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Tag Archives | shinde

A system of neglect

India doesn’t need more ideas in tackling its internal security challenges; it needs action.

Another terrorist attack in a major Indian city this week left 16 dead and over 50 injured. Yet, within hours of the attack, India’s elected leaders were busy passing the buck and hypothesizing on the intent and “color” of the terrorist attack before a formal investigation had even begun.

There is something sadly predictable about all of this; the incident in Hyderabad itself — going by the dilapidated state of India’s internal security apparatus — and the indulging in parochial rhetoric thereafter that our leaders find so irresistible. Shouting free-for-alls followed when Pune and Varanasi were hit in 2010, and when Mumbai and Delhi were hit in 2011. Yet, not one terror case since 2008 has been solved. While our internal security agencies battle for their own credibility and relevance in the absence of strong political leadership, the cycle of terror continues.

In response to the attacks on Mumbai in 2008, the government set up the NIA, whose mandate could, at best, be described as confused.  India’s “FBI-style” agency, meanwhile, hasn’t produced the results to even remotely warrant a comparison with the FBI. Centre-State issues have stalled essential progress on NATGRID and the NCTC.  And internal security at the Centre continues to be the part-time responsibility of the Home Minister, whose other responsibilities include areas as varied as dealing with Centre-State issues and the implementation of the provisions of the Official Languages Act.

Can Indian citizens really harbor any expectations of reasonable safety and security when there is such abominable neglect on issues related to national security? India’s internal security apparatus is rotting. And this rot is merely a microcosm of a much larger problem that India faces, which is that there is systemic institutional atrophy in varied velocities across the country. The aspiring India of 2013 has government institutions built to govern an India of the 1940s. Where there are incidents that expose these very apparent gaps, we apply short-term Band-Aids when our institutional structures are falling apart at their very core.

Let’s be candid: India does not need any more ideas on how to tackle internal security challenges. Most of these ideas exist in public domain today. They have already been articulated in reports commissioned by the Central and State governments of India themselves. The Kargil Review Committee (KRC) report in 2001, for example, put forward recommendations in reforming our intelligence agencies. On the heels of the KRC report, a Group of Ministers report under the chairmanship of LK Advani proposed structural changes in intelligence and police reform.

The Ram Pradhan Committee Report — as yet not made public — commissioned by Maharashtra in response to the 26/11 attacks, highlighted critical gaps in coordination and execution of response to an ongoing terror incident. The National Police Commission issued eight reports between 1979 and 1981 on police reform and measures to prevent political interference. The Padmanabhaiah Committee report in 2000 recommended significant structural reforms to policing in India. Further, various states have set up their own commissions to study police reform since the 1960s.

So the ideas for reforming our internal security are already there. What India needs is meaningful action, which can only come about through structural reform (sustained by the continued application of political will) to bring our internal security apparatus into the 21st century. If ideas are needed anywhere, it is perhaps in trying to determine how to politically “sell” these essential changes.

K Subrahmanyam, perhaps India’s greatest post-Independence strategic thinker, once said that India’s leaders weren’t interested in national security, but in the politics of national security. While entirely divorcing “politics” from national security might not be practical, given the realities of India today, the political class’ response to terror cannot be restricted to trading accusations, applying Band-Aid solutions and commissioning reports.  India’s citizens cannot be held hostage to perfunctory political reactions to every terror attack on Indian soil.  The ideas are there, as is the mandate from the people of India.  But India’s politicians have been repeatedly found wanting in action.  They must step up or make way for those capable of action.

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Dancing in the dark

From darkness, can there be light?

Three arterial power lines in northern India failed and plunged approximately 700 million people from 21 states and UTs into total darkness.  Rail and air services were disrupted, miners from Jharkhand and Bengal were trapped in coal mines, and the common man was slow-roasted under an unforgiving July sun.  And as this catastrophe unfolded, Union Minister for Power, Sushilkumar Shinde, moved out of office and took over as India’s new Home Minister.  It was business unusual.

Congress spokesman Manish Tewari attempted to assuage public anxiety by claiming that there was no power crisis in India.  He’s right, of course.  There wasn’t a power crisis in India, there just wasn’t any power.  Here, it would be unfair to blame the state of affairs only on Mr. Shinde.  He has, after all, only done what his predecessors have been doing since Independence.  Which is nothing.

But the massive power outage not only accentuates (if any accentuation was necessary) the dilapidated state of infrastructure in India, but also highlights its impact on India’s national security.  How would we, for example, be able to deal with military conflict on our western border, or an unfolding terror attack in New Delhi in such a situation?

To be sure, grid failures are not an uncommon phenomenon.  Massive power outages have after all, affected the U.S.’s East Coast and Southern California in the recent past.  What is unique here is not so much the crisis, but the UPA’s mishandling of the response.

Simply, the crisis is reflective of the UPA and the state of governance (or lack thereof) in India. Yes, Mr. Shinde’s transition to the Home Ministry had already been made public a few days ago. But surely a calamity of this proportion demands the resolute commitment of the incumbent minister to see the country out of the catastrophe.  In almost any other country in the world, political transition would have been deferred in order to resolve the crisis.  But not in ours, apparently.  Exit stage right, Mr. Shinde. Enter stage left, Mr. Moily.

It is quite remarkable that the UPA leadership felt no compelling need to ask the incumbent Minister of Power to stay on and resolve what is now being referred to as the “world’s worst power outage.” National interests are, after all, subordinate to party interests in this day and age.  It is even more remarkable that the UPA appears to be disinterested in even projecting an illusion of leadership to the people of India.

As is the UPA’s wont, they have said nothing about the crisis, their plans to resolve it, or the political transition in its midst.  The Prime Minister himself has had nothing to say about this, or any other crisis affecting the nation under his watch.

The French philosopher Tocqueville famously remarked that in democracy, we get the government we deserve.  It would be worth remembering this when general elections come a-calling in 2014.

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