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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Inward lens for incoming government The buzz on the global front should not distract us from pressing matters at home. This would also make our security agenda more human and less state-centric, writes Firdaus Ahmed. One can be forgiven for thinking we're in 1909, rather than 2009. Emerging powers, anticipatory alliances, a scramble for colonies, terrorism, arms races, a belief in short wars, a cult of the offensive, speedy mobilisation schedules, militarism, all awaiting the proverbial spark. Minus the grand scale of the run up to the Great War, there are similar ingredients in the current setting: the global war on terror accelerates, emerging powers India and China seek strategic space, recession continues, the footprint of terror remains, nuclear weaponisation and unrecognised arms races continue, and military thinking on quick-start and short wars is dominant. What makes the comparison even tidier is the short fuse to all this tinder.
The buzz on the global front - and the many threats attendant to it - should not, however, distract us from matters that need pressing attention within the country. On most 'international' issues India is only an observer. This is also true for the events in the immediate periphery including the portentous and lamentable happenings in Sri Lanka. Therefore, it would only be prudent to acknowledge the fires burning within the borders.
The next government
The agenda of the incoming Indian government will depend on its complexion and composition. If it is of the centre-right, it will be outward oriented, and if of the centre-left, inward focussed. That much seems certain. This bias will in turn determine the approach to the various raging and incipient problems. But there is no escaping both dimensions of security - internal and external - regardless of who takes the reins of power. Not only would the government have to tackle the growing left wing insurgency internally, but also engage with the expanding instability in Afghanistan-Pakistan, among other demanding concerns.
Liberalisation has buoyed west and south India, but wide swathes of the rest remain untended.
See for balance article - http://www.indiatogether.org/2009/may/fah-intfocus.htm


One other issue of internal-external dimension is that of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The BJP manifesto promises 'Launch a massive programme to detect, detain and deport illegal immigrants' within a hundred days of coming to power. Clearly here is an explosive issue requiring application of thinkers outside of the narrow confines of the security establishment, to include media minders, Bengali intelligentsia and civil societies in effected states.
The other security issues are eminently in the domain of the internal, in particular left wing extremism. The latest multi-crore recruiting scam to surface from the cow-dust belt - on the recruitment for the COBRA (Commando Battalions for Resolute Action) battalions in specialised counter insurgency tasks in central India - indicates the flaws in the anti Naxal strategy. The dimensions of the scam, which has been going on since 2003, are still being unearthed. What is already clear is that the main force, the CRPF, designated for internal security tasks by the N N Vohra-led Task Force on Internal Security and approved by the Group of Ministers now stands compromised. The products of a corrupt system cannot be expected to take 'resolute action', but only to intrude on freedoms.
This has equal implications for the North East as well, where vulnerable and equally marginal communities are subject to incessant counter insurgency tactics of population control measures of state security agencies.
A singular focus on a developmental agenda for the Central as well as the North-eastern regions would help avert their future snowballing. Liberalisation has buoyed west and south India, but wide swathes of the rest remain untended. Developing these regions would alleviate India's Human Development Index standing of 132, given that theoretically insurgencies originate in a combination of two factors: lack of development and identity. Their sustenance in part by external intervention is not reason enough for treating them on par with genuine external issues by characterising them as proxy wars.
A greater focus on internal security issues would also likely have the effect of moving to a human security agenda instead of a state-centric one. This transition will not be easy, but there isn't any alternative, in the long run, and for this reason, even a right-of-centre government would need to engage with this reality at some point. Over the past decade, 'India Shining' has only given way to 'Jai Ho'. Electoral democracy is not enough; the masses need to be heard too in a democracy of substance. ⊕
12 May 2009

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