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Updated: August 3, 2013 00:32 IST

The drift to a national security state

Manoj Joshi
Comment (12)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

The obsession with new forces, more surveillance, and layer upon layer of personnel and equipment will sink the India we cherish

Some time ago, I was struck by a small news item tucked away inside the pages of a prominent daily. It said the Ministry of Home Affairs had opposed the increase in the Foreign Direct Investment cap for broadcast and the print media from the current 26 to the proposed 49 per cent, saying this could affect national security.

According to the news item, “The MHA said big foreign media players with vested interests may try to fuel fire during internal or external disturbances.”

What is remarkable about this attitude is the presumption that Indians, who have lived through multiple crises and voted in numerous elections, are in need of the MHA’s protective services when it comes to exercising their judgment. Besides infantilising the citizens of this country, the MHA’s attitude is a manifestation of the national security state that we are becoming.

Curbs on rights

Such a state is one which tends obsessively to look at challenges through the prism of national security. It builds up a vast apparatus of military and police forces and arms itself with legal and extra-legal powers that end up curbing the rights of its citizens, all in the name of national security.

The ongoing spat between the Intelligence Bureau and the Central Bureau of Investigation over the Ishrat Jahan extra-judicial killing is another manifestation of this development. The IB’s argument seems to be that it is the guardian of security in the country, and hence should somehow be exempt from the operation of its laws, even when it comes to serious issues like extra-judicial execution.

On the other hand, the armed forces say that they need the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) if they are to operate against domestic insurgents. This would have been a reasonable demand, given the spread of insurgency to many parts of India. But instead of indemnifying its personnel against accidental killing, as the Act intended to do, the Army has been using the legislation to prevent action in incidents of deliberate killing such as the case relating to the murder of three villagers in the Machil sector in Kashmir in 2010. Other agencies, too, now vie for rights similar to the IB. They want powers to snoop into the private lives of Indians as comprehensively as the Stasi once did in East Germany and they see nothing wrong with it. You see, they are guarding our national security.

Of course, the Indian national security state has not emerged out of nowhere. Its roots lie in the massive covert assault the country underwent at the hands of Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s. To counter it, the state raised new forces, adopted new intelligence tactics, laws and procedures. Unfortunately what we have seen since is an expansion of those powers even though the worst has long been past, at least insofar as the country’s internal security challenges are concerned.

Punjab is a case in point where, in the years 1991-1992, the writ of the State ran in many areas only during the day time. Militancy in Kashmir has declined sharply and today, insurgents’ actions appear to be token reminders to people that they are still around. In the north-east, too, the ULFA is in disarray and the Naga ceasefire continues to hold. Even the Maoists, who once appeared menacing, are now finding the going tough. Yet, there is no effort to refine the tactics, restructure and retrench forces or alter the nature of powers, given the changed circumstances. This is clear from the mule-headed insistence that AFSPA continue to operate in Kashmir, even though the ground situation there has changed dramatically.

As for external security, few will doubt that Pakistan’s war-making capabilities against India have actually deteriorated because of the growing internal challenges that Islamabad faces and the steady accretion of combat power by the Indian military. It is true China’s growing military capabilities pose a significant challenge to India. In recent years, New Delhi has been aware of this and has significantly raised the budgetary provisions for upgrading the northern border infrastructure and the forces committed to its defence. But China’s challenge is as much through its economic prowess as its military capabilities.

Ever-increasing budget

While the emergence of the national security state poses challenges on the issue of privacy, human rights and personal liberties, there is another aspect that should not be forgotten — expenditure. Every challenge comes up with a new bureaucratic response in terms of new plans, organisations, forces and equipment. Somehow, the older and obsolete ones never seem to go away. So we end up with an ever increasing budget and institutions devoted to national security. The relentless growth of the paramilitary and armed forces has been one manifestation of this. While civil police forces remain patchy and ill-equipped, India’s paramilitary and army has grown astonishingly — from 430,000 in 1988 to 670,000 in 2004. Currently they stand at 850,000 and could go up by another 100,000 in the coming years.

Instead of reorganising and retraining the security apparatus to adjust to the changing nature of threats, our efforts have been to simply add layer upon layer of personnel and equipment. India could reduce the size of its armoured force but this continues to remain a huge component of its army that has little practical use. Along with this are forces such as the 60,000 personnel of the Rashtriya Rifles set up to tackle the insurgency in Kashmir.

