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PM’s address to police chiefs: A Wake up Call

Col Vivek Chadha (Retd) is a Senior Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • September 12, 2012

    The Prime Minister’s speech at the annual conference of Directors General and Inspectors General of Police this year is regarded as a significant event because it is through this interaction that the top police hierarchy is conveyed the implications of pressing internal security (IS) challenges, as visualised at the highest level and the approach of the government to address the same. While doing so, critical threats and expected counter-actions are highlighted with the aim of refocusing the attention of the police forces on these vital issues.

    An assessment of past speeches of Dr Manmohan Singh at the same forum indicates a holistic understanding of emerging IS threats to the country. In 2004, the Prime Minister described the Naxal menace as having the “potential to pose an even graver threat than militancy in some parts of our country.” In 2008, with terrorism as the basic theme, the need to preempt such attacks was emphasised. It was reinforced that “the globalisation of terror has made Terrorism an all-encompassing danger”. This led to a series of legislative and administrative corrective measures by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. Simultaneously, the recognition of Naxal menace as the most important IS threat was reiterated, yet again. In 2010, in the backdrop of agitations in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the Prime Minister suggested a change in the method of crowd control from existing standard procedures, which could “vary according to the specific needs in different situations.”

    The 2012 version of the speech, delivered on September 8, 2012, provided a sweeping overview of existing IS challenges and raised six critical issues. First, the recent ethnic violence in Assam and its resultant fallout. Second, the Maoist threat and its changing trajectory. Third, the evolving challenge in J&K. Fourth, IS threat from coastal areas, fifth, terrorism in the hinterland and finally cyber security. Unlike in the previous years, in his recent address, after dwelling on the challenges, the Prime Minister dealt with measures that were required to address some of these at length.


    The focus of attention of the speech, was the recent violence in Assam, which led to the death of numerous people and the resultant exodus of a large number of Northeastern workers from West and South India. The series of events were described by the Prime Minister as “communal incidents” which led to the revival of “ethnic tensions” with a “national dimension”.

    The detailed remedial actions suggested by the prime minister included;

    first, the need to develop the capability within the police force to “effectively track” people’s sentiments and “inter community tensions”, which is based on the analysis that local forces in the state did not have the ability to read the situation as it developed;

    second, “identification of potential trouble makers” as a basis for effective pre-emption, which reinforced the core policing duty of providing preventive security through focused measures aimed at early neutralisation of trouble makers (such measures have been practiced in J&K, especially after the experience of 2010 street protests);

    third, the need to employ influential segments of the local population to assist in positively influencing polarised communities, which reinforced community policing as an important element of internal security;

    fourth, the need to build upon traditional strengths of the police in terms of grassroots intelligence, which came up as a timely reminder, given the criticality of time specific actions; and

    finally, the Prime Minister made a reference to the development of soft skills, thereby incorporating some of these aspects along with traditional policing activities.

    The use of bulk messages and social networking sites to mobilise groups and spread the message of hate became an issue of national debate as a result of violence in Assam and its resultant impact across the country. The seriousness of the threat led the government to initially limit bulk SMS to five and thereafter to 20 per day. A number of twitter and facebook accounts as well as blogs were also frozen as a result, leading to protests.

    The Prime Minister referred to the threat in his speech and emphasised on the need to provide balance between law enforcement against offenders inciting violence and freedom of expression. He stressed on the need to “weigh” the two before working out strategies to curb its criminal use while simultaneously allowing the free flow of ideas for the vast majority of the population.

    Left Wing Extremism

    The second major issue was related to the threat of Left Wing Extremism (LWE). Recent reports indicating the development of an indigenous capability to “fabricate hardware” was specifically highlighted, given the additional military capacity it is likely to provide. The second aspect was the ability of Maoists to mobilise people against the government and security forces in the immediate aftermath of operations, on the basis of alleged human rights violations. This highlights the vital aspect of ensuring minimum collateral damage, even as operational effectiveness is achieved. It needs to be emphasised that respecting human rights and achieving operational success, are very much complementary and not contrarian objectives.

