Internal security's diminishing returns

By V. R. Raghavan (The writer is Director, Delhi Policy Group, New Delhi.)

THE GOVERNMENT has initiated a series of meaningful steps to get a sense of purpose into managing the challenges of internal security. The Prime Minister met the Chief Ministers of northeastern States to urge them to share the burden of fighting militancy. The Northeast Chamber of Commerce and Industry interacted with the Finance Minister to seek assistance on industrial development. The Home Ministry has been active in organising meetings of Chief Secretaries and heads of police to review the state of internal security. The Home Minister had earlier in the year talked of making India a secure state, capable of withstanding threats to its internal stability. The President recently exhorted the Governors to guide their Governments on the problems which contribute to internal security. The Government has also appointed a taskforce, headed by a former Defence and Home Secretary, to examine the issues connected with internal secretary. The Ministry of External Affairs has been active in garnering international support against terrorism. The emphasis on internal security is a recognition of its mismanagement by successive Governments. In some ways it is indicative of a realisation that nuclear weapons capability and a large security apparatus do not in themselves diminish risks to security. It is a welcome departure from the traditional and knee jerk reaction in the past of blaming all internal security problems on foreign hands or lands. There is also hopefully a pragmatic awareness of the need for the Centre and the States to combine their efforts instead of blaming each other for internal security problems. On the other hand, despite the welcome desire to be active on the issue, there is no sign yet of a better understanding of the nature of internal security challenges.

The reality of India's internal security is stark and uncompromising. A third and occasionally more of the Army is employed on internal security duties. The entire paramilitary force of the CRPF is used up in it. In addition, the BSF, the ITBP, the CISF and even the RPF are regularly used to provide troops for internal security. India's central paramilitary forces have expanded four times and more in the last 20 years. That the Indian state is required to use such a large force, in an armed role against its own citizens, should be a sobering thought. That this has been a requirement for the entire independent history of the nation, should caution those who see no fault lines in India's political, social and economic governance.

The Indian state's response to internal security has been ambivalent and compromising. More often than not both the Centre and the States have been content to have a large military and paramilitary presence on urban streets and in the countryside. That such a permanent presence reflects poorly on the quality of governance seems not to have bothered the political leadership. The clamour from the States is always for ever more forces. There have been instances where the political leadership in a State has even disclaimed responsibility on grounds of inadequate availability of Central forces. The Centre on its part does not demand an audit of what the States do with the forces made available to them. Consequently, States hold on to Central forces for years on end and use them as mere constabulary. This neither improves local police efficiency nor encourages the States to improve governance.

The focus by the Indian state on armed response to internal security often brings more problems in its wake. It antagonises the people, strengthens the resolve of the disaffected, raises the costs of governance and sows the seeds of future conflict. Even more than its colonial and state-versus-people nature, the armed response completely ignores the political, social and economic causes of the upsurge. The Centre has over the years allotted handsome amounts of funds to the troubled States. Over the years these have led to abnormalities in the Centre-State funding patterns. The northeastern States and Jammu and Kashmir have cumulatively received financial aid on a scale which places their per capita income at levels far higher than of better governed States. The argument is often raised by States that poor development levels lead to low internal security margins. If development is a measure of the funds which the Centre has poured into the coffers of inefficient States, the conclusion becomes apparent. States do not generate revenues and Central grants do not reach the people despite the massive quantities involved. In some States, Central grants actually go into militant hands through extortions, ransom payments etc. What is therefore required is that Central funds should be project- specific and released in result-based instalments.

There is considerable confusion in the States and at the Centre on what constitutes internal security. A wide range of troubles are often termed internal security problems. Insurgency, insurrection, communal strife, sub-national demands for statehood, terrorist acts, ethnic violence, armed political dissent all get listed as either internal security or a law and order problem, depending on the local leadership's preference. Each requires a different emphasis in political and economic terms. This is often overlooked and the threshold at which a law and order problem becomes an internal security issue remains unclear. Everything is handled as a law and order problem and with an armed response by the state. The state also does little to address the fundamental problems after the armed response restores a semblance of order. The political, social and economic factors which contribute to internal security are rarely looked into.

A valid and essential provision in the Indian federal structure is of the Central and State lists of responsibilities. This has been made into a liability by the manner in which the otherwise sound principle is applied in practice. The States consider law and order their preserve since it is in the State list. They do not countenance the Centre's supervisory role in this field. On the other hand, the history of the Centre's role in assessing law and order, which is a critical component in deciding to replace a State Government with Central rule, has not been without blemish. There is therefore considerable suspicion, and little if any coordination between States, and between States and the Centre on intelligence, operational plans or political action in internal security strategy. The Centre is left with little if any leverage in putting into effect either the correct strategy or the appropriate operational plans for tackling internal security. As a result, there is no relationship between the forces the Centre allocates and the results the States obtain by their use or misuse. An adverse internal security condition in the States inevitably affects the Centre in its internal and external security priorities. The Centre's ability and willingness to assist the States impacts on the latter's ability to govern. The federal interdependence of the Centre and the States in matters of internal security is often lost sight of in the avoidable political gamesmanship which is often practised.

The inherited colonial notions of internal security and its management in India would seem to have outlived their utility. The need is to view internal security not merely as a law and order issue but as a measure of the peoples' well-being. This requires a new outlook on governance. It involves empowerment instead of denial of power to the people, who perceive themselves to be deprived of their political and economic rights. As of now, even in the better governed States the Chief Ministers are unwilling to devolve financial powers to the local panchayats. Insufficient empowerment of people and misguided social and political policies are the cause of disenchantment with the state. It is the recipe for a turbulent internal security environment. Until that is understood, the Centre and the States will be able to do no more than invest more forces and money into a system, where the laws of diminishing returns are already operating.