The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Swami turns security spotlight towards east

New Delhi, Aug. 19: Swami Chinmayanand is the first religious leader to get a berth in the Union home ministry and he wants his stint to make a mark.

The junior minister in charge of border management hopes to do this by turning the security spotlight on the country’s eastern flank. His target is infiltration. “It is impossible to stop infiltration totally, but we can make a start by bringing down the numbers,” Chinmayanand said.

He started by touring the eastern states after taking charge in July. He believes the borders with Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and, especially the 4,096-km porous frontier with Bangladesh need special attention.

For decades, the Centre’s focus has been the western border with Pakistan, especially in Rajasthan and Punjab. Flanked by largely friendly nations on the east, India’s borders there garnered little attention.

But the NDA government quickly realised that militants were assembling a network in the east to subvert the country’s heartland. The fear was magnified after the September 11, 2001, attack in the US and the breach of Parliament the same year.

It is in this context that Chinmayanand hopes to make a difference. “In Kashmir, Punjab and Rajasthan, the border fencing is more or less already in place. Work in these areas began much earlier. But in the eastern sector, we began working on the fence only since 2000. The border fencing in the eastern region will be in place by 2007,” he said.

After 15 years on the fringes of national politics, 56-year-old Chinmayanand hopes to yank the eastern borders into the mainstream of security cover while still at the Centre.

The minister, an MP since 1991 from Uttar Pradesh, has more or less blamed state governments concerned for the slow pace of work on the borders. Tripura and Assam, for instance, he said, were lagging in getting land surveys done.

The chief ministers, however, have woken up of late and even the Opposition in these states are willing to cooperate with the Centre, he said. Border safety is, after all, intertwined with national security; so illegal entry of foreigners has assumed priority for the Centre and the states. “Now, everyone realises the dangers of illegal migration. Not only does this affect the demography of a region, but more importantly has now become a security issue also.”

In a bid to realise his goal, Chinmayanand has chosen to woo residents of border areas. “We are now trying to get the cooperation of the people living in border villages. Unless we can involve the people, no project will ultimately work,” he said.

The plan is evident in the recent efforts of the Border Security Force (BSF) and Special Service Bureau to win the people over.

“It is up to the BSF what it wants to do to help the people in the sensitive villages near the border. We need them to build trust and confidence,” the minister said. The Centre wants the forces to build roads, schools, playgrounds and clinics.

A leader who last year publicly criticised the Prime Minister for his readiness to go by a court verdict on the Ayodhya dispute, Chinmayanand now skirts all sensitive political issues.

He appears to be trying to honour his intention, as disclosed on his first day in North Block. “The Vishwa Hindu Parishad is a social and cultural organisation towards which my responsibility will remain as before. But maintaining the decorum of my ministry will be paramount,” he had said.

A leading light of the VHP’s Marg Darshak Mandal, the outfit’s apex steering committee, and a founder member of the Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yagna Samiti, Chinmayanand now quotes Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the Ram temple dispute. He also emphasises that as long as he is in the government, his other posts will remain in abeyance.

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