It is easier perhaps for the security set up of India to evaluate the external threats to the nation than to monitor the domestic security scene. The reason for this is not far to seek. There are three distinct socio-political parameters that impact people’s perception of the state of internal security in India and this combination does not quite operate in any other democracy the way it does in India. That internal security should, as a result, become a matter of perception, rather than an assessment by the country’s security set up, must be regarded as an area of concern for a sovereign nation. It creates an additional complexity of affecting the approach to governance itself.
First, national security issues must be pitched above politics in a viable democracy that makes no distinction of caste, creed or gender amongst its citizens. Even as national election is fought on party labels, the political executive that finally emerges as the custodian of the sovereign powers of the nation, cannot allow its decision-making to be influenced by party politics. What acts as a deterrent for it is the fact that people will easily see through any departure from this fundamental requirement.
In India, any deviation from the policy of the predecessors is regarded by the Opposition as being done for a political motive. Since security can never be static, any blind denunciation of the security policy by the Opposition in the present—just because it was not the same as in the past—can only weaken the nation’s resolve to deal with the risks. In the wake of the recent terrorist attack on the Pathankot airbase carried out from across the border, the taciturn response of Pakistan even after India had allowed a visit by the Pak JIT to Pathankot, led the Opposition to accuse the Narendra Modi government of “caving in” to that country. The Opposition did not wait for the government to clarify its position as to why the entire course of events was not to be taken as the reflection of a weak-kneed approach. National security should invite a far more serious debate in Parliament.
Since security can never be static, any blind denunciation of the security policy by the Opposition in the present—just because it was not the same as in the past—can only weaken the nation’s resolve to deal with the risks.
The second parameter that creates a position of flux on national security is the undiminished practice of identity politics in India, in which as serious a threat as cross border terrorism or Maoism resting on brutal violence is sought to be enmeshed in communal or class politics. The defence of Indian Mujahideen—a known offspring of the militant forces behind cross border terrorism—or the advocacy of “human rights” in favour of the Maoists who indulge in extreme violence in the name of jan adalat justice, are cases in point. Internal security takes a beating in the process.
And finally, the three pillars of democracy—Parliament, government and the highest judiciary—must have a grid of equivalence on the interpretation of, and follow-up on, threats to national security. In India, this is significantly intact, but ideological blind spots are making many activists run down the government for being tough on the perpetrators of terrorist or left-extremist violence. This is another way of injecting politics in the issues of national security. If there is a blatant police excess on anybody—like what was seen in the recent event at NIT Srinagar—the law must take its course and there should be no defence of the unprofessional conduct for political reason. Any of this weakens internal security.
Media reports indicate an initiative of the government to organise a briefing of the judges of the Supreme Court on national security and economic policies through professionals advising the government on these.
In the age of information, only knowledge-based decision-making can bring in success. In India, the intelligence agencies exercise the sovereign responsibility of making a judgement call on what constituted a threat to national security and gathering information about the same. This inherently keeps security above politics. Article 311 of the Constitution, which allows the dismissal of a government official without inquiry in a serious case of security like espionage has withstood judicial scrutiny.
Judiciary has a right to be briefed about national matters; this will not amount to any “influencing”, as justice will always be dispensed by it on the basis of law. In fact, it would be extremely useful if security briefings are organised for senior echelons of the government under the auspices of the NSCS and the National Intelligence Academy, which is already handling many such orientation programmes. The idea is that the high functionaries engaged in administering the country have a fuller knowledge of the strategic scene that prevails around India as also of the determinants of domestic peace and security.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau.