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India’s internal security conundrum September 15, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , trackback

Guest author: Ashutosh Misra

Blood has spilled on the streets again, right under the nose of India’s symbols of democracy and power – the Indian parliament, President House and the Supreme Court, all situated within few kilometres of the Delhi High Court where 11 people died and over 45 were injured in a suitcase bomb blast on 7 September. Harkat-ul-Jihadi Islami (HUJI), the Bangladesh-based outfit has taken has the responsibility as a mark of protest against the impending hanging of the 2001 parliament attack accused Afzal Guru. Initial investigations have shown traces of Indian Mujahideen  (IM) involvement as well and several arrests have been made in this connection in the last couple of days. This second major incident since the 13 July serial blasts in Mumbai and 25 May blast at the same spot outside the Delhi High Court has yet again put the spotlight on India’s intelligence agencies and police force, questioning whether India possesses the wherewithal to rein in these unrelenting attacks.

As the government struggles to recover from the battering it received from the Anna Hazare-led nationwide movement against corruption, India’s internal security situation remains delicately poised. City after city continues to be targeted brazenly by terrorist groups indicating that a decade after the watershed September 11 attacks India’s situation has remained unaltered. Ironically, in contrast to India’s global prospects, domestically the situation does not appear too promising. The country’s recent experiences in dealing with domestic challenges demonstrate a stark mismatch between its global potential and internal capabilities. In particular, two key threats deserve attention here which could impede India’s global rise and economic growth: home grown terrorism (HGT) and left-wing extremism (LWE), both described by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the two most serious threats facing the country.

Home-grown terrorism (HGT)

HGT is associated with an indigenous terrorist group, the Indian Mujahideen (IM), the alleged mastermind of the July 13 serial blasts in Mumbai. It took over the reins of the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) that was founded in 1977 and proscribed in 2002 by the government for having linkages with Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba. Since 2002 the IM has expanded its operational area alarmingly and triggered blasts in several major cities including Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Gauhati, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Mumbai, New Delhi, Pune and Varanasi. It has also developed operational links with the HUJI.

In its characteristics style IM is known for sending emails, warning of revenge attacks and claiming responsibility thereafter. Its deeply motivated cadres are mostly drawn from Gujarat, where the infamous Godhra riots occurred in 2002, and Uttar Pradesh, where the demolished Babri Mosque was located. Investigation agencies suspect over a thousand active members to be working in sleepers cells and modules across the country that facilitate IM’s operations. Interestingly, IM is also disgruntled with its own community and has warned the Muslim leaders, the All Indian Muslim Personal Law Board, the Babri Mosque Action Committee and the Sunni Waqf Board against reaching any compromise with the Indian government over the Babri mosque dispute.

Although the group maintains cross-border linkages for operational purposes, the motivational triggers are very much entrenched in local grievances which include the 1992 demolition of the Babri mosque and the killing of hundreds of Muslims in subsequent communal riots in Mumbai and Gujarat; alleged failure of the judiciary in 2010 to impart justice to Muslims in the Babri mosque-Ram temple dispute; complicity of the Indian police in the atrocities committed against Muslims; and governmental failure in implementing the Srikrishna Commission report on the 1992 Mumbai riots.

Left-wing extremism (LWE)

The other major threat, left-wing extremism (LWE), is spearheaded by the 40,000 strong Communist Party of India (CPI-Maoist) fighters, a.k.a the Naxals, demanding restoration of the rights over mining resources to the tribal custodians and improving the state of governance and development, in the region known as the Red Corridor. Over 6,300 people have been killed in LWE since 2003 in the affected area which encompasses 2000 police stations in 90 districts across 20 states. Their purported objective is to capture political power, like the Maoists in Nepal, (albeit with whom they have no ideological or operational connections) by exploiting the rural and tribal grievances. They rely on shock and awe tactics utilising the forest cover adroitly to inflict heavy casualties on security patrols repeatedly. In one particular ambush in April 2010 they had killed 75 paramilitary personnel in Dantewada in the Chhattisgarh state which stunned the entire security and political establishment. On a couple of occasions they have brazenly raided jail premises and police stations and freed their fellow cadres in hundreds. Such is their combat preparedness and the dismal state of India’s policing in the Red Corridor.

