FORCE is 19 | The Invisible Enemy

Challenges to India’s internal security remain formidable

Sanjiv Krishan SoodS.K. Sood

India faces threats to its security from external sources and those emanating from internal problems. Many of the internal threats like the ones in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and the Northeast have been actively instigated, aided and abetted by external agents. While some of these internal security challenges have been overcome, others continue to fester. According to an estimate, around 40 per cent of 773 districts of India continue to witness violence by insurgents. These include the Maoist-affected areas of central India and separatist elements in J&K and some north-eastern states.

It all started with the largescale migration of population and communal violence that followed India’s Independencee. The country since then has periodically witnessed eruption of large-scale communal violence.

It will be apparent to a discerning scholar of modern history that India has had to face a fresh internal security challenge almost every decade. The decade of 1950s saw separatist movements in Nagaland and Mizoram, followed by insurgent movements in Manipur and Tripura. Next came the Naxalbari movement in West Bengal. This has now spread to large parts of central India where tribal people are up in arms for restoration of their rights and control over their resources—Jal Jungle Zameen. The late 1980s also witnessed problems in the Gorkha Hills of Darjeeling in West Bengal. The Gorkhas felt aggrieved at the lack of development in the area and wanted more autonomy to run their affairs.

There was a period of strife in Assam the 1970s until mid-1980s, spurred by the foreigner’s issue. The Assam accord signed between the government of India and ULFA rebels brought the problem under manageable limits but the vexed issue of identification of foreigners continues to simmer and the process of NRC and the CAA has created its own set of problems.

During the decade of 1980s and 1990s India witnessed violent terrorism in Punjab which was aided and abetted by Pakistan. Widespread violence during this period resulted in deaths of several innocent civilians and security forces personnel. Punjab being a bordering state, the militancy there was by far the most dangerous threat to the security and integrity of the country. This was controlled finally by some resolute action by the security forces and political sagacity of the leaders. The construction of fence along the border with Pakistan in Punjab also played a major role by cutting off the logistics and finances of militants. That the militants lost out on popular support because of atrocities they perpetuated on the masses was an additional factor.

Demonstration at Shaheen Bagh

The situation in Kashmir, which perhaps was always simmering below the surface turned worst in 1989-90. One factor for sudden eruption of violence was widely perceived rigged elections of 1987. The situation was exploited by Pakistan and the militants were provided weapons, logistics and finances besides the leadership from foreign militants infiltrated through the difficult mountainous terrain along the Line of Control. The problem continues to fester and provides Pakistan with opportunity to exploit the situation and keep our military and financial resources committed to tackle the problem.

The modernists amongst the scholars of security are of the opinion that the traditional thinking that threats to security come only from military or military like acts needs to change and include non-traditional threats like the cyber terrorism, threats emanating from environmental degradation, pandemic like the COVID which continues to inflict causalities, money-laundering, organised crime, caste and ethnic tensions, regionalism and inter-state disputes etc. India faces both traditional and non-traditional challenges to internal security. However, for the purpose of this article, discussions will be restricted to internal security.


Communalisation of Society

Communalisation of every aspect of life is the biggest internal security threat that India is now facing. There is a rapid communalisation of minds against all minorities, but specifically against Muslims. Causes of violence against Muslims are varied. The roots of frequent communal violence in India are historical. The partition of India into two dominions happened because of the divisive policies adopted by the British. In pursuance of their divide and rule policy the British pitted Hindus and Muslims against each other.

On the one hand, they underlined and accentuated the resentment amongst Hindus against the Islamic conquerors during the Middle Ages and on the other hand they filled the Muslim minds with insecurity about their future within a Hindu majority India. We are aware of the widespread communal violence during the partition and several large and small communal riots since then. It is widely believed that the incidents of violence against minorities are politically motivated and a part of the electoral strategy of mainstream political parties associated with Hindu nationalism. The propaganda that large number of Muslims are illegal settlers who are depriving the majority of the scarce resources is one reason for the increasing resentment. Several social influencers openly propagate that Muslims have no right to stay in India since they have a separate country carved out for them.

An entire new lexicon consisting of terms like ‘love jihad’ ‘corona jihad’ ‘cow vigilantism’ etc. has been invented to ascribe a communal motive to all acts of minorities. Interference in regular religious practices, besides incidences of social and economic boycott, are commonplace. Similar acts are not uncommon against the Christian and Sikh minorities.

