The fears within
India has had a long and near continuous experience in the management of internal security crises from the very moment of its birth — commencing with the massive and bloody upheavals of Partition. From the early 1950s, a succession of insurgencies and terrorist movements has plagued the country, starting with the Naga rebellion in 1952.
But it is also the case that the country has, in many instances, been able to successfully tackle, contain or neutralise such movements whenever a determined political leadership and consensus has backed coordinated action by the security forces.
A range of other internal security challenges, including communal polarisation and rioting, organised and trans-national crime, criminal politics and political crime, have afflicted different parts of the country from time to time, and have been countered with mixed success within a broad context of almost continuous decline in the country’s administrative, security and justice systems.
There were powerful historical reasons for some of India’s early internal security challenges, but the unfortunate reality today is that many — if not most — of our recent or current internal security haemorrhages are self-inflicted wounds, overwhelmingly the consequence of the complicity or mischief of political powers, of neglect, and of the failure of the state to enforce the law consistently.
Transient political considerations — including covert pre-election, or even long-term, alliances with criminal, communal, subversive and terrorist groups — have dominated and distorted national policies and responses. In many cases, terrorist movements have emerged from perverse political manipulation by ‘mainstream’ and ‘nationalist’ political parties.
While the terrorism in Punjab is the most obvious and transparent example of mainstream political mischief creating a major security challenge, the same trends, though somewhat less apparent, are visible in virtually every protracted internal security problem that India currently faces.
The criminalisation of politics, the irrationality and irresponsibility of political responses over extended periods of time, the continuous degeneration of the policing and internal security apparatus, the failure to maintain and create policing capacities in proportion to the country’s needs, and the collapse of the entire justice system, underlie all aspects of the national crisis today.
The gravest problem is that we have a generation of politicians and bureaucrats, including, unfortunately, a large number of police officers, who have no idea of the rule of law, the maintenance of public peace, and the dangers to the social fabric and Constitutional order posed by multiple internal security threats. Particularly, the collapse of the criminal justice system affects every facet of the life of civil society. The state is progressively becoming almost irrelevant to the security of ordinary citizens, as violent groups, including criminal and political mafia, as well as ‘revolutionaries’ of various political colour, dominate wide swathes of the country.
The only fortunate thing is that the quality of leadership of these various disruptive groups is as poor as the quality of national leadership.
Consequently, the moment there is a crystallisation of state responses, these movements fall into a hasty retreat. Unfortunately, political opportunism, corruption and collusion almost invariably reassert themselves well before a final blow can be delivered, and, as a result, the problems continue to fester, or experience a resurgence.
It is difficult, today, to find a political leader who has consistently raised issues relating to the challenges of terrorism, organised crime and internal security, within any coherent framework, or sought to bring attention to focus on the necessary powers, equipment and facilities required by the nation’s forces to be effective against an enemy who is constantly availing of the very latest techniques and technologies.
On the other hand, you will find numberless leaders and public figures who are willing to speak the language of criminals, terrorists and their apologists; who constantly exhort us to understand ‘root causes’ and the motives of ‘our children’ and ‘our brothers and sisters’ who inflict mass murder on innocents.
Today, it is criminals, terrorists and their proxies who are best protected by our legal and institutional safeguards, and by our political orientation; innocents, national assets — both institutional and individual — and the men who fight to defend the state, are often left to their own devices in the face of a merciless and unremitting onslaught.
For years now, the national leadership has been deluding itself, and misleading the nation into believing that contemporary crises can be easily solved across the negotiating table or with marginal accretions to the systems of response. The truth, however, is that the country is being subjected to slow processes of attrition, and there should be no doubt whatsoever of the malevolent vision or of the determination of India’s enemies, to keep the country under attack.
This is a protracted war, which will require an effective and enduring state apparatus to create powerful instrumentalities to confront and neutralise the enemies of our Constitutional order. Unfortunately, we seem to be moving in exactly the opposite direction, as appeasement of the enemy dominates our political vision, as security agencies are constantly asked to operate with their hands tied behind their backs, and as the enveloping environment is made more and more conducive to exploitation and operation by the enemies of our freedom.
The South Asian region has become an extraordinary locus of instability, with each of India’s neighbours skirting state failure and a range of external powers engaged in new ‘great games’ for influence and dominance.
India itself is deeply susceptible to destabilisation, as disorder and non-governance already plague large parts of the country. Before any rational, comprehensive and effective response can begin to be defined, a re-education of the country’s political leadership (particularly home ministers and chief ministers), and of the bureaucracy and the national elite, is necessary.
Unless the character and magnitude of contemporary internal security challenges is correctly assessed and understood by these groups, policies will continue to flounder in the morass of the arbitrary, ill-informed, sentimental and ineffectual, and we will only see a continuing expansion of the regions of lawlessness and chaos in India.
(Published in Daily News and Analysis, Mumbai, August 23, 2007)