by Subhrangshu Gupta in Calcutta

Operation Bluestar in Punjab was certainly a mistake which the then political party in power took under political compulsions, the former Army chief, Gen Shankar Roychowdhury, MP, remarked at an exclusive interview with The Tribune in Calcutta. Gen Roychowdhury said militancy in Punjab was the first phase of the proxy war by Pakistan against India. He felt that Operation Bluestar could be avoided and the problem of militancy in Punjab could have been tackled otherwise.

The former Army chief said the militancy in Kashmir or the north-eastern states and elsewhere should be handled both at the political as well as the military level. Otherwise, the problem would not be solved, no matter what assurances the US President, Mr Bill Clinton, might have given during his recent visit to India, Gen Roychowdhury observed. The following are excerpts from the interview -

Q: Sir, how would you assess the present problem of militancy in the country? Is it out of control?

A: No, it is not out of control. Insurgency or militancy as you know affects two main areas of the country - Kashmir and the north-eastern region. In other parts also there are militant activities but not of the same degree as in Kashmir or the north-eastern states. The problems have been tackled by various forces.

Q: Are right steps being taken to handle the problem? What do you suggest the right steps to be taken?

A: From place to place, the methods of tackling the problem differ. In Kashmir, it is Pakistan's proxy war offensive, the ultimate aim is to detach Kashmir from India. It is, I feel, an attempt by Pakistan to take revenge of their loss in the Bangladesh war in which over 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war were brought captive to India. It is, therefore, a war of revenge. The Government has been taking steps to handle the problems in Kashmir but whether it is right or wrong, time will tell. But the right steps would be to carry out intense military operation in Kashmir in tandem with political and administrative measures. As far as the north-eastern states are concerned, the administration has entered into a peace talk with the NSC and Aksumiva group which is the main insurgent unit in the region. But the talks at present are held up because Mr Muiva himself has been arrested and imprisoned in a jail in Thailand. I would suggest that the problem of insurgency whether in Kashmir or the north-eastern region should be tackled on a politico-military basis. In Kashmir, there should be deployment of adequate minimum force since the jawans will not be fighting a war.

Q: In the early seventies, we could hardly hear about problems of militancy, but now it is everywhere, why?

A: No, it is not true. The Nagaland insurgency had started in 1953 or earlier and in Mizoram it began sometime in 1961. Mizoram, however, is now peaceful following a peace agreement. In Tripura, insurgency started in the 80s and the problem could not be fully solved.
You must note that other than Kashmir, these are basically the expressions of resentment against power. There were cultural and psychological barrier from people to people and place to place. Delhi is far off from the north-eastern region not only in geographical distance but also in perception. The people in this region feel isolated and alienated. But in places, say, in Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Orissa, some interested groups backed by interested parties, are creating problems and their anti-national activities should be crushed firmly, jointly by the Army and the state armed police.

Q: Are foreign powers behind the militants? You held the highest post in the Army and you must have informations from your intelligence network?

A: It's a known fact that Pakistan is involved in militant activities in Kashmir and a section of people living in the valley have been raising the slogan of Azad Kashmir. But the people living in other areas, say Ladakh, are not making such demand. Militancy or insurgency in Kashmir, I reiterate, is a proxy-war offensive, generated, designed, trained, equipped and financed by Pakistan -the funds coming from extremist organisations in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries and by selling of illicit drugs.

As far as the north-eastern states are concerned, there is sufficient evidence of ISI linkage in the extremist activities, which were also strong in Bangladesh during the regime of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP). Now, however, the Hasina Administration has taken steps to ensure that their lands are not used for hostile activities against India.

Q: Now let's talk about Punjab which witnessed serious militant insurgency during the 80s. How could a beautiful and peaceful state like Punjab suddenly became the venue of terrorists activities?

A: Punjab is located in the closest proximity with Pakistan. The people in the state had certain genuine grievances, which the Delhi Administration for long ignored. And a section of people, particularly younger people, got frustrated for want of opportunities for them. Pakistan took advantage of the situation and came forward with funds and arms for them to launch an armed struggle against India. You should note that Punjab was the beginning of the present phase of insurgency in the country.

Q: Do you think as an Army chief that right steps had been taken to tackle the problem of militancy in Punjab?

A: No, certainly not. I don't think right steps were taken. Operation Bluestar was totally unwarranted and a mistaken step. The party in power at Delhi at that time had taken the step more on political consideration. However, the situation there has changed. Democracy has been restored in Punjab.

Q: Was India right in dealing with the LTTE?

A: The LTTE was an internal problem of Sri Lanka and India had no business there. We despatched the IPKF (Indian peace-keeping force) to Sri Lanka to enforce an agreement which the Sri Lankan Government itself did not want. The IPKF did an absolutely thankless job under political compulsion of the Centre. As a result we suffered heavily as the Army could not act under military operation.

Q: Sir, you held the highest position in the Army and now you are an MP as an independent with support from the Congress (I) as well as Left parties including the CPM. Any plan to join any particular party in future?

A: No, I'm not a member of any party and will remain so in future. No I have no plan or desire to join any political party