India’s Internal Security Management: Putting People First

 India’s internal security management has undergone a full cycle from, “masterly inaction,” adopted by former Home Minister Mr. Shivraj Patil to the proactive approach of the current Home Minister Mr. P Chidambaram. A new trajectory appears to be in the offing given the recent discourse on tackling resurgent Left Wing Extremism. To the credit of the current national security managers there has been considerable capacity building in countering the challenge from terrorism in the hinterland not with standing the recent incidents in Pune and Bangalore. While a terror free India is ‘work in progress’, we seem to be going in the right direction.

However in other spheres particularly in tackling Naxalism there has been a setback. The ‘Quiet Diplomacy’ heralded in Kashmir has not taken off partly due to clear signals for non cooperation to moderate separatist leaders from Islamabad. The Prime Minister’s recent visit to the Valley on 7 and 8 June was under curfew like conditions, a painful experience no doubt for the head of government of the World’s most populous democracy. While the cold response was partially due to allegations of a fake encounter by the security forces on the Line of Control, the larger reality of disconnect with the people cannot be lost sight of.

In the North East, the overland route to Manipur, where a festering ethno-nationalist insurgency continues to thrive was cut off from rest of the country since 12 April and has been reportedly restored on 19 June. The people of the state stoically bore the brunt even as the Centre and the State government have locked horns over visit of the ‘rebel’ Naga leader T Muivah to his native village in Somdal, Manipur.

The Naxals seem to be expanding their foot print exploiting the hiatus from the ongoing strategic debate to advantage. A study of recent incidents of violence in Chhattisgarh and West Bengal indicates some amount of grass roots support to the movement.

The Central Government on the other hand is engaged at present on deciding whether to expand the security foot print against Naxalism by directly employing the Armed Forces. Given the intense debate in the media which has focused more on differences between the Ministry of Home and Defence rather than highlighting core issues, the Centre may be forced into taking a hasty decision of deploying the military in case another major Naxal incident occurs.

A common trend in these events in the past few months is possible loss of faith and support of the people to the Government be it in Kashmir, Manipur or in Naxal affected Central India. In each case the reason appears to be different. In Kashmir inability to transform drop in violence into a security dividend so that people can live without fear of the uniformed in their alleys and by lanes, in Manipur lack of sensitivity to the delicate ethnic balance between the Nagas and Meiteis and in Naxal areas vacuum of an empathetic state administration has resulted in the people turning to those who are seen more proximate to their needs even though they may wield the gun or foster separatist ideology.

No state despite the best instruments of law and order or the military can be secure if it has lost the confidence of a section of its people. Therefore the first priority of a reviewed internal security strategy has to be reconnecting with the people and not just the number of helicopters and Unarmed Aerial Vehicles required for counter Naxal operations. While civil society voices have been speaking about this primary necessity including luminaries of the National Advisory Council, a serious effort to reestablish connectivity except through deployment of security forces and prime pumping development by allotting four figure sums in Crores of rupees to security stressed areas has not been evident.

As the government reviews the internal security strategy, people centricity must form the underpinning principle be it of security or development. Such a movement will have to be led politically by leaders and parties at the grass roots in the states. Success in counter terrorism in Punjab for instance came about only when the State took the lead with the Centre providing a firm backing.

Today the perception is that North Block is leading the charge treading on what is essentially state charter. This was more than evident when the Chief Minister of Manipur refused to allow Mr. Muivah access to his home village though reportedly issued instructions from New Delhi. Another trend is direct monitoring of development projects in a district by the Centre through the District Administration which undermines authority of the State government and will have serious long term implications.

The Centre will have to invest more political capital in motivating state and local leadership to claim ownership of internal security management rather than taking on the mantle so that measures taken are people sensitive. Given the complexity of Centre State relations in India, winning over support of the State government may not be easy in all cases but there are adequate political and administrative instruments available including the coercive one of Article 355 in an extreme case.

Thus winning over people in an area affected by militancy is no doubt a long process with many ups and downs but this will have to be the centre of gravity of government action administered through political connectivity and grass roots governance, even as other components as security and development unfold.


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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