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Where are the states in this?

Union Home Ministry’s plan to resolve the Maoist problem must give states the ownership of the problem

Here is GK Pillai, who was India’s Union Home Secretary till last year, on how the government of India seeks resolution of the Maoist problem. This is from the IPCS Conference Report #38.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Government of India seeks resolution on four terms. One, basic law and order needs improvement, therefore the number of forces has been raised. The police footfall on ground has been increased three times. The government is tackling this issue head on since the last decade, as a result, the naxals are responding with large scale violence. The government proposes to deploy 120 police battalions next year and revamp the police set up. Simultaneously, general welfare schemes are paid attention to and starting from now, it would need five years to reduce the problem significantly.

Second, the focus would be on development of LWE affected areas. MHA has approved road development projects worth 7300 crore and Integrated action plan for 68 districts will be provided with internet connectivity. Considering popular grievances over land ownership, policies like the Tribal Land Act are being monitored by the MHA along with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. Policies like the Tribal Land Act and Minor Forest Produce have given land ownership to the tribals. Bamboo has been declared as an exclusive ownership of the tribals. As a result, income of inhabitants has sharply gone up. To illustrate, tribals auctioned their produce themselves, eliminating middle men and earned 30 million annually as against earlier half million. The Police, Revenue and Forest departments were exploitative departments from a point of view. Officials are unwilling to be posted in naxal affected areas and look at such postings as punishments. Thus they are not interested at all. It’s a challenge to post and retain the best officials. So far government has achieved only 30 per cent success rate in this regard. Besides, vacancies in schools and police postings remain, which is an impediment in improving civic administration in these areas. It is extremely necessary to improve basic infrastructure in these areas to sustain recruitment and postings. PISA is monitored by the MHA. However situation is improving in a way that marriages are taking place, buses are running, markets have opened, and contractors are willing to build roads in naxal affected areas. Trust in government is improving; local population has demanded presence of police troops for another five to ten years. So far, the government has recovered 4000 sq. km of area from naxal occupation.

Third, efforts should be made to regain political space in the problem areas. Naxals do not desire popular tilt towards government and want to terrify people with their brutality. In 2011, out of 1100 persons killed by the naxals, 700 were tribals. In many areas affected by naxalism, political parties do not exist but it is important to put political presence. To understand the positive impact of political parties in arresting naxalism, the state of Uttar Pradesh is a classic example. LWE has not exceeded in Uttar Pradesh owing to Bahujan Samaj Party’s stronghold in villages. Similarly, in Andhra Pradesh former Chief Minister Y S Rajshekhar Reddy made efforts for political resurrection in naxal affected areas. A commonplace problem or limitation in such efforts lies in the different perceptions of naxal problem in different state governments and the limitations posed by slow movement of federal dialogue. Though political parties are realising the gravity of the issue and the need for political presence, much work needs to be done. LWE areas are mineral rich therefore we cannot afford to make any mistake. In a scenario built by the MHA, by taking control of resources, Naxals have the capabilities to cut off power supply to Delhi in three days. Government does not expect naxals to give up arms; rather give up on violence; to which naxals would never succumb as their ideology is founded on violence. They fear that people will not support them if they give up armed struggle. Naxals cannot be tamed or brought to talks unless put under pressure. It is crucial to show them that they are not at any advantage over the government.

Last, the criminal justice system needs an overhaul. About 1.8 Lac offences are laid on tribals under the FRA. There is immense harassment due to procedural bureaucracy. Several cases were withdrawn and the MHA is pushing for the withdrawal of all cases with hope that the move would bring in some relief. [IPCS Report #38]

This does sound like a plan – well thought out and cogently articulated. No one can doubt the good intentions of the Union Home Ministry in tackling the Maoist crisis. While this plan will lead to some improvement in the situation, it won’t achieve full success. The reason for that is simple. Both law & order and development are subjects in the domain of the state governments. By taking ownership of the Maoist problem and prescribing centralised solutions across 7 states, the union home ministry is actually allowing the state governments to get away scot-free.

With all the Maoist-affected states ruled by non-Congress governments, it is impossible for the Congress-led central government to buy them all into any centralised plan. There has been little effort by the states to build capacity to either enforce the rule of law or undertake development, where rule of law has been established by the security forces. For eg, Saranda Action Plan in Jharkhand is being funded and directly controlled by the Centre, and even there, the progress is slipping.

For the state governments, the Maoist problem has become an useful tool to extract more central grants for development and security. Every state wants more districts covered under the SRE (Security Related Expenditure) and IAP (Integrated Action Plan) schemes of the MHA and the Planning Commission respectively. Indirectly, this is an acknowledgement by the state governments of their own failure.

But to blame only the states would be ignore the important role which the centre must play. The centre is to the states what a parent is to a shaky kid on the bicycle for the first time. She needs both support and freedom.You prolong the support and the child will never learn to ride the bicycle. You leave her without support and the child will shun the bike.

