First, the kudos. Union home minister P. Chidambaram deserves praise for putting order in the slumbering bureaucracy of North Block, headquarters of the ministry of home affairs, the largest government ministry. A shift from dysfunctional silos to coordinated functioning is evident. Intelligence warnings are now in the public domain and agency satraps are falling in line with the needs of local police through the mechanism of multi-agency centres.
Chidambaram has also been more frank in sharing his concerns about terrorist threats, the spread of Naxalism and other issues, than his predecessor. Yet, for an internal security system that has been hijacked by apathy and a deep-rooted nexus of the executive and the criminal-politician class, there are miles to go beyond the monthly report card.
Photo: Deshakalyan Chowdhury / AFP
The report card itself denotes selective reporting. For instance in the one for July, released by the home minister promptly on 1 August, major Naxal attacks such as the one in Chhattisgarh—where a brave police officer and 35 others lost their lives in an ambush—find no mention. The chaos of bandhs and strikes in the first two weeks of July in Kashmir in the wake of the Shopian tragedy—and its diffusion as separatists paint a normal crime as the handiwork of security forces—was also ignored. Nor was there any mention of the Dimasa-Zeme Naga collision in Assam. Moreover, the report read like a supply order for the police forces rather than an assessment of capacity building, gaps and measures taken to fill the same.
Whatever it be, this is a good beginning, and we hope there is a progressive follow-up. But the challenges to India’s internal and external security are far beyond the narrow band of issues covered by the report card or witnessed in public debate.
Take, for example, Naxalism. It has spread like a virus exactly as predicted by the Prime Minister a year or so ago. Naxals influence 180-195 districts of the country in varying degrees, with at least 50 in which they are increasingly calling the shots. This area is also the core of India’s resource base from where we mine our strategic minerals as natural uranium—not to mention coal and iron ore, much of which is exported to China.
As per media reports, the government is now planning offensive sweeps across central India, involving 20,000 policemen to secure this belt, then hold and govern it. This may well achieve the short-term objective, but Naxals have been forewarned about this offensive. With approximately 10,000 trained cadres in their guerrilla army, the challenge cannot be wished away.
Such enforcement of law and order is one cure; development is the other panacea. But the expenditure-driven approach is not likely to give desired results unless the core issue of empowering tribals and the poor farm labour is addressed through holistic land and forest reforms, generating permanent livelihood to make them stakeholders in the state rather than those who oppose it.
There are also reports of discord between Central and state police forces in Chhattisgarh. A lack of institutional mechanisms—such as the unified commands at the state and district levels where more than one force is operating—is contributing to dysfunctionalities at the grass-roots level. Moreover, management of Central forces such as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) is grossly inefficient at the force and unit levels. Systemic transformations would be necessary to come out of this negative spiral.
Another core issue is the division of responsibility on internal security between the Centre and states. While this division was drafted in the Constitution with good intent—with the just expectation of policy coordination in a federal democracy such as ours—today this has been hijacked for political purposes: The farce at Lalgarh in West Bengal is too recent to need recounting.
While we gloat over our Agni missiles, internal security in its many dimensions remains India’s biggest challenge. It is already having an impact on our economy and business continuity in affected areas; here, development has come to a standstill. For instance, in North Cachar in Assam, companies have left in the wake of repeated kidnappings and extortion. The additional cost of security is leading to loss of investor confidence, a loss of opportunity which has to be calculated separately.
Moreover, due to this factor, our influence in South Asia is slowly eroding: India is not able to lead by example. China has been quick to sense this opportunity. It is well entrenched in Sri Lanka where, despite India’s large quantum of aid and assistance—most of which is restricted to Tamil areas in the north—a Sinhala constituency favouring Beijing is growing in the south; this may complicate the ethnic discord. Nepal has fallen into China’s lap while the Sino-Pakistan and Sino-Myanmar axes operate in tandem against our interests.
Internal security is, therefore, a priority in more ways than one. The starting point is political consensus, which is as important as external security, and is far more difficult to achieve given vested interests. It is time civil society—including India’s well-informed middle class—rose to the occasion and demanded accountability from the government, particularly since those marginalized in society are not able to make their voices heard from faraway Bastar district in Chhattisgarh, or Manipur. After spending at least Rs1.88 trillion in the combined annual budgets of defence and home, we deserve better.
Rahul K. Bhonsle is editor, South Asia Security Trends. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org