State of the Union

Internal security remains a big challenge

Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab

Internal security remains a big challenge A few months into his retirement as director, Intelligence Bureau, FORCE met Ajit Doval in the autumn of 2005 for an informal overview on India’s internal health. As an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer part of several counter-insurgency campaigns across states (and many times incognito), Doval was reputed to have both the ground and top-down perspectives of things that ailed India.

At first reticent, he gradually started to speak a bit more openly after he felt convinced that nothing that he’d say would get attributed to him. So, while all of what he said will remain un-attributable, his one comment deserves to be mentioned only as a compliment to his understanding and prescience. While talking about the various internal security challenges which were allowed to grow into threats over decades, Doval said that there was a tendency at the lowest level of governance to deny the existence of the problem and continue to overlook it for as long as it was possible to do so. Once it was no longer possible to deny it, the lowest administrative level usually unleashed unimaginable brutality to quieten the problem. This second response inadvertently worsened the problem by further alienating the people. At this stage, the administration, unable to keep the issue under wraps usually try to buy silence by either pumping in money in the name of development or by cultivating local leaders to keep the flock in check.

Unfortunately, even as money repeatedly fails to buy peace, it creates vested interests over a period of time, who benefit as long as the problem remains on a boil. Hence, the problem lingers, sapping resources, both in terms of manpower and money which otherwise could be used elsewhere for growth.

If one were to take a broad sweep across India, from north to Northeast through the central plateau, lying amidst the iron pillars of promising future are remains of consistent policy failure. One after another. Each more avoidable than another.

There is a reason why this overview on internal security harks back to a statement made nine years ago. Now that Doval is in the coveted top seat (national security advisor) which, if wagging tongues are to be believed, he coveted for a long time, will he be able to effect a change in approach in dealing with these recalcitrant issues? Will he be able to put in place a policy for resolution of problems instead of another slew of ameliorative measures either aimed at managing the internal security sticking points or feeding the vested interests?

Even though history takes a toll on optimism, there is yet not much cause for pessimism at the moment. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government comes with the reputation of firmness as far as national security issues are concerned, though it has not had much opportunity to put into action what it claims. However, given the overwhelming majority that has ushered in the new dispensation, not to mention hope, it is only fair to accept without malice what the government claims it will do over the next five years.

Vice president for studies and director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of India’s Nuclear Bomb, George Perkovich wrote that no one should have been surprised by India’s nuclear tests of 1998, as Bharatiya Janata Party’s (lead party in the NDA) election manifesto in 1998 mentioned conducting nuclear tests if voted to power. All it did was fulfil its election promise when it came to power. “But the problem was,” he wrote, “nobody had bothered to read the manifesto.” Hence, in a completely different context, a good place to start the review of the state of our nation is BJP’s manifesto 2014, lest we are surprised once again.

And for the smart alecs who pooh-pooh the manifesto as election document signifying nothing, here are two recent examples. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his first Independence Day speech announced the launch of a toilet-building programme throughout India to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi in 2019. This is listed in the manifesto as: ‘We will ensure a ‘Swachh Bharat’ (Clean India) by Gandhiji’s 150th birth anniversary in 2019… Create an open defecation-free India by awareness campaign and enabling people to build toilets in their home as well as in schools and public places…’

The second example pertains to Article 370 which accords a special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Within hours of assuming charge as minister of state in Prime Minister’s office, Udhampur member of parliament, Jitendra Singh told the media that his government was seriously looking at a debate on the merits and demerits of Article 370. According to him, his party had been talking to a cross-section of people in the Jammu division of the state on the issue and many are convinced that the article must go. The manifesto says as much in a section especially devoted to J&K: ‘BJP reiterates its stand on the Article 370, and will discuss this with all stakeholders and remains committed to the abrogation of this article.’

So, here are the internal security issues flagged in the BJP manifesto. The BJP will:

• Revive the anti-terror mechanism that has been dismantled by the Congress, strengthen the role of NIA and put a system in place for swift and fair trial of terror-related cases.

• Reform the National Security Council to make it the hub of all sector-related assessments. It will be accountable for real-time intelligence dissemination. Digital and Cyber security will be a thrust area.

• Insulate intelligence agencies from political intervention and interference.

• Completely revamp the intelligence gathering system by modernising the intelligence department.

• Provide the state governments with all assistance to modernise their respective police forces and equip them with the latest technology. This will be taken up on a mission mode approach.

• Strengthen and expand the civil defence and home guards mechanism to create a group of citizens for community defence, self-defence and disaster management.

• Encourage and strengthen NCC training at the college and University level.

• Chalk a national plan in consultation and participation of the state governments, to address the challenges posed by the Maoist’s insurgency. Talks with the insurgent groups will be conditional and within the framework of the constitution.

• Take urgent steps for the safety of the migrant workers and communities from the Northeast and other states.

For ease of understanding, this internal security review will divide the challenges that stare the new government in face under different subheads, addressing each individually.

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