By MK Pandey
Against insurgent groups on the other end of the spectrum. Operation Sadbhav represents the goodwill and confidence building initiatives conducted by the Army in areas where it is deployed for counter insurgency/counter terrorist ops. Aimed at alleviating the hardships faced by local populace in remote areas and places where government agencies are uble to effectively administer in view of the disturbed situation, the Indian Army through the aegis of Operation Sadbhav plays a remarkably commendable role in fulfilling basic needs of the local populace. Operation Sadbhav encompasses a wide range of diverse activities which includes issues such as health, education, women’s education and empowerment, building infrastructure and community development, medical camps and recruitment training for youth to join the army and other security forces.
Indian Army has been in the forefront of all activities related to restoring peace and ensuring enduring stability in Assam. Towards this objective, the Indian Army ( within its limited resources) has also undertaken numerous initiatives covering a wide spectrum of public service activities aimed at meeting basic necessities of people in remote areas thereby attempting to bridge the gap between aspirations and delivery. This tradition of winning the hearts and minds of the populace is so strongly embedded in the military psyche, that most units deployed in Assam routinely undertake and fund people-centric initiatives from within their own resources, in addition to and well beyond the scope of Operation Sadbhav.
Prominent initiatives undertaken by the Army that have an enduring impact on the youth and their families are inspiring the local youth to join Indian Army and various other security agencies. This involves conducting training camps, devoting scarce manpower, resources and logistics to ensure highest standards of training to achieve a higher rate of successful candidates. Indian Army‘s sustained efforts are reflected in the fact that 50 Assamese youth have been selected in the Army in 2016.
Myriad other activities that the Indian Army conducts include assisting youth to secure employment in State Selection Exams through free training camps, free medical camps for poor and sick, veteriry medical camps, lectures and workshops for youth guidance, construction of bridges, culverts, community centers, classrooms in schools and facilities to provide drinking water. The fact that Indian Army has been constructing toilets in schools much before the PM’s initiative is testimony to the foresight, intricate planning efforts and resonce with actual needs of the populace.
Indian Army also conducts sports activities and competitions like the highly popular Jintu Gogoi football tourment, yoga workshops and other vocatiol training events aimed at bringing the youth and local people into the mainstream. These altruistic initiatives undertaken by the Army with a view to alleviating hardships of the common people are complementary to the conduct of CI ops and are motivated by the principle of ‘Winning the Hearts and Minds’ of the populace.
While the Indian Army takes a proactive stance in conducting its counter-insurgency operations, it goes to great lengths to ensure that the conduct of the operations cause minimal inconvenience to locals and are devoid of any collateral damage. In the interests of avoiding inconvenience or trauma to the local populace, the Indian Army has quite often absorbed collateral losses and attempted assault on its personnel by certain misguided elements of the local populace. Lack of reprisals or retaliatory punitive measures by the Army in the wake of the Duliajan incident in 2016 when an Army vehicle was burnt down and its personnel roughed up testifies to the patience and the ethos of the Indian Army.
The Paresh Baruah-led ULFA’s objective to domite and usurp the political & public space is emphatically thwarted by the twin factors of dwindling public support and highly proactive stance of the Unified Forces Command comprising the Army, Assam police, CPOs and various intelligence agencies which work assiduously towards maintaining peace and security in Assam. The Indian Army and various security, intelligence and administrative elements of Assam work in unison and without discrimition to political, religious or ethnic affiliations to uphold the rich culture and traditions of Assam. This all inclusive approach by the Indian Army and various security agencies is recognized, deeply appreciated and admired by all sections of the Assamese society.
However, these positive developments which contribute significantly to establishing enduring peace in Assam are a source of chronic trauma to certain vested interests, which prefer a continued state of archy and instability within Assam. Towards this end, they spare no efforts and leave no stone unturned in promoting discord between the Indian Army and the local populace. In fact, certain unscrupulous elements within the media and political circles pounce upon every opportunity, real or imagined to tarnish the image of the Armed forces without even the basic courtesy of verifying facts before promoting rumors. Apologies or rebuttals in such cases are seldom provided or when provided, rarely afforded the same levels of high decibel publicity.
Conversely, the same unscrupulous elements within society are quite prompt in patronizing and lending credibility to every statement that is made by ULFA’s Paresh Baruah even when patently aware of the wide gap between reality and perfidy. For instance, the elimition of two ULFA cadres and apprehension of 10 more by the Army in Dharmapur, Ino PS on 14/15 Dec 2016 was severely criticized by these groups with some even squarely blaming the Army for being insensitive and trigger happy. The fact that eight other cadres have been apprehended after a short chase by the Army at grave risk to themselves is conveniently brushed under the carpet. They also choose to ignore the fact that this group comprised of newly recruited cadre was being escorted to ULFA training camps in Myanmar. These elements also conveniently ignored the fact that the arrest of the two ULFA lady cadres was conducted with all due regards to their dignity, tender age and social norms with the assistance of lady police.
The duplicity of these unscrupulous elements came into prominence a few days later when they actively promoted Paresh Baruah’s statement blaming Indian Army for the killings and also went on to categorically disown their identity as ULFA cadres. While ULFA and Paresh Baruah have compelling reasons for disowning and disassociating themselves from the cadres, what would explain the alacrity with which certain elements in Assam society chose to promote ULFA’s denial as the gospel truth?
ULFA led by Paresh Baruah have a proven track record of outright denials when it comes to issues that are a potential source of embarrassment. The ULFA’s ibility to explain the recovery of mass graves (15 bodies) from its Lakhipathar training camp, or its reluctance to acknowledge it heinous role in the Dhemaji IED blast killing 12 children or the Moran boat club massacres in Dibrugarh are reminders of its brutal history inflicted on its own people. Is it selective amnesia or a case of ignorance on the part of these vested interests when they attempt to parade Paresh Baruah as a Guardian of Assamese interests?