The central government has got that balance wrong.  Centre’s support has become a crutch for the states. This prescription of centralised solutions from the top must stop. The states must own the problem, and find the solutions that suit them best.

PS – Just in case you missed it, Mr Pillai actually said this: “In a scenario built by the MHA, by taking control of resources, Naxals have the capabilities to cut off power supply to Delhi in three days.” That outage is perhaps needed to wake this country up to the graveness of the Maoist threat.

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The Valley of unemployment

Sustained spell of stability, peace and security will attract corporates to Kashmir.

Reuters has a report on how “the rapid growth of India’s giant economy is finally exerting a pull on the troubled Kashmir Valley”. It focuses on the call centre, run by Essar Group’s business processing arm, AEGIS in Srinagar to highlight this trend. The story goes on to highlight:

Like many developing societies around the globe, Kashmir is experiencing a “youth bulge,” where 71 percent of the population is under the age of 35. Of the large cohort of youth between the ages of 18 to 30 in the Kashmir Valley, an estimated 48 percent are currently unemployed.

In a recent survey conducted by the London-based think tank Chatham House, 96 percent of respondents from the Kashmir Valley identified unemployment as one of the main problems facing the state of Jammu & Kashmir along with conflict and corruption.[Reuters]

Government of India has approved an employment plan (SEE J&K), fully funded by the Centre, to provide job-oriented training to some 40,000 graduates, post-graduates and professional degree holders in the state over a period of five years. With an estimated expenditure of approximately Rs 250,000 per trainee, the plan is based on the recommendations of expert group headed by known economist C Rangarajan set up by the Prime Minister in August 2010. But with an estimated 500,000 unemployed youth in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, this initiative is unlikely to make a significant difference in the short-term.

Although the SEE J&K plan is to be jointly implemented by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and India’s corporate sector, the answer to unemployment concerns of the state perhaps lies in more direct investment by India’s corporate sector in the Valley. A recent interview of founder chairman and chief mentor of Infosys, NR Narayana Murthy, explains why this isn’t happening.

Dr Faisal: Sir, we have recorded the unprecedented tourist arrivals in Kashmir this year, but unfortunately the investors are still not convinced, they are not still ready to come into the valley. And given that we have a very huge population of educated, unemployed youth and Kashmir does have an advantage when it comes to the software industry, I would just ask you that when is Infosys coming to Kashmir?

Mr Narayana Murthy: Absolutely. You know I was one of the earlier business people to go to Srinagar with Prime Minister Vajpayee and Barkha was also there, and at that point of time I did express that we would like to leverage the enormous strength of the wonderful youngsters that you have. But having said that, the reality is simply this, our business requires that our customers travel time and again in the course of a project. And for that to happen there will have to be, you know, stability, there will have to be a sense of peace, a sense of harmony, a sense of comfort, a sense of safety, and I think with officers like you in charge I have no doubt that we will reach that stable state pretty soon. And I can assure you that once we have that stable state, it will be an absolute privilege for us to come there. But let me assure you, let me tell you that we have lots of Kashmiris employed in Infosys in different development centres, absolutely.[NDTV]

The crux of what Mr Murthy says is this: there has to be stability, a sense of peace, a sense of harmony, a sense of comfort, a sense of safety — in other words, a prolonged spell of normalcy, peace and security for the corporates to invest in the state. The governments, both at the state and the centre, can only do this much to ensure normalcy. It is up to the Kashmiris to ensure that their political grievances are not exploited by Pakistan-backed and -funded separatist leadership to hurt the economic interests of Kashmiris. Current modes of expression of their grievances — whether by the gun or by stones or by shutdowns — need to be discarded in the favour of smarter alternatives, which will provide the average Kashmiri with an opportunity to lead a better life.

In other words, there is a need to get rid of the prevalent political economy of conflict in Kashmir. Because it is all about conflict; it has nothing to do with either politics or economy.

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Leadership in the information era

Like being at the centre of a circle.

From Joseph Nye’s lecture at Chatham House on The Future of Power:

In an information age, what you find is that hierarchical patterns of deference are greatly devalued, and you have to then appeal as a leader in a different way. In an industrial era, leadership was like being king of the mountain and your orders cascaded down to those below you. In an information age, leadership is more like being at the centre of a circle. And you have to attract others to you. That reinforces the importance of soft power and narrative. And the really skilled leader, is the leader who can develop a narrative in a democracy which attracts people to him, or her, obviously for votes, but also for support. But a narrative which simultaneously attracts an outside, or multiple audience. And that’s difficult.

…But it is not easy, because any leader who speaks at any time in this information age has to realise that there are not one or two audiences, or one or two channels. There’s now in the blogosphere a multitude of audiences and interpreters and channels. So it is much harder.

How many leaders in India — political, administrative, military, business and intellectual — have imbibed this basic requirement of the information era?

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Discoursing Kashmir

A look at the Union Home Secretary’s views about Kashmir

As a rule, Pragmatic Euphony is wary of reading too much into extracts of an interview by a government official. However, the PTI is holding back the full transcript while releasing a few extracts from its interview with the Union Home Secretary, Mr GK Pillai. One such PTI report contains certain statements made by Mr Pillai on Kashmir.

