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India in Transition

Internal Security Challenges for the New Government

Arvind Verma
April 12, 2009

Once the rhetoric of electioneering dies down, the ruling coalition will have to confront a number of security related problems. The possibility of any one of the Pakistan-based groups initiating another diversionary attack on India remains high. If as expected, the incoming government will be a loose coalition of vested interests, the possibility of major policy reforms and strong determination to deal with the perpetuators is going to be negligible. The principal challenge placed before the new government will thus be to prepare for a dramatic strike. The question is not why, but when and where it will occur.

This challenge is compounded by the fact that the state police leadership, unashamed about its politicking, has lost its professional élan and simply sings paeans in praise of the political masters. Even in the heart of the capital, the present Delhi Police Commissioner brazenly claims bringing down the crime rate by a staggering 13 percent in a year without any improvement in policing methods. Such leaders are unlikely to provide the sinews to combat the well-entrenched Maoists or professionally train their forces against terrorist threats.

The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), Naga and Mizo rebels, along with home-grown Islamic extremists, and Hindutava brigands are all likely to operate with impunity as little is being done to defang their capabilities. The momentum built after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks have already dissipated and it is business as usual for the Home Ministry. After creating an ill-conceived National Investigation Agency – which took three months to post a Director and gave temporary office space by stationing small units of NSG commandos in two to three metropolitan centers – the Ministry has gone back to slumber. There is no white paper on the security lapses and no reorganization of intelligence apparatus. At the state level, politicians continue to make the local police dance to their tunes. Large parts of the country, including important tourist centers, continue to be policed by lathi-wielding poorly paid and ill-trained constables. 

While past neglect can hardly be blamed on the incoming government, it will nevertheless have to acknowledge that policy contradictions are aggregating and coming to a boiling point. As security challenges are mounting, the capabilities of security agencies are being stretched thin. The indifference towards policing issues is beginning to affect the morale of even the better administered police forces. The amendment to Section 41 CrPC that has already received presidential approval – but awaiting notification – is going to restrict all the powers of the police to arrest offenders in crimes punishable up to seven years. While the implications of this astonishing amendment – far reaching and likely to drastically affect police functions – are ill-understood, two other developments are further causing deep distress and anger amongst the police officers.

The AP High Court’s directive to register murder cases in every incident of encounter is certain to stifle even the most necessary police action, and the inferences for police facing murder charges for using force in self-defense are bizarre. For instance, Kasab, the lone Pakistani terrorist arrested in Mumbai, can levy a murder charge against the police for killing his fellow terrorists! The Supreme Court has rightly stayed this judgment, but the police suspicion of judicial intentions has only been aggravated. The Tamil Nadu High Court fracas, which saw suspensions of police officers with not a word of reprimand to the lawyers who burned the police station, is the last straw for the khaki brass. Young officers have begun voicing their disillusionment and their disinclination to confront violent situations is noticeable. Whether it is Raj Thackeray’s shenanigan or Gujjar mayhem or Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) goons “capturing” enemy territory, the police are deliberately keeping aloof unless goaded from the higher ups in every situation of potential conflict. The Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) flip-flop in Mulayam Singh’s assets case has also served notice to every investigator that some are more equal than others and must be treated with velvet gloves. Moreover, government’s indifference towards Supreme Court directives to enact a new Police Act in Prakash Singh’s PIL case or the failure to treat para-military forces at par with the army are further antagonizing the police personnel. The fact that the military leadership ganged up and confronted the political class to extract better pay scales for its rank and file – despite sixth pay commission’s ruling – is a lesson not lost on the police. The recent demands for an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer to serve as the Union Home Secretary, along with one post of Election Commissioner, are rumblings that are bound to get louder when a coalition government comes to office.

At the same time, the Satyam case illustrates that white collar crimes are now hurting the national economy. When public servants and politicians are being caught with tens of millions in benami transactions, the scale of public money being looted is simply breath-taking. This is also adding to the disillusionment that rulers have vested interests and are not going to support changes in the system.

It is unlikely that the incoming government will reverse existing policies and embark upon a major reform of the system. Nevertheless, there are some areas where it is imperative that action be taken immediately. The safety and security of major establishments – nuclear plants, power stations, transport hubs, and financial centers – should be a priority for the new government. The terrorists keep changing targets: from the Red Fort to Akshardham to Mumbai hotels. While the next strike cannot be predicted, their intentions are clear: to cause maximum damage and provoke communal backlash. The stationing of special units in all major centers, creation of local commando forces, specialized weapons training, and resource augmentation are matters that cannot be postponed any longer.

In a recent seminar in Delhi on capacity building for counter-terrorism efforts, the unanimous conclusion was to increase police-citizen ratio, strengthen local intelligence infrastructure, and incorporate private security agencies that have become ubiquitous in every large city. Such steps need not only additional resources but also policy decisions languishing in the Home Ministry. For too long, the Home Ministry has deliberately been playing politics with police reforms. At the last count, 558 recommendations, starting from the National Police Commission to the Sorabjee Committee, are pending with the Home Secretary. The least that the new government can do is to dust off these files and implement the recommendations. Unless the police apparatus is reformed, the ability of the country to meet growing extremism and other challenges will remain questionable.

Arvind Verma is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN and a former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer.He can be reached at


India in Transition (IiT) is published by the Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI) of the University of Pennsylvania. All viewpoints, positions, and conclusions expressed in IiT are solely those of the author(s) and not specifically those of CASI.

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