Updated: May 31, 2019 2:21:45 pm
One of the first challenges that the new Home Minister will face is the conduct of peaceful elections in Jammu & Kashmir, which has seen unprecedented violence of late. Governor Satya Pal Malik dissolved the Assembly last November, and the Election Commission is waiting for the Home Ministry’s signal to schedule elections in the state.
The challenge in J&K
Elections to the Assembly could not be held along with those to Lok Sabha because of concerns over security, and issues of logistics around the availability of forces. The Home Ministry is of the view that elections should be held after the Amarnath Yatra in July-August; they could, therefore, be scheduled in September.
However, violence in J&K generally peaks between April and October. Since the security forces killed the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July 2016, the state has been caught in an endless spiral of protests and violence, with increasingly larger numbers of local youths joining militancy.
Only 16 young men had joined the ranks of militants in 2013; this number rose to 88 in 2016, and to 126 and 191 in 2017 and 2018. The government’s muscular policy in Kashmir has so far not resulted in a reduction of violence.
Despite all efforts to plug the borders, infiltration from Pakistan and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir too, has gone up. The number of terrorist infiltrators rose from 119 in 2016 to 143 in 2018. The increased infiltration was reflected in frequent encounters, in which security forces killed 244 terrorists in the Valley in 2018. The corresponding figure for 2016 was only 135.
Security forces, too, have suffered losses. More than 200 security personnel have been killed in Kashmir since January 2018, including those targeted in the February 14, 2019 Pulwama terrorist attack. In 2016, 171 security personnel had died fighting terrorists.
The Lok Sabha polls saw the lowest voter turnout in the Valley since 2002, ranging from about 2% in Shopian and Pulwama segments of Anantnag to 34% in Baramulla. Among the big tasks of the Home Ministry will be to start engagements that can initiate legitimate political processes in Kashmir, with increased participation. The Ministry has so far not gone beyond the security-related approach to a cohesive and comprehensive policy in Kashmir; the Centre’s interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma is all but defunct, and there is no roadmap for robust political engagement on the table.
Militancy and NRC in N-E
The other priority area will be the Northeast. While the government claims to have brought violence down by 85% since the 1990s, the Naga Peace Accord is yet to be concluded four years after the signing of the framework agreement. Of late, there have been standoffs between NSCN-IM cadres and security forces; and an MLA of the regional National People’s Party (NPP) was killed by suspected NSCN militants in Arunachal Pradesh last week.
While the anti-talks faction of ULFA led by Paresh Baruah has been significantly weakened, it continues its violent activities, and Baruah remains firm on staying away from negotiations.
The controversy around the National Register for Citizens continues. The task of ensuring that no Indian citizen is excluded is huge and complicated, and the Home Ministry is yet to deliver a streamlined solution.
Consolidating LWE gains
Over the next five years, the government will be hoping to make a final push to defeat Left Wing Extremism (LWE). Despite the intermittent attacks on security forces, the overall violence has come down, and last year, the government removed 44 districts from the list of those affected by LWE. Maoist influence in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal has been reduced significantly, but challenges remain in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, and Bihar.
The Home Ministry will focus on faster delivery of infrastructure projects such as roads and mobile phone towers. Ministry data show that in the first phase of a project aimed at improving cellphone connectivity, 2,329 towers were erected in Maoist-affected areas, including 816 in Jharkhand and 519 in Chhattisgarh. The government plans to erect another 4,072 towers in the second phase of the project.
Of the 5,422 km of roads sanctioned in the first phase, 4,544 km have already been built. Work on the second phase — 5,411 km at an estimated cost Rs 10,780 crore — will begin soon.
Maoist activities in some new districts of Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh, too, present a challenge to the Home Ministry.
Terrorism; pending projects
The Easter bombings in Sri Lanka show that the Islamic State could have reached close to India. Security agencies have arrested more than 100 individuals since 2014 for alleged association with the IS. In August 2018, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) busted an alleged IS module in Hyderabad, bringing to an end a relative lull in the activities of the terrorist group over a 10-month period that began towards the end of 2017. Some 20 alleged IS operatives have been arrested since then.
Over the past few years, the government has created several new divisions in the Home Ministry, including those dealing with Women’s Safety, Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Radicalisation, and Cyber and Information Security. These divisions are yet to show substantive results, and need more teeth. The Cyber and Information Security Division was among the worst performers in the last financial year, managing to spend only 47% of its budget.
The Ministry will also be hoping to fully operationalise at the earliest the indefinitely-delayed Crime and Criminal Tracking Networks and Systems (CCCTNS) and the National Intelligence Grid, or NATGRID.
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