    The Prime Minister acknowledged that there was an urgent need to relieve pressure from policing large areas with limited security forces, which results in a weak counter insurgency (CI) grid. The recent endeavour to recruit 3.9 lakh police and paramilitary personnel as mentioned by the Prime Minister was welcome news.

    Since mere recruitment is not enough to achieve effectiveness, the Prime Minister also mentioned the successful training of 6.35 lakh personnel in the last 30 months. This aspect had gained importance after an assessment of past operations highlighted limitations of the police and paramilitary forces, as a result of inadequate preparedness. A structured and localised training facility established in areas akin to the operational zone is likely to reduce the disadvantage suffered by police personnel in the past.

    Jammu and Kashmir

    An improvement in the IS situation in J&K, was referred to by Dr Manmohan Singh. However, he cautioned against an increase in infiltration attempts by the terrorists in recent months. This assessment is in keeping with recent terrorist endeavours to wrest the military initiative from security forces. The attack on the Wullar Lake barrage and preceding grenade attacks are all indicators of this trend.

    Sea Borne Threat

    The fourth aspect was the threat emanating from the sea and measures being adopted to neutralise it. This limitation had come into focus after 26/11 and highlighted numerous blind spots in the coastal surveillance capability of the country. The proposed, “comprehensive scheme of Maritime Domain Awareness” is likely to substantially improve existing lacunae in maritime security. The process has already begun through a 602 crore project undertaken in 2011, with Bharat Electronics Limited. This will entail establishing sensors at 46 locations by mid-2013 as part of the first phase of a no gap surveillance network, with subsequent phases augmenting it thereafter. These electronic eyes will be supported through physical patrolling by the coast guards, in conjunction with local fishermen as part of a comprehensive security architecture.

    Hinterland Terrorism

    The Prime Minister also referred to three major incidents of terrorist violence during the last year in Pune, Mumbai and New Delhi, despite 19 successful interdictions. He highlighted the need to improve existing capabilities through better training and enhanced collaboration between states as well as the centre.

    Cyber Security

    The issue of cyber security was mentioned as an important adjunct to the proliferation of new media. The speech raised the issue of increasing vulnerability, as a result of reliance of high value infrastructure like aviation, power and railways on cyber networks, which can be sabotaged through “large scale computer attacks”. The initiative to create a “robust cyber security structure” and partnership between “government, academia and the private sector” came up as suggested steps to achieve greater efficiency.

    Based on the observations of the Prime Minister, the following recommendations can be made.

    • The most disturbing trend emerging from the IS situation remains the communalisation of sectarian fault lines. This trend was witnessed in Assam and has proved that the impact of such incidents is likely to be felt beyond the geographical borders of a state. The suggestion to engage in proactive policing should be reinforced with sound intelligence and effective engagement of the population by the leadership.
    • Social media and mobile communications will increasingly become ubiquitous and integral to routine interactivity. It is therefore important that monitoring of the same by intelligence agencies and presence of people’s representatives in the domain, to ensure initiation of timely counter-measures against security threats and propaganda.
    • The most effective way of countering false propaganda is to have an effective strategic communications policy. This should be accompanied by transparency in functioning. The absence of both was evident during the recent past in Assam and while dealing with rumours and propaganda in cyber space.
    • The Maoists will make an endeavour to change the operational status quo by improving their arsenal. This will also assist them in employing coercive tactics to sway public opinion in their favour. It is critical to ensuring minimum collateral damage during operations, as well as effective countering of Maoist propaganda, to regain the psychological space from the Maoists.
    • The present state of peace in J&K is extremely fragile and increasing rate of infiltration pose a serious threat to it. Given the effectiveness of the fencing on the LoC, alternate areas across the IB and the coastal belt are likely to be exploited. Even as surveillance is put in place, the most important defence against such threats is co-opting the local people in community policing.
    • Cyber security will continue to emerge as a potential challenge in future. The endeavour to create a comprehensive organisational structure remains a critical requirement. However, it is equally important to run cyber education programmes through the virtual world as well as educational institutions and public awareness groups to enable greater understanding of the implications of the threat. This will enable better understanding of the threats involved and could result in participative counter-measures between the government and people using the networks.