There were a couple of noteworthy points made by the Union Home Secretary.

When asked how many personnel are being pulled out from the state, he said in 2009, the centre pulled out 10 battalions (10,000 men) from the state. Last year, it did not take out any because of the agitation from June to September.

“I think this year, we can easily take out 10 battalions if not more. Irrespective of the situation, I can take out 10 battalions and it would not have any impact.

“We have about 70 battalions in Kashmir and we have 62 battalions in seven Left-wing affected states which are big states…. I think if I can take out, I will try to pull out as many as I can,” he said.[Indian Express]

It is inexplicable that the Union government and the state government did not adequately publicise the withdrawal of 10 paramilitary battalions from Kashmir in 2009. This deinduction was perfectly understandable in light of the sharp decline in violence witnessed in the Valley in the last few years. Greater publicity for this action of the government would have perhaps led to a more balanced narrative of the situation in Kashmir in the national and international media.

One hopes that the decision of the home secretary to withdraw at least 10 paramilitary battalions from Kashmir this year — irrespective of the situation — is based on professional inputs from the security forces, and not dictated by other extraneous factors. The home secretary’s statement hints at this decision being driven by a pressing requirement to provide more paramilitary battalions to the Maoist-affected states. While the home ministry remains the final arbiter of such competing requirements, it would perhaps be prudent to err on the side of caution when it comes to Kashmir. However it is also possible that such a clear declaration of intent will goad the state police to step up and fill the void, if any, created by the deinduction of central forces from the Valley.

On the amendments on AFSPA, whose withdrawal has been demanded by the state, he said this is an issue which has to be decided politically.

“But OK, even if it is not done I think you can move forward and say some parts of Kashmir need not be declared disturbed,” he said.

Pillai said that if there was no change being made in the AFSPA than the area can be denotified (as disturbed) and the law will not be applicable there.

“You keep the act as it is which is what the Army says don’t meddle with the Act but if you want me (Army) to act, I need that Act… You see law and order situation in Srinagar has improved. Anyway, Army is not in Srinagar. They are not operating in Budgam.

“You say remove it from there…. That area is no longer disturbed. This is a notification of the state government not a state notification by Central Government,” the Home Secretary said.

He said the proposals for amendments in the AFSPA were before the Cabinet Committee on Security.[Indian Express]

The debate over amending the AFSPA has become extremely polarised in the recent years. This has led to hardening of positions in both the defence ministry and the home ministry. While this stalemate awaits a political resolution by the Cabinet Committee on Security, the disposition of the home secretary to shift the onus of decision-making on to the state government is not estimable.

Essentially, there are two distinct issues on the table concerning the AFSPA. The state government can very much withdraw the notification of disturbed areas act from the districts where no army is deployed — Srinagar and Badgam in the Kashmir valley. But that is not the major concern here. The major concern, not only in Kashmir but in the North-East as well, still remains the amendment of the AFSPA which can only be undertaken by the Union government. [See these posts on the Background of the AFSPA and Why AFSPA is not worth it]

“I have seen many of these conferences… same old fifteen fellows in the last ten years in backstage, stage two.. same people, same thing coming out. You have to start talking to other people and get fresh ideas so I think we have to reach out to the people of Kashmir,” Pillai said.

He said the Centre is planning to hold seminars in remote areas of the state with a team of 100 officers of the Centre along with state government officers listening to the problems of local Kashmiris.

When asked whether this move will not impinge on the authority of the state government, he said the state government will be on board and the location will be selected by them.[Indian Express]

With the Panchayat elections scheduled to be held in the state in the next few months, it would be far more advisable for the Centre to empower these local self-governance bodies than push central teams to resolve local issues. The endeavour of the Union government should be build governance capacity at the state level, whereas these central teams are likely to further undermine the authority of the state government.

Even as a short-term strategy to paper over the lack of administrative capacity at the state level, this is unlikely to pay huge dividends. It will strengthen the hands of the separatists who always arouse Kashmiri emotions by highlighting the control exercised by Delhi over the state government in Srinagar. The Union Home Secretary would be best advised to either drop this idea altogether or implement it in as discreet a manner as possible, where the state government completely leads, owns, defines and executes the process.

It must be conceded, in all fairness, that the Union Home Secretary’s candidness in sharing his thoughts with the public, via the media, comes as a whiff of fresh air in the moribund bureaucratic stonewalling usually witnessed in the government of India. As long as it leads to a healthy debate and provides constructive feedback to the home ministry, Mr Pillai is on the right track.

And for those who perpetually criticise the unlearning nature of the Indian government, whether in Kashmir or elsewhere, they need not go further than this John Adams’  letter to Thomas Jefferson, circa July 9, 1813:

While all other Sciences have advanced, that of Government is at a stand; little better understood; little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago.

198 years on, and the view still holds good.