What is worse is when people in authority directly support this kind of hatred by making statements that people wearing certain kind of dress are terrorists or when police openly sides with a particular religious group of rioters instead of controlling the situation in an impartial manner. Hounding of people who expose these hate spreaders and lack of action against hate spreaders further encourages communalism and reeks of involvement of the executive. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and this is what has been achieved by radicalisation of Hindus. The minorities too are getting equally radicalised. Unfortunate series of incidents resulting from blatantly communal comments of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s spokesperson Nupur Sharma on national television are a proof of this counter radicalisation.

Communalisation of the executive and the law enforcers is ominous. It is incumbent upon the executive to intervene to stop the malaise and take remedial measures to prevent the nation falling into an abyss. India is a secular country and it should remain so. State has no role in religion as per our Constitution and, therefore, it is incumbent upon State to deal with all incidents of communalism strictly as per law. Steps for enhancing communal harmony should be reinforced through education at all levels, especially in schools. The media has to play an important role in bringing things back to normal through self-regulation and by not giving prominence to the views of hate spreaders. The social media too must self-regulate and not permit its platforms to be used for creating discord. Enlightened citizens must come forward to raise their voice and educate the masses about the necessity of communal harmony.

It must be realised that ideological opposition to communalism doesn’t imply anti-religiosity. Religion is personal belief and should not have any place in public life. The executive and politicians must work towards a state of social equity as ordained in ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhava’. Unity and integrity of the country should be the goal because communal hatred is bad for the internal peace and also economic progress of the country.


Militancy in Kashmir

The militancy in Kashmir is one of the most important traditional threats to the internal security of India. This problem has been festering since Independence with sporadic calls for ‘Azadi’ of which the common people of Kashmir only have a woolly idea. They are aware of the fact that Kashmir as an independent entity will find it difficult to survive because of its location and lack of resources. Joining Pakistan is not an option because of terrible human rights record and sad state of development in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. For mainstream Kashmiri leaders Azadi implies ‘autonomy’ as per the ‘Instrument of accession’. The major grievance of Kashmiris is that the provisions of the Instrument have been diluted over the decades. This feeling has further been accentuated by withdrawal of special status to the state through amendment to Article 370 of the Constitution.

However, the objective of amending Article 370 does not appear to have been achieved and militancy continues to remain a challenge. Increased cases of stone pelting immediately after the amendment and subsequent rise in militancy related cases and targeted killings in recent past have belied the hope of improvement in the situation. This in spite of the fact that most human development indicators for the state of J&K are much better than for the rest of the country. That is why it is necessary to win the hearts and minds of people of Kashmir rather than treating Kashmir only as a geographical entity.

Restoring normalcy in Kashmir cannot be achieved only through security forces even though their role is very important. The security forces must assist the administration to bring down violence to manageable limits for political process to set in.

Strengthening border security is extremely important in order to cut of the logistics and infiltration of militants from across the Line of Control. Secondly, the conspicuous presence of security forces all over the urban settlements is deemed to be overbearing by the general public. Restriction on daily lives that the security forces impose upon civilians is also resented. The sense of alienation is further aggravated by instances of security forces resorting to excesses and violation of Human rights in the process of conduct of their operations. The alternative is the revitalisation of Intelligence network to ensure that information is transmitted in real time frame for troops to react. This will facilitate rationalisation of all-pervasive deployment without compromising operational efficiency. The troops must respect local traditions and customs and respect women. The violators amongst security force personnel must be dealt with sternly. This will go a long way in preventing human rights violations which is a sore point and assuage their feelings.

Another alienating factor is the treatment meted out to the Kashmiris in general and students in particular in different parts of the country. The Kashmiris in various parts of the country had to face jeering crowds and also reportedly were subjected to violence immediately after amendments to Article 370. Several unsavoury public pronouncements by politicians also didn’t help matters. Kashmiris are often at the receiving end of physical and verbal violence in case of incidents involving causalities to Security force personnel or Hindu minorities in Kashmir. Release of the movie ‘The Kashmir Files’ recently is one such example when open calls for violence against Kashmiris in particular and Muslims in general were made.

It must be realised that there is no better way of integrating Kashmiris in the mainstream than exposing the Kashmiri youth to modern education and the way of life in rest of the country. The government must not allow the kind of hatred to spread against Kashmiris as happened after the release of The Kashmir Files.

