Buried under year-end cheer comes a policy statement from home minister P. Chidambaram that calls for radical change in the response to internal security situations. Except rare commentary, analysts and media have generally welcomed it as a sort of second coming. This is on account of three key suggestions.
The first calls for setting up under the aegis of the ministry a National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) by 2010-end, a security umbrella that will encompass nearly every aspect of intelligence gathering and sharing, and consequent pre-emptive and reactive action.
The second is a mega-grid of 21 diverse databanks to access information for security-related operations, the so-called Natgrid. The third is to divest relatively lower level ministry functions that Chidambaram feels are not of critical security importance, such as Centre-state relations, disaster management, census-related functions, human rights, and dealing with “freedom fighters”.
It is difficult to disagree with those who see the proposal, articulated on 23 December at a speech in New Delhi—tellingly, at a function of the Intelligence Bureau—as a call to re-orient machinery to respond to situations of pure terror. These derive from the evolving dynamics of extreme Islamism, its inevitable though as yet wobbly response from Hindu radicals, and the messy sideshows such developments will continue to trigger across the subcontinent. Equally, Chidambaram’s proposals would seek to create a security umbrella as pervasive as the Homeland Security environment in the US.
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Should these proposals go through, the problem for Chidambaram, after sorting out whatever turf battles that ensue, may not be one of execution. He is clearly setting himself up as the security czar of India. Even if a professional with police or armed forces background assumes leadership of NCTC, as Chidambaram suggested, its guidance under the ministry will provide him and any successor enhanced clout.
However, while on the face of it, citizens, both corporate and otherwise, may feel better looked after since the nightmare in Mumbai in November 2008 and the continual threat of religion-based violence, they might be left with a deeply intrusive state. India’s dismal record in heavy-handed application of law and order may be made more dismal.
The criticism also derives from the diminished focus in the minister’s public utterances to address issues of several other arenas of violence and conflict, ranging from Left wing extremism to likely Dalit militancy, to movements that seek greater autonomy within India or outside it. The botched Telengana issue is a case in point. Northeastern India is far from settled. Indeed, it is only less explosive than outright explosion.
There will also be a great churn mainly on account of increased population pressure and food insecurity, mismatch of aspiration and reality, and inherent roots of conflict such as caste-related and tribal alienation. In the foreseeable future, India will continue to face several violent reactions and movements that will be—as they are now—rooted in issues of right to livelihood, defence of property, delivery of law and order, and justice. India’s embedded corruption will continue to exacerbate these lamentable deficiencies.
Several of these issues are likely to be exaggerated by external factors. While in several instances these could be state-mandated, such as Pakistan and China’s on-again, off-again policies of destabilizing various aspects of India, there is the equally high possibility of change and churn in neighbouring countries directly affecting the internal dynamics of contiguous areas in present-day India. For instance, socio-political cataclysm in Nepal, or massive displacement of population in Bangladesh on account of space and natural calamities. In both cases, people will migrate with their politics and beliefs into adjacent areas already stretched on account of their own resource pressures and deep feelings of imminent takeover by outsiders—as already evident.
Even a medium-intensity progression along these lines would lead to conditions of massive trauma in the Indian state as we know it today. While this has obvious implications for the state of the nation and India’s internal security horizon, India’s health will continue to fashion its external behaviour, from diplomatic to security initiatives and responses.
The minister and his mandarins may discover that, the wholesale reorientation of policy to fight terror as they see it, might apply in the US and the UK, but could prove inadequate when it comes to the shaping, and keeping, the United States of India.
Sudeep Chakravarti writes on issues related to conflict in South Asia. He is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country. He writes a column alternate Thursdays on conflicts that directly affect business.
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