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No-go for police reforms

Not much hope from the reactions in the CM’s conference on internal security

From the Prime Minister’s address at the Chief Ministers’ Conference on Internal Security:

We cannot continue to police our society with archaic laws and policing systems. We are aware that many Police Commissions have made various recommendations on police reforms. I urge the states to seriously look into this aspect. I would like the Ministry of Home Affairs to carry forward this exercise to its logical conclusion in the Union Territory of Delhi during the coming years so that Delhi Police becomes a model for other state police forces to emulate.[PIB]

It is no secret that despite strictures by the Supreme Court, no state in India — irrespective of the party in power — is keen on police reforms. As law and order happens to be a state subject, the new acts will have to be passed by the state legislatures and fresh notifications issued by the state governments. The centre can only request the states to abide by the decisions of the Supreme Court.

However, Delhi Police happens to come directly under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs at the centre. The central government thus has no excuse for not initiating police reforms in Delhi. MHA’s Year-end review for 2010 states this on the subject:

…as per the directives of the Supreme Court on police reforms, MHA decided to set up a State Security Commission for all UTs which would lay down broad policies and evaluate performance of the police in each UT, to set up two Police Establishment Boards (PEB) in each UT, one for the the ranks of Inspectors and above and the other for Sub-Inspectors and below. The PEBs would decide all transfers, postings, promotions and other service-related matters set up a Police Complaints Authority in each UT accord two-year tenures in UTs to key police functionaries, except under exceptional circumstances and administrative exigencies which would be recorded in writing and separate police personnel into law and order and investigative wings in UTs.[ANI]

This seems to be a good move on the face of it. Even if the PM did not lay down any time-frame for completing the reforms in Delhi, it generates hope that some progress is being made on the subject by the centre. But wait till you read the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative’s critique of the the setting up of a Union Territories Security Commission (pdf here). It is now up to the monitoring committee formed by the Supreme Court to ensure that these anomalies are fixed by the MHA at the earliest.

In the CM’s conference, two CMs have been reported to be particularly opposed to the Supreme Court mandated proposal of police reforms. One was Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi:

On the issue of police reforms, the chief minister said the Supreme Court order in the Prakash Singh Vs Union of India case would lead to ‘creation of new power centres’ in the forms of Security Commission and Police Complaints Authority, which may become difficult to be handled even by the judiciary.[Rediff]

The other one to oppose the proposals was Bihar CM Nitish Kumar:

“The Centre should also desist from framing rules providing for any type of role to be exercised by the UPSC or Ministry of Home Affairs in matters like selection of DGP. The efforts of the Union government to maintain internal security will succeed only if states are enabled to exercise effective control over policing, dilution of which under the guise of police reforms must be avoided,” he said.

Urging the participating CMs to build a consensus to protect the accountability of the police force to the state government, Kumar said, “If some people think that powers of the state governments need to be curtailed…they should press for constitutional amendment to remove police and public order from the administrative and legislative purview of the states and give the powers and the responsibility to the Centre.”[Rediff]

There are arguments made by various people that reform can never be a top-led initiative in a democracy. It has to be a people’s movement at the grass-roots that will lead to change in political outlook. While this romanticism sounds good in theory, the reality is totally opposite. The Indian Constitution, though a very fine document, was purely a product of a top-down process. The military reforms after 1962 and economic reforms in 1991 were driven by crisis, not by any constituency canvassing for those reforms. The Right to Information (RTI), though canvassed by a vocal minority for years, had not captured the popular imagination of the masses. The UPA 1.0 did not win the 2004 polls on the promise of the RTI. It was the influence wielded by the proponents of the Act in the NAC headed by Mrs Sonia Gandhi that led to the promulgation of the RTI act.

It is presumptuous to assume that a large number of Indians are going to come on to the streets, as is being witnessed in Egypt now, and ask for police reforms or a Blue Ribbon Commission on defence. That is not going to happen in our lifetime. These initiatives will be driven by the political class only under two conditions: one, a crisis of immense magnitude that leaves no option but to reform; and two, a political leader who genuinely believes in these reforms and has the political capital to push them through.

Yes, it is all about politics. And politics has never been better defined than by Ambrose Bierce in The Devil’s Dictionary:

Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.


P.S. – Do read the opening remarks by the Union Minister for Home Affairs P Chidambaram, giving an overview of the security situation in the country and the progress made on various security related aspects since the last conference. They are educative and sensible, far away from platitudes and clichés usually heard at such conferences.

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Indeterminable interlocutors

What does the appointment of this team of interlocutors on Jammu & Kashmir signify?

The reaction to Union Home Ministry’s announcement of a team of three interlocutors on Jammu & Kashmir has been one of scepticism, criticism and bewilderment. There is one single major point of criticism here: the panel has no politician in it. The interlocutory effort would be more credible if it was headed by a politician. The composition of the panel signifies New Delhi’s lack of seriousness in resolving the Kashmir issue. It has failed to build on the positive atmospherics created by the All party parliamentary delegation(APPD) to Kashmir.

