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Sunday, July 19, 2009

#2537, 4 April 2008
Reconceptualizing Internal Security Firdaus AhmedFreelancer e-mail: firdyahmed@yahoo.com
The Supreme Court has appointed a Special Investigation Team led by former CBI Director, RK Raghavan, to report to it in three months on some post-Godhra cases in Gujarat. This is a telling comment on the credibility of the judicial system in the state. Earlier, the Bilkis Banu case was transferred out of the state to prevent the miscarriage of justice by politically motivated machinations by the state administration, notably its police. There have been precedents elsewhere, suggesting the need for a conceptual and holistic approach to internal security in its pan-Indian dimensions.
The situation in Punjab during the mid-1980s and in Mumbai in the early 1990s provides these precedents. All these cases witnessed ascendancy in the adversarial discourse setting the stage for social disruption along communal lines. A precipitating event was exploited by allowing the lumpen elements free-play with political permissiveness and police complicity. Legitimizing the logic of what happens when "a giant tree falls," "action begetting reaction" to explain their fallout being 'riots' was resorted to in the aftermath of these precipitating events. There was little incentive for imposing the law with the lower judicial system being suborned. The terrorism witnessed thereafter was largely a result of the wayward seeking vengeance. The police displays its real capability by proactively cauterizing these terror cells. Its success is taken as the internal security index. It is a moot point whether internal security could be better served by recourse to prevention rather than cure.
The points of intervention needed are at two levels -political and policing. The importance of the former can be seen in an anecdote recounted by LK Advani in his recently released autobiography, My Country, My Life. A jubilant senior police officer is described as asking Advani after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, "Advaniji, kuch bacha to nahin na? Bilkul saaf kar diya na?" (I hope nothing of the structure is surviving and that it has been totally razed to the ground.) This reveals how the poison seeps into the body politic and is becoming the dominant discourse in society, which subverts the state apparatus' attempt to maintain the rule of law. Another example is the current impunity enjoyed by the anti-north Indian campaign of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in Mumbai.
Accountability at the political level that sets the stage for disruption of internal security also requires pursuit. The argument that such positions stands vindicated by the democratic support it enjoys is self-serving, because the mobilization is politically engineered. Democracy is in any case not synonymous with populism, the rule of law must be its other equally significant pillar. The reality is that political capital is the reward for socially divisive discourse and politically aggressive behaviour. Therefore, the limits of permissible politics require being first set, with electoral disqualification and legal penalties as the disincentives.
The other intervention needed is refurbishing the police. The police has become a weak institution, and is being manipulated. There are several reports that can be dusted off for implementation, including those by Dharma Vira, Padmanabhaiah, Ribeiro and Soli Sorabjee. The Supreme Court's injunction of September 2006, in response to a PIL of former BSF chief, Prakash Singh, requires the setting up of national and state Security Commissions and Police Establishment Boards, which is a fair start point for other reforms
A brief look now, at the other dimension of internal security, namely, regional instability. Here the conflict dynamics reveal heavy-handedness and lack of political initiative leading to a self-sustaining insurgency. Succeeding by pursuing the strategy of exhaustion is mistaken as an internal security achievement -witness the victory in Punjab, the impending victory in Kashmir, and the lid being maintained on the Northeast. A reinforcing doctrine would likely see the same strategy being applied to the deteriorating situation in central India, despite the disavowal of the Defence Minister that use of force is not contemplated. That the forest tracts lend themselves to a high-tech approach based on electronic warfare, air mobility and Special Forces, and the use of counter-insurgency groups like the Salwa Judum, would ensure its militarization once the insurgency reaches the second stage - the three stages being mobilization, consolidation and counter-offensive. Reconceptualization would require inclusion of best practices and lessons learnt in India's counterinsurgency experience to help move the doctrine away from its restorative strategy to one of prevention. Such a non-military approach to counterinsurgency could preclude another decade-long engagement with a developmental approach, undercutting the insurgency in its first stage itself.
Dual successes in tackling terrorism and in Kashmir would reinforce the current approach to internal security. Instead the index of success should lie in prevention as against management of internal conflict.

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