The second term of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA-II) has done more on the internal security front than any government in recent memory. And yet, at the end of its tenure, it will probably leave India as vulnerable to terrorist and insurgent depredations as it was at the start.
The grievous harm successive governments have done to the country’s internal security apparatus over the past half a century, the sheer enormity of cumulative deficits, the institutional decay and disarray that afflicts every limb and organ of the system—all these are simply too great to be repaired within the framework of present governance, and of the timeframe of a single electoral cycle.
UPA-II has taken allocations for the ministry of home affairs up from an actual outlay of Rs416 crore in 2008-09 to Rs1,079 in 2009-10, and projects an expenditure of Rs2,001 crore in 2010-11—a staggering increase by any measure.
Despite large augmentations in allocations for internal security, a slew of sanctions for increased recruitment in the Central paramilitary forces and the intelligence apparatus, the creation or operationalization of, or capacity enhancement in, a number of new and nascent institutions—the Multi-Agency Centre, the Subsidiary Multi-Agency Centres, the Joint Task Force on Intelligence, the National Technical Research Organisation, coastal security and special forces’ capabilities prominent among these—the actual impact on current risks remains marginal. The Centre is also underwriting massive modernization and upgrade of police capacities in the states, though the response of most states has been less than enthusiastic. Crucially, procedural inflexibilities and corruption continue to undermine the speedy implementation of many of these measures.
Ruhi Tewari talks to Amitabh Mattoo, professor of international politics and security at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, about India’s security situation as the UPA government completes the first year of its second term
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Towards end-2009, home minister P. Chidambaram had candidly declared that despite urgent efforts to enhance capabilities across the board, “India remains vulnerable to a Mumbai-style militant attack…” This is an assessment he has reiterated repeatedly thereafter. The minister also disclosed in 2009 that Maoist activities extended across 223 districts (out of a total of 636 districts in the country) in 20 states, though violence was “consistently witnessed” only in 400 police station areas of 90 districts in 13 states. Nevertheless, this is a dramatic rise from 55 districts in nine states in 2003, and 76 districts in nine states in 2004, when UPA-I came to power. Despite some improvement, moreover, another 20 districts are still afflicted by Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, and 67 districts by multiple insurgencies in the North-East. The broad security scenario is certainly worrisome.
There have, moreover, been a number of missteps. The boastful incoherence of the Centre’s anti-Naxalite “strategy” produced a disastrous outcome at Chintalnar in Chhattisgarh, though this incident was no more than a culmination of a continuous rash of “lesser” incidents that had resulted, essentially, from the infirmity of the state’s strategies. Ironically, part of the home ministry’s response seems to be to start fudging facts. According to Institute for Conflict Management data, based on open-source monitoring, there had been at least 998 Maoist-related fatalities in 2009. The home ministry’s January monthly report card noted 1,125 Maoist-related fatalities in 2009; surprisingly, the ministry’s annual report for 2009-10 brought this figure down to 908!
There has also been a degree of wasteful symbolism and misdirected effort, certainly in the case of the creation of the National Investigative Agency, the dispersal of a number of NSG (National Security Guards) hubs, and ongoing efforts to set up a national counter-terrorism centre “like the US”. There is a manifest propensity to focus inordinately on meta-institutional reform and the creation of new institutions, even while crippling deficits persist on the ground. Most of these new institutions, moreover, cannibalize officers from existing institutions, each of which are in a crisis of leadership. Despite extraordinary efforts to augment recruitment in the Indian Police Service (IPS) from a bottomed-out 36 per year between 1998 and 2001 under the National Democratic Alliance government, up to 130 in 2008 and 2009, and a projected intake of 150 from 2010 onwards, existing deficits will only be met by 2017, by which time requirements can be expected to have risen exponentially!
An excessive emphasis on the role of the Centre in all internal security issues, however, is perhaps the most significant distortion in the UPA-II internal security perspective. The effort to construct a monolithic national internal security architecture is enormously misdirected as a response to conflicts that demand the widest possible decentralization of response capabilities and decision-making. As retired IPS officer K.P.S. Gill astutely notes, there is no point in the home minister trying to be a field marshal. The home ministry’s postures and projections have, further, given reluctant states an alibi for continued inaction and neglect, even as the onus of every failure is shifted to Central agencies. This is undermining responses at the level where they are most urgently needed, even as it sets the Centre up for blame in spheres that are far beyond its constitutional jurisdiction and its capacities of response.
Ajai Sahni is executive director, Institute for Conflict Management and South Asia Terrorism Portal.
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