Surely, there is some merit in each of these criticisms. But news-reports inform us that no heavy-weight politician was willing to be a part of the committee, ostensibly as this issue has a chance of politically damaging his or her reputation irretrievably. In any case, having a light-weight politician in the committee for the sake of having a politician would have served no purpose and perhaps attracted far more strident criticism of the UPA government.

Let us for a moment consider as to what is really expected of the interlocutors here. Are they supposed to garner, consider and process all shades of opinion in Jammu & Kashmir within the stipulated time-frame and present a miraculous solution which would be universally acceptable to Kashmiris, Laddakhis, Jammuites, and the Rest of India? No one realistically expects this to happen, with or without a top politician as an interlocutor.

If that be so, then what does the government hope to achieve by appointing this team of interlocutors? It perhaps expects the interlocutors to engage the separatists in a prolonged, long-drawn dialogue, calm the tempers in the Valley, and get a semblance of normalcy onto the streets, which the state government can then build upon. But it takes two to tango. As he did with the APPD, Mr Geelani has refused to even talk about talks before his five-point demands are accepted by the Indian government. The responses from Mir Waiz, Yasin Malik, Sajjad Lone and the Muftis have also not been encouraging. Unless there is a dramatic change of heart among the separatists or some serious back-channel negotiations occur, the breakthrough to this impasse is highly unlikely. Even then, these back-channel negotiations have a chance of succeeding only if both the parties are able to shun the temptation of media spotlight.

Incidentally, it is for the first time that the Track-2 people have been given an active and prominent Track-1 role by the Indian government. The onus is now upon the Track-2 experts to walk their talk — “usher in a new paradigm” by “thinking out of the box” on Kashmir. In a rather clever political move, the government has extricated itself out of the firing line of the media and civil society activists, wherein the battle will now be fought between the separatists and the chatteratti. As the chances of a successful solution are abysmally low, the separatists and the civil society interlocutors will eventually have the ownership of its failure. They can then hardly apportion the blame on to the centre.

However it would be incorrect to dismiss the appointment of a non-political team of interlocutors as mere posturing by the centre for public consumption. A political team of interlocutors would have resulted in the creation of an alternate power centre, which could end up undermining both the state government and the Union Home ministry. The composition of the current team of interlocutors precludes any such dangers. It instead reinforces the constitutional position that all the decisions on Jammu & Kashmir will only be taken by the elected governments at the state and the centre.

Finally, the announcement of this team of interlocutors is a tacit, but an honest and somewhat unpalatable admission by the central government that there are no simple or quick-fix answers to the vexed Kashmir problem. At best, it can hope that initiating a low-profile interlocutory process and sticking to it over a long period of time may throw up a satisfactory solution. Alternatively, the process may just buy enough time — of relative peace and normalcy — to heal the wounds and prevent exacerbation of the problem in Kashmir.

Simply put, the appointment of this team of interlocutors is not a solution to the Kashmir problem. It does not even render the ways and means of arriving at the solution. It is only a context which provides the reason to all stakeholders for undertaking a tentative step towards peace and normalcy in Kashmir.

“Priority is a function of context.”~Stephen R. Covey

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The CPMF conundrum

With this deployment of the CPMFs, where is the time for them to train and rest?

From the Report Card of the Ministry of Home Affairs for the month of September 2010 presented by the Union Home Minister:

In anticipation of the judgment, 52 coys of CPMFs were deployed to Uttar Pradesh, including 40 CRPF and 12 RAF coys.  CPMF coys were also deployed in other States. A separate pool of coys has been kept in reserve for any emergency. The IAF is on standby to rush CPMF/Army personnel to trouble spots, if required.

The security arrangements for the Commonwealth Games were reviewed from time to time. 50 CPMFs coys have been deployed for the Games, including 7 BSF, 6 CRPF, 12 CISF, 11 IRB and 14 SAP coys.  Later today, Government will make a detailed statement as well as issue an Advisory on the security arrangements for the benefit of the ticketholders, invitees and the general public.

450 CPMF coys have been deployed for the Bihar assembly elections due in October-November, 2010. These include 70 CRPF, 90 BSF, 90 CISF, 30 ITBP, 40 RPF, 30 SSB and 100 IRB/SAP coys.[PIB]

Besides these, there are CPMF companies deployed in Jammu & Kashmir, North Eastern states and in the anti-Maoist operations. The BSF and the ITBP are also tasked to guard India’s International border with its neighbours.

The standard rule for all forces is to have one-third of its troopers deployed in operations, one-third in training and one-third in rest, preparing for the next deployment. With the kind of deployment that these CPMF have, where is the time for them to train and rest adequately?

This question must be seen in the context of the propensity of Indian media and its experts to blame the CPMFs for their lack of professionalism, whether operating against the violent stone-pelting mobs in Kashmir or while fighting the deadly Maoist insurgency.

