As I write this essay on security, diverse images dominate the national scene. Gazi Baba, who planned the attacks on Parliament and other places, was killed in an encounter in Srinagar. The Mumbai blasts at India Gate and Zaveri Bazaar killed and wounded nearly two hundred ordinary citizens. Police in Delhi intercepted a fruit lorry carrying explosives and then surrounded and killed terrorists who were going to use them in the capital. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s first decision on becoming Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister was to release political leaders arrested by the Mayavati government under the Prevention of Terrorist Act. In Tamil Nadu, Vaiko, who is part of the ruling alliance in New Delhi, remains incarcerated under the POTA since more than a year. Nafisa Ali, who spoke against the actions of Narendra Modi, has been charged for inciting communal violence in Gujarat. Through these contrasting images runs the common thread of political needs. Politics and considerations of political economy define the contours of national security.
Gazi Baba’s death was well deserved. It came about through effective intelligence and impressive coordinated action by the Border Security Force, the army and the police. The Delhi event was due to effective intelligence and coordinated action with the police. The Mumbai blasts were not unexpected, but the city police could only react after the gruesome slaughter of innocents. This state of affairs has been laid at the door of political interference and misuse of the police machinery.
The growth of the law and order machinery in the country over the decades offers an insight into the scope of the problem. Para-military and central police forces have been increased exponentially in the last three decades. The army by contrast has remained nearly unchanged over the last two decades, until the Jammu and Kashmir situation led to the creation of Rashtriya Rifles. Starting in 1965, the BSF now has over 150 battalions and the Central Reserve Police Force has grown from 80 battalions in 1986 to nearly 150. Some estimates put the costs of these increases to nearly Rs 50 billion.
There has been a corresponding increase in other forces like the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the Central Industrial Security Force and the like. The one constant in this colossal growth is that law and order and internal security have not improved correspondingly.
There are other acts which get applied equally carelessly and selectively by governments at the Centre and in the states. Recently, the Centre desired to have powers to send the army into the states, even without the state governments’ request for it. State governments have understandably objected to such powers being vested in the Centre. The Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and the POTA have both been used for political rather than security purposes. India’s northeastern states and Jammu and Kashmir are well aware of another law, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The act has been in force in some form or other in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir for a long time.
The act empowers the security forces with authority to search, arrest and even shoot when its personnel so decide. These have been called, not without justification, draconian powers unwarranted in a democratic polity. In fact, applying the AFSPA reflects on the inability of the government to manage security, in spite of the wide range of powers available to it through normal laws.
In Delhi itself, there is greater political concern for statehood and the powers of lieutenant governor over the Sheila Dixit government, than about security. In major states of India, police and intelligence machinery has been corrupted by caste, political preference and interference. Promotions, postings and recruitment have been subjected to quotas, shifaarish, and money considerations. Newspapers in Delhi have written and published photographs of policemen taking money on the streets. Mumbai, some decades ago, was reputed to be one of the safest metros in the world. In fact the police-underworld network of intelligence was so good that a missing person or stolen purse could be traced by the evening of the day the theft occurred. Today, the police intelligence department is the least popular in Mumbai. There is not enough money in it for the making.
The same is true of the civil services which run the country. The preferred service is customs and excise, rather than the Indian administrative service or the Indian foreign service. In fact, the finance minister has recently decided to personally monitor postings and transfers in customs and excise. There have been cases of terrorists and criminals living in the quarters of the members of Parliament. The Vohra committee report on the crime and politics nexus is collecting dust. Excellent reports on improving police efficiency, from the Dharam Vira report to many others, have joined the category of archival material.
Crime and terrorism are no longer a state or even a national phenomena. They transcend borders and nations. Information technology and globalization realities have made it possible to plan and perpetrate an international response to a local event. Governments cannot control or prevent this. A policy of pogrom in Gujarat evokes an internationally planned response in Mumbai. An American action in west Asia brings about a violent response in Dar es Salaam or in New York.
Governments have yet to grasp the meaning of security in a globalized world. Security cannot be had by more and more security forces. It can only be had by the citizens being made secure from political short-sightedness. Politics and security can no longer be treated as separate issues. Bad politics can only bring poor security. The price of this is borne by the common man who alone is hit by bomb blasts.
India has the opportunity to break free of the political and security mindsets that have guided its leaders for decades. Just as economic reforms come through changed mindsets, political and security reforms will only come through new approaches. The coming elections in the states and the general elections next year provide the opportunity to do so. Can we then expect the elections in UP, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and other states to be fought on issues that affect the citizen’s lives; like good governance, development and communal harmony' There is a greater probability that cow slaughter, masjids, bhojshalas and other trivial issues will be used to win elections. Security will continue to be subordinate to domestic political considerations. That is the tragedy both of Bharat Mata and the Republic of India.