Just how things have worked is apparent from what happened to the Parliament House following the December 13, 2001 attack. Until the 1960s, a city transport bus would actually let passengers alight near the front entrance of the building. Today, the guardians of Parliament have shut off roads adjacent to the Parliament House and sections of roads nearby. The perimeter of the Parliament House is covered by a CCTV system and an electrified fence; within, there are four layers of security, courtesy the Delhi Police, the CRPF and ITBP and personnel of the Parliament Security Service, the last-named entity being set up after the 2001 attack on Parliament. This arrangement is giving way to a new Parliament Duty Group made up of two battalions of CRPF and the PSS, equipped with high quality assault rifles, hand-held thermal imagers and so on. Personnel who guard the entry to the Parliament House have a variety of gadgets to disable rogue vehicles, in addition to providing radio-frequency identification of registered vehicles. But, typical of static security systems, Parliament’s security is oriented to fighting the last intrusion better than it is to deal with the next attack which could come in an unexpected fashion, such as one where a toy aeroplane landed on the grounds in 2009. This fortress has, in effect, denied access to the citizen, while not quite ensuring that it is secure.

Exaggerated protection

Is a national security state more secure? The Parliament House’s security offers an apt illustration. First, despite the multiple layers of security at huge expense, there have been several breaches of the system over the years. Second, the exaggerated protection being offered is for a small elite of political leaders, while the public is left to fend for itself. This is despite the key lesson of internal security, that the leaders can only be as safe as its ordinary citizens are, and that the first and best line of defence against terrorists is good intelligence, which in our case is an entirely different matter.

Ensuring national security is an important attribute of a modern nation-state. But as the erstwhile Soviet Union realised, the threats to the state these days do not come from orthodox sources. And looking at India with its nuclear weapons and huge armies, it is even more difficult to believe that any combination of external and internal threats can actually pose an existential challenge to the nation. Indeed, the real threat is not that we will be overwhelmed by adversaries, but that our obsession with national security will sink the India that we cherish.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)

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I do not agree that allowing greater foreign ownership of news organisations or even cross-ownership of channels is a good idea. Just take a look at the reach of Clear Channel Communications in the United States.

I do agree that we are moving towards a police state in India. Just look at the powers that grant immunity to state personnel, be it section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code or the AFSPA. Why do we not want checks and balances on police, armed forces and government officials?

I am amazed at the number of commenters supporting the above acts. Have they even read the text of acts like the AFSPA? If we need to give teeth to our investigative agencies, let them have access to UUID data, CCTV data, stop and search people, but there must be oversight of these actions. I do not want to be shot down on the streets like a dog because I look different, behave different or dress different.

from:  Rahul Garg
Posted on: Aug 4, 2013 at 17:07 IST

MHA is totally correct in it's move of opposing the increase in cap in
the FDI in print and media industry,with snooping activities of
western countries becoming a reality ,we will only be providing them
more ammunition.

Also,what author does'nt understand is that being surrounded by such
hostile neighbours,and with incursions being a common phenomena and
the recent incursions by the chinese troops are ample to prove
it,India not only needs to strengthen itself economically,but also
defence wise,because to face a economy as big and as advanced as china
our defence needs to be great both in technology and numbers.

from:  Ankita
Posted on: Aug 4, 2013 at 11:31 IST

UK just sent father and son of the Murdock Family from United Kingdom. Murdock used his News Media Power to make and break the elected Government and he put Catholic Labour Minister in Power when it suited to him.
I suggest Joshi should look who planned to take over English media
TV and Print to plant a foreign domestic worker as de facto Viceroy of Democratic India.

from:  cnh
Posted on: Aug 4, 2013 at 03:50 IST

I agree to the points raised by the author but aren't the changed circumstances result of the same security apparatus that was raised in response to the exigencies of the time that according to the author is over now. Also what is the guarantee that situation will not worsen again. What we need is a balanced and calibrated approach. While AFSPA should be limited to certain districts or blocks, the security forces do need snooping tools to ensure the internal security while the right to privacy is ensured via proper safeguards. Technology and tools are required, what needs to be checked is there misuse by creating a system of checks and balances. In US with help of Palm top devices police is able to match the fingerprints with a centralized database to check if the person has any past criminal records. This is important and it's misuse should be curbed is also an equally important aspect.

from:  Himanshu Khatri
Posted on: Aug 4, 2013 at 01:57 IST

Though I am opposed to the idea of govt. collecting and monitoring citizens like a big brother,
there is enough evidence to show that foreign govt. play a surreptitious role in twisting the
media. But this cannot be prevented by regulating ownership, especially in a country where
ownership is impossible to determine. Besides, there are enough indian owners who will sell
their loyalty for a small fee.
This whole issue needs to be handled with slow change and ability to blackout, by which I
mean don't make laws that cannot be repealed. Keep adequate checks in the process to
prevent abuse. Balance the needs of security with freedom. Ensure that there is complete
oversight and transparency in use of info thus collected. It is easier said than done.

from:  V. Iyengar
Posted on: Aug 4, 2013 at 00:03 IST

From a historical perspective, the author is raising fundamental
issues of governance at the Centre. Incredible as it may sound, India is still a living democracy with all its pitfalls.