The obvious solution to the problem seems rather simple: increase their numbers so that there exists a cushion to deploy adequately trained and properly invigorated troopers for operational duties. However this may perhaps not be the complete truth. This shortage of CPMFs has exacerbated because the states, while having law and order as a subject under their charter, have created no reserve capacity in their police forces. Even when the reserve police units exist in the states, they are poorly trained, ill-equipped and often found unequal to the tasks assigned to them. This has led to the situation where the state governments do not trust their state reserve forces and seek increasingly greater number of CPMFs to deal with any security situation. In today’s political climate, it is often impossible for the centre to deny any request from the state for such assistance, its impact on the overall health of the CPMFs notwithstanding.

The solution lies in asking the state governments to allocate a certain number of state reserve police units for a central pool, where they should be deployed on centre’s direction. Alternatively, the centre should display enough political will to vet each requirement from the states before despatching the CPMFs. Increasing the strength of already unwieldy CPMFs must only be considered as an option of last resort.

In the meanwhile, it would be instructive to draw out the statistical data for all CPMF units over the last two decades to ascertain their periods of deployment to periods of training and periods of rest. The availability of this information may hopefully get the debate on this subject on the right track.

Of course, a far simpler way to overcome this problem is for the states to undertake police reforms. But alas, who cares for police reforms in India?

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Break the cycle of violence

The state has no choice but to launch sustained security operations to quell the current spate of violence in Kashmir.

Curfew has been imposed in nine districts in Jammu & Kashmir, says one of the agency reports today. In all likelihood, it means to say that parts of these nine districts are under curfew although it conveys the impression — wrong impression — that the complete jurisdiction of these nine districts is under the curfew. Notwithstanding this anomaly where major incidents of violence in state are still limited to less than 15 police stations, the situation in J&K has worsened in recent days. Violence continues nearly unabated and it is not something that any well-meaning Indian can be comfortable with.

There has been a lot of lamentation and commentary on the subject. Commentators have delved into the causes of the morass: stagnant economy of the region, lack of mass engagement from mainstream political leaders in the state, Pakistani hand in fomenting this organised stone-pelting after failing to reignite militancy, mistakes compounded by New Delhi’s inaction in the aftermath of successful assembly polls in 2008 under the assumption that normalcy had returned, historical aspects of the problem, and religious dimensions of the issue. Perhaps, all of these have contributed in some measure to the problem as it exists today. But that also means that there is no single root cause which can be deracinated instantenously to fix the problem.

A lot can be said about each of these causes — and their long-term impact — but that would serve no purpose today. The pressing question is about the immediate steps that the governments, both at the centre and the state, must take for the sake of the ordinary Kashmiri. These immediate steps, considering the violent situation of the last few days, will have to be security-centric, focused on a single goal: to break this incessant cycle of violence. Let us not forget that peace and security is the primary responsibility of the state towards its citizens. Moreover, this would lead to re-establishing the rule of law, bring a certain degree of normalcy in daily routine of the average Kashmiri and re-impose the authority of the state. This will break the momentum which the violent mob — and their separatist leaders — have generated in the favour of stone-pelting, provide some respite to beleaguered security forces and change the prevailing narrative in the media.

Any political engagement or talks with ‘all shades of opinion’ in the state can only occur — let alone succeed — once the state is able to suppress, if not eradicate, the current spate of violence. Those who seek a political solution to the problem and purport to be a voice for the legitimate aspirations of the average Kashmiri must thus support and goad the state into action on this path —  to quell the violence immediately.

Quelling the violence now, however, will not be easy for the state. It would be a throw-back to the era of the Punjab militancy, where an equally violent situation was brought under control by the state police and the paramilitary forces. It will be ugly; there could be a few instances of state’s high-handedness; there will be some not-so-nice images coming out from the state; it will not win India any brownie points internationally; and such measures will require unstinting support of the political leadership of the state and the centre.

But as the old saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures. There are no easy choices left for the state. It has to launch a cohesive, strong and sustained security response to quell the violence and restore a certain degree of normalcy for the populace. The reduction of violence to acceptable levels should, and must, be followed by bold political initiatives from the Indian government. Else India would have again stolen failure from the jaws of success.

Failure is not an option. The state must knuckle down and brazen it out. And bring a stop to this madness of violence in J&K immediately.

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Dantewada massacre : The road ahead

The onus is now upon the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister to summon the political resolve across the political spectrum and craft a smart strategy to extirpate the Maoists.

The Acorn postulates that the Maoists have over-reached and made a strategic blunder by killing 73 CRPF personnel in a single ambush. A threshold has been crossed and the public opinion will impel the Indian state to react with all its might against the Maoists. The question though arises as to what will be the nature of this reaction — an act of revengeful rage where the state will push a lot more paramilitary forces, with attendant collateral damage or a well-calibrated smart strategy that leverages this public outrage to systematically exterminate the Maoists.

In all likelihood, it is the first one — indiscriminate use of brute force by the state — that will happen. Simply because it is easy to do for the government. There is little political incentive for the government to undertake a long term, resource intensive overhaul, when public pressure, as momentary and whimsical as is it, is baying for blood. And there is little likelihood that any political party or rational mainstream media commentator — unless he or she wishes to be brandished as an anti-national — will oppose that course of action by the state.

