The parameters of national security have expanded a great deal in our times and, going beyond the conventional threat of war, include covert attempts to damage our national resources and weaken our internal cohesion. As the Narendra Modi government sets out with its agenda of growth, questions relating to security-development interface are coming to the fore. This is because security today presages development in all areas of economic activity. From industrialisation to women and child welfare, no scheme can be successful in terms of delivery, unless an environment of stability and security exists in the country.
The security set-up of our country is rightly engaged full time in dealing with matters that remain at the core of the threat spectrum of India — espionage, terrorism, insurgencies, sabotage and cyber breaches, to mention a few. In today’s world, however, national security is inseparable from economic security. This redefines relationship between security and development. The new learning is that national security extends to some “non-core” matters as well and that a nation is strong if its manpower is high on the human development index and if the democratic state is intrinsically powerful in terms of maintaining domestic order and standards of probity in public life.
The first thought here is that India’s future — considering its “demographic dividend” — lies in the capacity of the nation to restore the right level of attention and development to the millions of children who are receiving no education or healthcare. Given the scary statistics of nearly 2/3 of children dropping out at Class 8 and the high mortality rate among children, it is time to enlarge the concept of national security to include the lower halves of the two verticals of education and health among “strategic” sectors. This means a new level of Centre-State joint responsibility being defined for them in matters of fiscal accountability and oversight. Without school education, a young person cannot even take advantage of the skill-building schemes of the government. Without healthcare, the youth may not be able to contribute to national productivity.
These two issues of early education and healthcare are relatable to poverty that had remained undiminished because corruption ate into development. In recent years, freedom from corruption in public life became a utopian dream and accountability for delivery of projects ceased to be of relevance in governance. The new Modi regime won the election on the specific promise of improvement in both these areas. This makes it possible to expect that these additional “strategic” sectors on which national security will depend in the long run, would be given due attention.
The third point is about policing, whose role is now to be acknowledged beyond law and order and into the strategic area of safeguarding national security. This enlarged responsibility calls for a new mindset on the part of those governing the state in matters of investment in the police and creation of a joint Centre-State oversight of what is in fact the first function of the sovereign nation. The importance of the district police in generating intelligence to unearth covert networks behind terrorism and Maoism cannot be overemphasised. Finally, we need more than ever before, an environment of industrial security to facilitate economic growth.
The fourth sphere of a non-core dimension of national security is linked to the new medium of entertainment thrown up by the digital revolution. Social media is pushing youngsters towards pornography and law-breaking. Since using cyberspace is like being on a public platform, extreme cases of abuse against prescribed guidelines have to be pursued as violations of law. These cannot be defended on the plea of human rights. The Supreme Court has done well to warn against any loosely worded legislation that could curb social media. Some recent cases have revealed a tendency amongst sections of the political class to suppress dissent on social media through police powers.
Last but not the least, India should take note of the NGOs that act as influence peddlers, agents of somebody else’s politics and even promoters of an “alien” cause. This instrumentality of soft subversion was extensively used by the superpowers during the Cold War. Sometime back there were reports in the media of our security agencies having identified some such entities of doubtful credentials.
If there is a sudden injection of large money for campaigns that do not connect with their declared focus and if their leaders seem to be living beyond their means, the NGOs concerned would attract attention of the monitoring agencies. This does not detract from the fact that an open democracy like India offers the opportunity of working for all causes that are in consonance with national interests and security.