However, looking at it dispassionately from abroad (EU), for various political and social constraints, transparency of central governance has become a deficit; if not corrected and set right by next round of general elections, the subcontinent may enter into a period of unstable governance/government(s).

At both national and state levels, politics must inevitably change for better or get submerged by internal strife and lost decade of sustainable development.

from:  dr hari naidu
Posted on: Aug 3, 2013 at 23:31 IST

Hope india learns from the NSA fiasco. There has to be a balance. Between security and right privacy. Without clear oversight an.accountability

from:  Ram Narayanan
Posted on: Aug 3, 2013 at 19:22 IST

"Personnel who guard the entry to the Parliament House have a variety of gadgets to disable rogue vehicles, in addition to providing radio-frequency identification of registered vehicles."

What they need is an electromagnetic brain disabler to prevent nearly 1/2 of the MP's who are corrupt, criminals, anti India, communal, pseudo secular, lumpen politicians practicing politics of vote bank from even entering the Parliament.
First bar all lumpen politicians against whom criminal charges are pending from even entering the perimeter of a House

from:  Neela K R
Posted on: Aug 3, 2013 at 18:26 IST

Isn't this article reassure that everything is fine in the country. Are you shortsighted? Or you don't come out from your house.can you think that police or security forces will fight with rogue forces bare handed. Even safe societies in countries such as US and UK have better laws to safeguard security interests of security forces than in india.
First of all you should understand that
SF's are also the countrymen, they don't love killing their own people. There is system in place to punish any negligence in duty. So don't start cribbing that AFSPA should be removed. For your kind information India is heading towards a very difficult time due to its internal security...towards a more dangerous time due to it's government chalta hai policies. Soon every body will experience hard time unless government really give its people a good governance.

from:  Rajesh
Posted on: Aug 3, 2013 at 17:38 IST

Mr. Joshi has correctly examined the current scenario of threat level that our India is facing. Evidently, Kashmir terrorism is now a matter of past for most of the indians. Islamabad,too, involved in its internal rectification of disturbances.And, to tackle with China, all we have to do is, advancement of our economy.
What is to be done is not increasing the size of the Army and more importantly its divisions, but to ensure the current military abilities to advanced levels. However, in doing do, an eye must be kept on over-expenses of government in military empowerment.

from:  Piyush Shukla
Posted on: Aug 3, 2013 at 11:32 IST

For making an informed choice, it is always necessary to have all
facts available. So there is nothing wrong in MHA warning us
about the risks involved. Are you saying that in a democracy like
ours, MHA should keep mum its views even though (according to it)
they are vital for our security apparatus?

With snooping activities of western countries (like PRISM of USA)
making big on news lately, MHA would have been deemed unreliable
if it hadn't raised it's concerns.

Actually it is the mandate of MHA to voice it's opinion on things
which it perceives as critical for our internal security. Only
then, the public (or rather it's representatives) can make the
right choice.

from:  Naveen E
Posted on: Aug 3, 2013 at 07:23 IST

The author's point about the counterproductive aspects of the national security state are well taken. But perhaps he does not give due cognizance to the actual 'product' of such governance: the naturalization of a state of anxiety, which serves the interests of the governing elites by rationalizing their abuses of power and silencing dissent. The US is the best example of such a state. India as usual is determined to follow suit.

Also, while I agree that the Indian paramilitary apparatus is bloated, I would take issue with the observation that the armoured corps is excessively large. If we bear in mind that Rajasthan, Punjab and Ladakh are all prime 'tank country,' the size of the Indian Army's tank forces is actually quite modest, even inadequate. (In comparison, several much smaller Middle Eastern states maintain much larger armoured forces.) The balance of the forces, in terms of equipment and costs, is a different matter.

Yours truly,

Satadru Sen
New York City

from:  Satadru Sen
Posted on: Aug 3, 2013 at 04:33 IST
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