The revocation of Article 370 is a done deed. However, the feeling prevalent amongst Kashmiris that this will be used to settle outsiders in Kashmir and reduce them to minority must be assuaged. Corruption amongst executive is one sore point amongst masses in Kashmir. The funds allocated by centre must be used judicially and its siphoning off must be stopped.

The Pakistan factor is one important aspect that needs to be addressed for lasting peace in the valley. Pakistan continues to exploit inner contradictions of India’s Kashmir policy. Pakistan willy-nilly is a party to the conflict because of UNSC Resolution No 47. It should be apparent that neither Pakistan nor India is capable of winning over the areas occupied by each other through military action. The best solution to resolve the issue is to allow more people to people contact amongst the residents of both sides of Kashmir. Opening up of more trade and transit points along the LC will add to economic prosperity of both sides of Kashmir. Converting the existing LC to an International Border can be considered. Perhaps both countries were moving in that direction with talks between President Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in early this century and later during the term of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when the LC as well as International Border saw peace for almost a decade.

The government of India needs to adopt a coherent policy on Kashmir instead of resorting to fire-fighting on a daily basis.


Maoist Insurgency

The Naxal movement which started from Naxalbari village in West Bengal in 1967 has spread to several other states, such as Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha, and West Bengal. The violence in the Maoist-affected areas keeps varying but by no means the situation is under control. Maoists are in possession of sophisticated weapons and improvised explosive devices. The People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) which is the armed wing of the Maoists has large cadres along with Jan militia who provide logistical support to the PLGA. Any further expansion of Maoist movement especially in the Northeast will have serious implications for socio-economic developmental projects of the central and state governments.

I would like to relate an anecdote here. While in service I was assigned temporary charge of BSF frontier deployed in Odisha. On a visit to Koraput I held discussions with senior officials on the situation. While lack of development in the area was perceived as an issue, the most important reason for the unrest was the fact that the quality of life of tribals was not improving in-spite of huge investments in industries, mining and road network. Depriving tribal of the land which belonged to them, local resources were sent to other parts of the country. The tribals did not possess any skills or education and could be employed only for low-income unskilled jobs. The industrialists failed to carry out their corporate social responsibility by investing in creating facilities for education, skill development and medical facilities. The tribals feel that the road network created in the area only facilitated the movement of industrialists and Security forces. The remote tribal localities remain unconnected.

The security forces deployed in the area have to give up their defensive mind-set. They have to gradually extend their deployment into deep unmapped and unexplored interiors. They also must adopt a focussed approach for utilisation of large funds for security related expenditure. Intelligence based operations rather than random cordon and search operations should be the norm. They must focus on preventing Human Rights violations. These steps will pave way for government to take follow up measures to restore normalcy.

The government also needs to reorient its approach to resolving the Maoist problem. The development must ensure that the tribals acquire education and modern skills so that they are also able to avail of opportunities available elsewhere. Further, it is important that the government must ensure that constitutional rights of tribals are not trampled upon in the name of development.


Other Problem Areas

The situation in Punjab is stable for now. However, we need to remain vigilant because Pakistan and Khalistan supporters residing in some western countries continue to foment trouble. There were reports of large amounts of funds being received from abroad for the prolonged farmer’s agitation. Widespread drug abuse, falling farm productivity and high unemployment are perfect recipes for trouble. A strong intelligence network and strict enforcement of law is therefore very important.

The situation in Northeast also is under control except in Nagaland and Manipur where under-current of tribal affinities and resentment at lack of development are accentuating factors. The demand for greater Nagalim and secession keeps coming up. A permanent solution has to be found soon as the secessionists continue to collect taxes from locals. This tantamount to dual power centres and cannot be allowed.

India is a vast country with diverse ethnic, linguistic and cultural identities. These diversities if not managed intelligently tend to create tensions. The government of the day has to ensure that these diversities are managed properly to ensure harmony. Large youth population of the country is aspirational but has limited employment opportunities. The income disparities between rich and poor also add to social tensions. The society deeply rooted in traditional caste system and perception of lack of justice for the poor and marginalised are some of the major problems that get very little attention. Managing these varied aspirations and providing viable opportunities to youth for employment are some priority areas which the government of the day must focus upon in order to face up to the internal security challenges.



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