. At that time Manish felt impotent rage that most Indian citizens feel after a terrorist attack. But this time it was different. He felt that something needed to be done or else India would lose entire North-East. Today we’ll lose North-East, tomorrow J&K would declare freedom. If that happened, demands for Khalistan might find new supporters. Simply put, India would cease to exist. Son of an IPS officer, Manish respected law. But he knew that it was necessary to break laws in order to maintain integrity of India. While he was contemplating how to resolve this issue, he got a call on his cell phone. As he picked the call and said ‘hello’ he heard that unforgettable voice. 

MJ: Hello
Caller: I want the dossier on Arambam Kamei
MJ: No ways, I am not even allowed to share it with my colleagues from other departments.
Caller: I can feel the rage in your voice Mr. Joshi. Information you share with me will only help me bring down your rage. After all we don’t want to lose good sons of India to heart attacks.
MJ: Hmmm. Alright, I’ll arrange it for you. But you need to tell me who you are and why do you want this information.
Caller: My reason for this information will be clear in next few days. And as to my identity, it should not matter as long as I don’t get you in trouble.
MJ: What do I call you then? Phantom?
Caller: Call me Rustom. Name your price Mr. Joshi.
MJ: I want North East.