Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Internal security and vote-bank politics

Internal security and vote-bank politics
By Prakash Nanda

In the wake of recent terrorist attacks on Mumbai, it will not be wide off the mark to say that unlike in previous general elections, the coming one in April-May is likely to be dominated by the debates and campaigns pertaining to internal security. In the general elections so far in India, only external security breached by the outbreak of wars or threatened by war-like situations has had influenced the electoral outcomes, particularly in 1971(Bangladesh war) and 1998 (Kargil war). But this time, internal security issues are likely to play decisive roles.

It may be noted that internal security is proving to be a complex phenomenon. The distinction between external security and internal security is getting increasingly blurred. Many internal security threats are externally sponsored, guided, inspired, supported or tolerated. Apart from the fact that secessionist movements and terrorist incidents within the country are being sponsored from abroad, certain specific post-Cold War global political, economic, and social trends—democratisation, globalisation, increasing concerns about human rights violations, regional integration—have further complicated the internal security environment.

Pakistan has been using state-sponsored and state-supported cross-border terrorism (primarily in Jammu and Kashmir) as an instrument of its state policy. China continues to provide shelter and support to ethnic-separatist terrorism in the north-east. Various terrorist groups operating in India’s north-east have often found a safe haven and operational bases in Bangladesh. The linkages between the Maoists in Nepal and those in the bordering states in India remain a cause for major concern. It may also be noted that almost all the neighbours of India in the subcontinent are widely described as “failed states”. There is thus always the potential danger from the spillover effects of any unstable conditions in India’s neighbourhood. The Maoist participation in the government in Nepal, the continuing ethnic problem in Sri Lanka with the increasing menace of smuggling and drug trafficking, events in Pakistan and Bangladesh will always have important implications in the adjoining Indian territories.

The involvements of the external forces are also wellknown in so far as aiding and abetting India’s organised criminal and mafia groups. This linkage is encouraging trans-border illegal migration, money-laundering operations, gun-running and drug traffic, apart from fomenting criminal, subversive and communal activities. In fact, it is said that the enormous funds generated by this foreign-aided unlawful activities are being mostly utilised for spreading Islamic fundamentalism and organising communal and other violent incidents all over the country. Jehadi terrorism, inspired by externally generated ideas about taking revenge for so called wrongs committed against Islam over the centuries and the grandiose ambition of establishing an Islamic Caliphate across international borders, is posing a major threat in India.

The second aspect of the complex phenomenon of internal security is the “diversity-challenge” in a huge country. India is the seventh largest country in the world. It has more than one billion people spread over approximately 3.1 million square kilometers of territory. It has land boundaries of 15,200 kilometres, over 600 island territories, a coastline of over 7,500 kilometres and an Exclusive Economic Zone of 25 lakh square kilometres. We have land frontiers and maritime boundaries with half a dozen neighbouring countries. All this is coupled by cultural and religious diversities. There are 22 major languages and over 200 dialects. Every major region of the world is practiced in India.

Indians proudly, rather legitimately, talk of their unity amidst diversities. In true sense of the term unity is possible or flows naturally when problems of national integration are sorted out by maintaining a socio-political and socio-economic equilibrium. Internal security is endangered whenever there is a slight imbalance in this equilibrium. And the imbalances do occur because of several internal contradictions inherent in the country’s geography, social and economic disparities, and complex socio-cultural and ethno religious traditions. In other words, internal security is inextricably interlinked with managing contradictions, which, in turn, is synonymous with what political analysts call “good governance”. Needless to say that good governance is lacking very much in India these days and that explains rising challenges to the country’s internal security.

There are many factors behind the lack of good governance in India. We may enumerate some of them. To begin with, there is the factor of unsure political equations, reflected in the continuous changes in the nature of political coalitions, both at the Center and the states. As it is, coalition governments are going to be the norm at the central or federal level for many years to come. Coalitions have also become the norm in India’s majority of states. And in the most of the cases, coalitions have been rather opportunistic, being formed after elections, not as a consequence of the pre-poll alliances. The governing alliances are inherently unstable and perennially occupied in managing threats to their survival through intrigues, unreasonable compromises and insatiable compensations. As a consequence, the effective or good governance gets badly affected.

What is limiting the effectiveness of the coalitions is that the constituent parties, particularly those that have their support base limited to specific regions and communities, have often differing perceptions on the nature, cause and effects of the situations jeoparadising internal security. There is no political consensus in India as to what contributes towards the growing phenomenon of terrorism and how to deal with it. Vote-bank politics is proving to be the biggest impending factor while framing anti-terrorism laws and taking actions against the accused. Consensus is also lacking on the implementations of the strategies to confront the growing menace of naxalite violence that has now gained in strength and spread to over about one-third of the total districts in the country. The naxalites are trying to establish “liberation zones” in core areas where they are dispensing or claiming to be dispensing basic state functions of administration, policing and justice.

Similarly, there is no meeting of the minds in India’s political system on the appraisal of aggressive parochialism, whether in Assam or in Maharashtra or in Jammu and Kashmir or in Tamil Nadu, despite the fact that it is affecting national security and national integration. If the “anti-outsiders” feelings in these provinces are being actively promoted by some political forces, others, including those in the ruling coalitions, are passively encouraging the phenomenon just not to lose the precious votes during elections. In fact, a section of the ruling establishments has gone to ridiculous extent of encouraging the influx of Bangladeshi nationals into the country in order to fatten its vote-bank, completely oblivious of the fact that by 2010 to 2015, out of 126 Assembly constituencies in Assam, about 54 would be dominated by Bangladeshi Muslim voters, who would one day not only pose a serious threat to the socio-cultural identity and stability of the State, but may also be in a position to form their Government and have their own Chief Minister. The threat was clearly enunciated when on July 23, 2008, the Guwahati High Court stated in a judgment: “Bangladeshis have become kingmakers in Assam.”

Whatever the reasons behind the huge number of Bangladeshi nationals in India (at least 200 million), their overall presence in the country—the east and north-east regions in particular—is shattering of the socio-economic balance in the region. Illegal immigrants not only occupy char areas in the riverine belt, but also lead to the growth of unauthorised settlements in government lands, agricultural lands, grazing reserves and forest areas. They compete with genuine Indians for jobs, thereby worsening the already serious unemployment problem. Worst still, some of these Bangladeshis are being patronised by the ISI and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) to spread terror in India. But as they have managed to enter their names in the electoral rolls in their zeal to remain within the country, illegal Bangladeshi settlers have been aggressively courted by the Communists and the Congress party as a major vote-bank—at least in Assam, West Bengal and Delhi.

No wonder why India’s anti-terror policy is so ineffective. Terrorist incidents have happened, are happening and will continue to happen unless in the coming general elections those banking on vote-bank politics are taught proper lessons.

(The writer is a senior journalist and can be contacted at

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