Comparative assessment

Comparatively speaking, both the IM and Maoists comprise of Indian citizens who blend with the local population easily; they both have considerable sympathy of their respective communities; know their operational areas well; personify deep ideological motivations; and have no mutual conflict of interests, territory and ideology. Both are indigenously created, regard the state as discriminatory and therefore challenge its authority. Their key limitation is their militant and violent modus operandi which deprive them of the larger public support outside their respective communities.

On the operational front, while LWE is predominantly a rural and tribal phenomenon, HGT is urban-based. Till date the Maoists have established no substantial cross-border linkages unlike the IM. Being rural and tribal based the Maoists are distanced from big cities and operate in their comfort zones. They primarily target security forces and state assets using landmines and intermittently derail long distance trains which causes civilian deaths. On a few occasions they have also kidnapped government officials for ransom and bargain. On the other hand, the urban-based IM deliberately chooses iconic places as targets to disrupt commercial and public life and gain media attention. They consciously perpetuate civilian casualties using improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Kidnapping is not yet their forte but recent intelligence reports have revealed their schema for kidnapping Indian cricketers for bargaining with the government when required.

Government response

On the policy front, the government response has been both ineffective and inconsistent. Apropos the LWE, in addition to the security operations and heavy dose of development the government has also initiated political dialogue with the Maoists. New counterinsurgency schools have been established to train security personnel in jungle warfare. The government had also introduced the Salwa Judum initiative (arming village militia) which although very successful in the Chhattisgarh state has proved politically controversial and therefore rejected by other states. Central allocation for economic development in the backward regions has been increased manyfold, but due to endemic corruption in the bureaucracy much gets siphoned off before it reaches the ground.

Inexplicably, in addressing HGT the government has adopted a purely security-oriented approach sans any indication for a dialogue of any kind to reach out to these disgruntled youths. After the 2008 Mumbai attacks a series of measures have been introduced including sealing the porous borders with Pakistan; creating the National Investigation Agency and Multi Agency Centre to coordinate intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism efforts; a new coastal command to patrol the 7,500 km coastline; four additional National Security Guard hubs in Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad for rapid deployment of commandos during crises; and the National Counter Terrorism Centre along the lines of the US Department of Homeland Security which still lies on the drawing board. In other words, addressing the core grievances of the IM youths still eludes the political and bureaucratic imagination in India. Community policing is yet to receive the attention it deserves and therefore no credible instrumentality exists to engage with the community.

General state of affairs

Globally, while India continues to rise, internally it struggles to establish clean and accountable governance. For over 60 years successive Indian governments have been mired by corruption scandals, failing to rise above mere sloganeering. The 1970s Congress slogan of Roti, Kapada aur Makan (bread, clothing and shelter to all) still remains unrealised, although the country has become a food-surplus country from a food-deficit country 30 years ago. Its agrarian economy has made way for the market driven economy and as a result farmers affected by erratic weather patterns, poor harvesting, shrinking agricultural lands and compounding loans have been forced to commit suicide in large numbers. As the flight from the rural areas continues towards bigger cities and urban areas, it not only puts added strain on the already crowded cities, but also intensifies hardship and hopelessness back home. India has long shed the socialist paradigm of the Nehruvian era, moulding political attitudes and enabling private sector participation, but the bureaucracy still carries the old state-centric ideological baggage at the cost of human security. While billions are pumped in to secure the borders, India’s vast rural and tribal population languishes in abject hardship and clamours for development, basic health, sanitation and education facilities.

Indian politics grows further polarised along regional, religious and caste lines by the day and one wonders if something other than cricket unites India at all. The recent nation-wide anti-graft movement was the culmination of public frustration that has been accumulating for decades against government apathy and inefficiency. While the state has got richer, peoples’ lives have remained by and large unchanged. Today widespread public frustration seethes beneath India’s dazzling economic success and it is in these circumstances that LWE and HGT germinate and thrive.

Ashutosh Misra is a Research Fellow, Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security, Griffith University, Australia


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