But it is obvious that the state needs to choose the second course of action — the rational, smart strategy option. How would the action plan for such an option look like?

Foremost, the Indian state currently lacks the capacity — political, security and administrative — to undertake the smart strategy option. None of these capacities can be created in a short span of time. Public outrage though can stiffen political resolve and generate political will among the political executive at the centre and the states to annihilate the Maoists. This political resolve and will to act against the Maoists can — with sustained civil society pressure and media support — translate into adequate political capacity in a short span of time. As witnessed earlier during the counterinsurgencies in the North East, Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir, some political parties in the affected states will  continue to be sympathetic to the Maoists. But that should not matter as long as the party in power, the political executive of the state, is on board with the centre’s plan against the Maoists.

State governments are important because the biggest operational roadblock is the political conundrum about the ownership of the anti-Maoist operations. As per the constitution, the state governments actually own these operations but in the public opinion of the country, the ownership rests with the Union Home Minister. The states are thus absolved of their responsibility because the attention gets deflected to the centre. This problem will get resolved now if the states can jointly take the ownership of these operations with the centre.

Two related issues here. One, the Union Home Minister has appropriated a visible public role for himself in this battle against the Maoists and he has to thus bear the brunt of political and intellectual attacks against him. One can only say in his defence that he had to become the public face of anti-Maoist operations — after the disaster called Shivraj Patil — as it was perhaps the only way to display union government’s political resolve and will.  Two, media pressure will disappear as soon as the next episode of Shoaib-Sania or some other trashy Bollywood star/ starlet hits the airwaves; Dantewada is not Mumbai. Thus it is important for the Union Government to strike when the proverbial iron is hot. The Prime Minister must call an urgent meeting of Chief Ministers of all Maoist-affected states and compel them to publicly denounce the Maoists and support the centre on its plan against the Maoists.

However, as far as the security capacity is concerned, the start-point of any long-term anti-Maoist strategy has to be Police Reforms. Improving the quality of our police forces has to be given greater priority than increasing the quantity of cops. Because putting more police into a corrupt and ineffective system will only breed more corrupt and ineffective police. The road-map and the policy formulation for police reforms already exists but the political will to implement them is lacking. These police reforms are not merely about the your neighbouring police station and the political interference therein but concern many more issues. For example, the issue of joint ownership of operations in contiguous areas of neighbouring states can be easily addressed by the concept of Special Security Zones, enunciated in the Model Police Act. If the public outrage — or greater political resolve — can be canalised by the centre into forcing all political parties to embrace Police Reforms in letter and spirit, then the Dantewada massacre would have done India a great favour.

It is obvious that police reforms will not make an immediate impact on the anti-Maoist operations. As a short-term strategy to bridge the security gap till police reforms start delivering, better intelligence set-up and more professional counter-insurgency training to the paramilitary forces and state police forces is required. While using army trainers will work as an emergent measure and employing senior army officers as advisers to the states would be the preferred option, a far better model is to integrate these trainers and experts from the army and Rashtriya Rifles as trainers-cum-advisers at sub-unit and unit level with the para-military forces and state police forces.

There is no alternative to this war against the Maoists. It must be thus resourced to the full. Evidently, anti-Maoist operations can do with more resources such as helicopters, counter-IED equipment, communication tracking & jamming devices and UAVs. Former Air Chief S. Krishnaswamy has unequivocally supported the employment of IAF resources against the Maoists and paramilitary and police forces certainly need to make more aggressive use of helicopters. If required — and it seems so from the contention of the IAF — the Indian government should not hesitate to pull out all the IAF helicopters deployed from the UN assignments. While the situation does not yet warrant the deployment of the army, highly mobile specialist Counter-Terrorist teams from army special forces and NSG may have to be located at select geographic locations to eliminate specific high-value Maoist targets.

The biggest challenge for the State will be the absence of governance and deficient administrative capacity. This is required not only to tackle the Maoists now but also to allow the nation to move on to a path of peaceful high-growth in the coming years. To regenerate the administrative capacity, the Government of India can immediately announce a time-bound plan to raise a new civilian agency called CIMPCOR [Civilian Military Partnership for Conflict Resolution] for the Maoist-affected states. It will enable the government to extend its non-military authority and lay the foundations for the rule of law and basic governance in areas cleared of Maoists.

One of the biggest gains of the Dantewada attack is that it de-legitimises the Maoist movement at an intellectual level in the public discourse. This is the first step towards creating the political will and resolve to exterminate the Maoists.  Eventually, all decisions taken by the government — even in security and administrative domains — are political choices. If India can summon that political will and make the smart choices to finish the Maoists — under sustained public and media pressure — it would be the best tribute to the 73 fallen cops of Dantewada.

