State of the Union

The most interesting chapter deals with 26/11. It clearly brings out that the Centre had not passed on any specific intelligence to the State, that the police had reacted promptly with their available resources, and that there was no serious lapse.

Written by Prakash Singh | Published:July 29, 2017 1:00 am
Keeping India safe, Vappala Balachandran, Vappala Balachandran new book, India security, Book review, Indian Express Keeping India Safe by Vappala Balachandran.

The flaws in India’s internal security management and how it impacts our image in international fora

Title: Keeping India Safe: The Dilemma of Internal Security
Author: Vappala Balachandran
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 328 pages
Price: Rs 599

Internal security provides the foundation for external security and our prestige in international fora. If there are a hundred points of insurgency, disaffection or rebellion, those weaken the social structure and hamper economic growth, and news about these unrests affects other countries’ judgement about our handling of sensitive matters. Unfortunately, our policy makers have not paid adequate attention to this vital sector and their threat responses have been influenced more by political considerations than strategic vision. Much was expected of the NDA government, but unfortunately, it has also disappointed — so far, at least.

Balachandran’s book on internal security is a valuable addition to the literature on the subject. He has drawn our attention to fundamental flaws in the Constitution which are adversely affecting our handling of internal security challenges. The founding fathers, as he says, copied the Act of 1935 while dividing Centre-state subjects without considering whether it would safeguard national integrity in times of turbulence. They should have given concurrent responsibility to the Centre to deal with national security threats, and not doing so was “certainly a lapse”. This view is supported by leading Constitutional experts like Fali Nariman. Not that the government is unaware of it, but it fears opposition from states. The reality has to be faced, and the sooner we do it the better.

Balachandran is on target when he says that after 26/11, the nation was united against the scourge of terrorism, and that it was an ideal opportunity to amend the Constitution and create a federal police which would investigate terror and other cases which had all-India ramifications. “What was however produced was a partly empowered police (the NIA)”. It was a “leadership failure” of the UPA government.

The author also writes of institutions which are either dysfunctional or have no statutory basis. The National Security Council, which should have played a key role, is one of these, thanks to its unclear charter. The National Security Advisory Board is a collection of the best brains in the field of security, but the government has not made use of this vast reservoir of talent. What is worse, the organisation became defunct under the NDA regime, though lately, it has been revived in an emaciated form. The Crisis Management Group could never rise to the occasion, whether in the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi or the hijacking of IC-814 or the 26/11 attack. The Intelligence Bureau should have an oversight mechanism and be made accountable. The CBI also requires a legal mandate and greater autonomy in personnel and finance. The Ministry of Home Affairs has become unwieldy and needs to be bifurcated, with a separate division for internal security alone. All these are valuable points and need to be acted upon at the highest level.

The most interesting chapter deals with 26/11. It clearly brings out that the Centre had not passed on any specific intelligence to the State, that the police had reacted promptly with their available resources, and that there was no serious lapse. But the state government could have tightened coastal surveillance and made provisions for equipment and arms easier for the police. The political leadership and bureaucracy were to blame for that. Were they held accountable? Why the Centre didn’t institute an inquiry into the lapses of 26/11 remains a mystery to this day. According to knowledgeable people, the inquiry was not set up because several senior officers in Delhi would have been found guilty.

The NDA government, according to the author, has shown “no interest in revising the stagnant thinking on national security”. The indictment is a bit harsh. The government has taken some initiatives to improve the police and tackle Maoists, but these efforts have not been as comprehensive as was required. The author has also faulted the NDA government for “immaturely” dealing with the Naga problem. The brain behind the framework agreement with the NSCN (IM) was of one of the finest officers of the country. If the framework could not be given a final shape, it is essentially because of the duplicity of the Naga leaders.

The book is full of facts and figures on foreign security agencies. Researchers would find these useful. But William Henry Sleeman has been given more space than he deserved. The detailed accounts of thuggee are, nevertheless, interesting.

The writer was director general, Border Security Force, DGP UP and DGP Assam
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