The answer is good governance, not lily livers

Defeatism spreads under ineffective leadership

It is nice to see the Indian Express correctly hold the the nincompoops in the UPA government responsible for allowing the situation to come to such a sorry pass.

Discussions on Kashmir always bring up history. Here’s a little bit of history to help contextualise the current state of state response: probably not since the early 18th-century ruler Muhammad Shah Rangila, who wrote the book on awesomely ineffective security governance, has India had administrators who have been so brilliantly incapable of discharging their basic remit. Needless to say 21st-century India can’t afford Rangilas in government. And all responses to the Kashmir crisis must start with this recognition. Also, let’s ask ourselves: is India to cut and run because of some weeks of violence when years of patient diplomacy, dogged army work and good politics had blunted the hard edges in Kashmir? The country has dealt with violence within before. It has dealt with groups calling loudly for a divorce with the Union. If we decide to take a particular course on Kashmir, what will we do when politicised violence erupts elsewhere? Drawing-room solutions can look pretty and neat. Nation-building, sadly, isn’t always pretty and neat. It calls for clarity and determination. That’s what Delhi — and Srinagar — need. [IE]

Indians should concern themselves with asking who can provide this leadership—and how their current leaders might be persuaded to provide it—rather than boosting the morale of India’s enemies at this time.

Lotus Message

Taken by surprise

Vijay Vikram writes in to inform that the June 2008 issue of Kamal Sandesh, the BJP’s house magazine has reprinted the op-ed that I wrote for Mail Today (based on this post).

While it is good to know that Kamal Sandesh‘s editors found the article worthy of dissemination, it must be put on record that this was done without asking for or receiving my consent. (Content on this blog is published under Creative Commons Attribution license, so prior permission is not required. Also, they might have an arrangement with Mail Today.)

On arming citizens to fight insurgents

The battle in the Supreme Court

The correct way to challenge dubious government policies is to take them to court. So the citizens who filed a public interest litigation (PIL) against the Chattisgarh government’s use of an armed militia to take on the Naxalites did the right thing.

The case is still in progress, but the court’s early comments—well publicised by the media—were noteworthy.

“The allegation is that the state is arming private persons. You can deploy as many police personnel or armed forces to tackle the menace. But, if private persons, so armed by the state government, kill other persons, then the state is also liable to be prosecuted for abetting murder” [TOI]

The court is on the right track. Armed militias like Salwa Judum are not only unconstitutional but actually inimical to internal security. They should go.

The government’s defence has been injudicious so far: it was wholly unnecessary to bring in the bogey of an adverse judgement undermining the strategy of using village defence committees (VDCs) in terrorist/insurgent affected areas. For there is a difference between VDCs and armed militias.

The difference lies both in orientation and organisation. VDCs are about empowering citizens to defend themselves and their properties. They are localised units, small in size and with limited capability. Salwa Judum on the other hand has offensive capabilities, an organisational structure with paid cadres and covers large areas. VDCs are more akin to security guards than to armed militias. The government’s counsel would do well not to conflate Salwa Judum with VDCs. (And ensure that VDCs don’t become Salwa Judums)

According to the government, the allegations against Salwa Judum are overstated. That may well be true. It is likely that the court will appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate into the allegations. Yet, it would be far more prudent for the state to conduct ‘flag operations’, demonstrating that the state is capable of delivering governance. For whether the state cedes ground to Salwa Judum or to the Naxalites, it is the state that loses.

My op-ed in Mail Today: Vengeance of the red complaint box

On the Naxalite threat

Excerpts from my op-ed piece in today’s Mail Today:

Now there has been a controversy brewing for several months over the arrest of Dr Binayak Sen. The Supreme Court has turned down his bail application, yet sections of the media have been projecting him as an innocent being victimised by the state. Quizzed about the affair, (Sudeep) Chakravarti contends that Dr Sen is a soft target for the state. “Having him in jail” he argues “allows the state government and police a victory in the face of organisational and security disasters on the ground. But this is a pyrrhic victory. It stifles a moderate voice, and has done nothing whatsoever to curtail or solve in any way either the raging Maoist rebellion in Chattisgarh or issues of development”

Innocent or guilty, only the courts can tell (and Dr Sen has unfettered access to them). But the media coverage of the affair is playing into the hands of the Naxalites. In the absence of a nation-wide anti-insurgency strategy, will critical media coverage compel Chattisgarh and other weak states to take a more enlightened, sophisticated route? Given the situation on the ground, that’s unlikely. The interests of freedom and rights will be better served if the central government is compelled to really fight and defeat the Naxalites.

And then there is the non-security aspect of the anti-Naxalite strategy, wrongly characterised as the need for “development”. It misses the point because people don’t resort to violence because they lack development. They do so when there is a lack of governance. [MailToday JPG/Get the entire article in PDF]

Discuss this on the recent post on Naxalites and human rights activists

The secular demand for security

The right lesson for all political parties—including the BJP but especially for the Congress—is that there is a tangible electoral advantage to be had by being serious about forcefully countering terrorism. These are not merely the words of some opinionated blogger (or, for that matter, a columnist in The Indian Express). After the Gujarat election, they are revealed preferences of the electorate. The demand for security is secular in every sense of the word.

The writing is on the wall: internal security has become an electoral issue

The march of terrorism in Indian cities, along with the government’s inability to prevent attacks, this blog wrote this August, was “on the verge of crossing the chasm and (rightly) becoming a electoral issue. The parties that fail to see it are quite likely to pay a price”.

And in November, The Acorn noted that “if the UPA government’s pussyfooting on counter-terrorism was due to electoral calculations with an eye on the Muslim vote bank, here’s something for Congress Party strategists to think about: terrorist attacks across India are making security an aam aadmi electoral issue. Muslims are not likely to relish a situation where bombs go off every now and then putting them on the defensive. Conspiracy theories too are subject to diminishing returns; and one attack too many—as we have seen in the last couple of years—could cause a secular demand for security.”

That’s exactly what Shishir Gupta concludes from the results of the Gujarat assembly elections. Narendra Modi’s electoral victory owes itself to many factors. Yet the fact that his government delivered on security was not lost on Gujarat’s voters.

The right lesson for all political parties—including the BJP but especially for the Congress—is that there is a tangible electoral advantage to be had by being serious about forcefully countering terrorism. These are not merely the words of some opinionated blogger (or, for that matter, a columnist in The Indian Express). After the Gujarat election, they are revealed preferences of the electorate. The demand for security is secular in every sense of the word.