The centre can no longer blame the society, the media, the political opposition and the leftist intellectuals for the Maoist menace. Time for such recriminations is gone. The onus is now well and truly upon the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister to deliver smartly — effectively and efficiently — in this war against the Maoists. If they succeed, Dr Singh and Mr Chidambaram will be fêted as national heroes; else they must be sacrificed at the political altar of national interest.

Update [07 April] – Good friend and fellow INI blogger, Dr. V Anantha Nageswaran apprehends that the key points of this blogpost might be buried in the overall length. He suggests if I could update the post with a summary of the key action points from the post, at the end, it would be useful. Here is his summary [and I agree]:

  • State ownership of the problem and security operations
  • Joint statement against the Maoists by Centre and State CMs concerned
  • Long-term: police reforms
  • Ways of involving army/airforce
  • Training on guerilla tactics — lessons learned from Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

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The quality of police capacity

In this debate over building police capacity, quality is as important, if not more, than the quantity.

In the aftermath of the massacre of ill-trained and poorly-equipped policemen in West Bengal by the Maoists, Saikat Datta of the Outlook magazine unravels the depth of the crisis engulfing the Indian police forces. And Saikat does it by referring to a government document — a CAG report of last year on the subject.

Vinod Rai, the Comptroller & Auditor General of India, was so disturbed by his department’s findings that he shot off a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last year. Rai pointed out how “most police stations continue to depend on outdated and obsolete weapons, the police communication network was non-functional, the mobility of the force had been ignored and there was a severe shortage of police personnel in most states”.

He also pointed out that states like Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa have been the worst performers when it came to filling up police vacancies. Orissa, which has borne its fair share of Maoist violence, has nearly 10,000 vacancies for policemen. Even if this shortfall were to be made up, the state lacks adequate training facilities to keep the men in shape. In Bihar, a mere “10 per cent of the total force” was trained in one training centre. The “training infrastructure was inadequate in the training schools”, the CAG noted. In his letter to the prime minister, Rai pointed out “there was a severe shortage of police personnel in all the categories in the state”. Even the available force, Rai said, “is not being trained at regular intervals as per Bureau of Police Research & Development norms, which inhibits them from tackling security-related incidents effectively”.[Outlook]

In a rather convoluted way, the rising power of the Maoists would have done this country a great favour if their ferocious assault against the state can help usher in a modern police force suited to a modern India. This is the debate — on how to create a modern police force amidst the burgeoning Maoist threat — this country needs today. The biggest security and governance challenge facing India now is of kick-starting police reforms.

Police in India — from the colonial pre-independence era — have been seen as a coercive instrument of the state rather than as public servants upholding, and bound by, the rule of law. This view has been exacerbated in Maoist-affected areas due to the ongoing violent conflict. Upholding the rule of law is a challenge in highly developed countries with well-educated professional police. Yet, somehow, when it comes to the Maoists, the poorly educated and minimally trained state police forces are expected to uphold the rule of law in regions afflicted with violence, poverty and political effeteness. Not surprisingly, the police fail ingloriously and suffer at the hands of the Maoists.

The expedient solution for the government then is to raise more central paramilitary forces and pump them into these troubled areas. If the centre is slightly reticent in sending paramilitary forces, the states ape the centre’s model by raising their own specialist police forces or pushing in reserve police forces into these areas.

However it is the civil police that will have to be the lynchpin of any successful counter-Maoist campaign. The local ties of the civil police provide intelligence and facilitate the development of symbiotic relationships between the community and the government, something not possible with the reserve police or the paramilitary forces, which have been brought in from outside the community.

Notwithstanding the constraints of a pan-India operational doctrine or a grand strategy, each state has to tailor its security operations against the Maoists to the local environment. As India’s successful experience of eradicating militancy in Punjab — where the state police were the key to defeating the Khalistani terrorists in the state’s critical rural periphery — demonstrates, the civil police deserve to be the major focus of our efforts against the Maoists.

However the reason for modernising the police must go beyond countering the threat of the Maoists. And it must also go well beyond the latest fad of just building up the numbers anyhow. The vast majority of the existing police force in India is perceived to be incompetent and corrupt; police reforms are thus a must concurrent to, if not prior to, expanding the police force. If efforts and resources are dedicated solely to expanding the police force, fewer will be available to reform the existing police. Even worse, putting more police into a corrupt and ineffective system will only breed more corrupt and ineffective police. The system has to be fixed immediately, or this expansion may end up doing more harm than good.

When it comes to expanding the police, quality is equally — perhaps even more — important than quantity.

Those who speak most of progress measure it by quantity and not by quality. ~George Santayana

P.S. — It irks this blogger no end that the CAG report referred to in the Outlook report is not available online — neither on the CAG nor on the MHA website. In today’s time and age of viral transmission and proliferation via social media, it is almost mandatory on the government to place such reports in the public domain. This is all the more incomprehensible when increased transparency in governance is the order of the day and the Union Home Minister has himself been rather open and forthcoming about the accountability of his ministry.

Incidentally, the website of the Bureau of Police Research and Development [BPRD] has the reports of all the police commissions and a resource page on police reforms. Kudos to them.


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