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Partisanship can hurt India’s Internal Security Management

Namrata Goswami was Research Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • January 20, 2009

    It is perhaps a truism that issues concerning India’s internal security like terrorism, Naxalism and insurgencies in the North East require a dynamic multi-pronged approach spread across states to manage and resolve them. Such a management and resolution package would possibly require crafting a national strategy capable of bypassing local political divisions and enabling India’s multiple political parties to work towards a consensus on issues concerning the nation. In the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks, the need for such a “centrist” approach capable of reconciling different political postures and ideologies and rising above party lines has become all the more important to effectively safeguard the country from future internal and externally supported violence. Sadly, in 2008 alone, the country lost more than 1000 civilians to terror attacks, Naxal violence and militant violence in Jammu & Kashmir and the North East.

    There are two identifiable obstacles to cooperation between the Centre and the states and among states themselves in India. The first is structural and the second is political. The “Union and State Lists” enshrined in the Constitution and the issue of a state’s sphere of jurisdiction under India’s federal structure inhibit co-ordination amongst the various arms of the Central and state governments. At the political level the obstacle is in the form of a lack of consensus amongst the major political parties on issues of common concern to the nation. To strengthen co-operation at these two levels between the Centre and the states in fighting terror, two Chief Ministers’ Conclaves were held in New Delhi on January 6 and 7, 2009. In the first conclave on January 6, the focus was on “internal security” issues. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his address stated that “Terrorism, Left Wing Extremism and insurgency in the North East” are three of the gravest threats to India’s national security. He emphasized the need for a co-ordinated approach across states noting that Naxalism was mostly “indigenous and homegrown”, terrorism has been largely sponsored from Pakistan, and insurgency in the North-East is due to economic disparities as well as sanctuaries provided to the leaders of these armed movements in neighbouring countries.

    The issues taken up in the Conclave included issuance of identity cards in Border States, registration of fishermen, up-gradation of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and the establishment of a permanent “Crisis Management Group”. The states were also requested to set up a dedicated intelligence wing in their own police forces to ensure better law enforcement. Home Minister P. Chidambaram identified two key issues: intelligence gathering and sharing. Although the mood in the conclave was positive for greater Centre-State co-ordination in fighting terrorism, several Chief Ministers expressed reservations about the functioning of the newly constituted National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the amendments brought in the Unlawful Activities Prevention (Amendment) Act and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). This could be due to lack of clear communication between the Centre and the States on the NIA and the amended laws. The Gujarat and Bihar Chief Ministers argued that setting up the NIA was “contrary to our federal spirit” and an attempt by the Centre to relegate the states to the backstage in the fight against terror. Significantly, the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister stayed away from the Conclave despite the fact that most Indian Mujahideen (IM) cadres involved in terror blasts in Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Delhi in 2008 belonged to districts in UP like Azamgarh. Such a state of political affairs is not a very welcome sign at a time when India needs to stand united against terrorists and their sponsors.

    The Conclave of Chief Ministers of Naxal affected states held on January 7 took stock of the security situation in 33 Naxal affected districts across 13 states. It was observed in the Conclave that killings in Bihar and Jharkhand were high in 2008, with nearly 39 police personnel killed in Jharkhand in 2008 as compared to 11 in 2007 along with 148 civilians and 99 Naxalites. Bihar suffered the death of 76 policemen as compared to 66 rebels, while Chhattisgarh again witnessed the highest number of casualties with 77 police personnel, 131 civilians and 53 rebels killed. Though the Home Minister again identified intelligence gathering and sharing as important for fighting both terrorism and Naxalism, missing in both conclaves was stress upon the need for real-time intelligence. Instead of offering detailed plans for intelligence co-ordination and co-operation amongst states, there was an unnecessary fear amongst the Chief Ministers that the Centre was perhaps being heavy handed in its issuance of diktats to the states to follow certain measures for handling terror and armed violence. However, this situation is not just limited to the two conclaves.

    In general there is little substantive co-operation between states in fighting internal cross border security challenges like Naxalism and insurgency in the North East. For instance, security personnel and politicians in Orissa accuse Andhra Pradesh politicians and its elite police force - the Grey Hounds - of weeding out Naxalism in Andhra Pradesh and planting them in Orissa. Andhra Pradesh meanwhile accuses the Orissa police of lack of professionalism in fighting Naxalism. Instead of engaging in such “blame game”, both states should perhaps work out a joint action plan in countering an armed organized group that threatens them both in equal measure. Though “law and order” is a state subject, the Constitution does not limit co-operation amongst states in addressing issues that threaten the solidarity of the nation. The problem is similar in the North East. There is little real co-operation politically between Assam, Manipur, Tripura or Nagaland in jointly tackling cross-border insurgencies like the NSCN (IM), ULFA or the DHD. Consequently, these groups operate on the NH-39 and across all seven states with impunity facing little joint counter measures from state forces.

    Politics by definition requires forging a “vital centre” easing ideological tensions and class and caste divisions for the common good. The Centre must therefore craft a policy that avoids a “centralizing” approach in fighting armed violence in the states. This necessitates involving legitimate political voices from the states in building much needed co-operation. With the multiple internal security threats that India faces, only a multi-pronged politically inspiring approach can help it overcome terrorism, left wing violence, and insurgency in border states. Finally, without doubt, political polarization will weaken India’s internal security management apparatus while a multi-pronged approach will strengthen it.