India presents a challenge in itself; it is a nuclear power striving for its place among the great powers but is constrained by archaic and unresponsive internal institutions that cannot deal with crisis situations – whether it is a natural disaster, terrorist strike, hijacking or trans-border incursion. The organs of state are more often than not, caught unawares and the leadership stricken with paralysis. Frenzied and haphazard damage-control measures, eventually, bring the situation under control, mostly with the military’s help. Promises are made to reorganise the system but the state apparatus, quickly relapses into its earlier comatose condition — no wiser and unrepentant — to await the next disaster.

Admiral Arun Praksh (retd), former Chief of Naval Staff, says “our fatalistic acceptance of incompetence and inefficiency, coupled with tolerance for venality, and the low worth we place on human life and dignity, promise to brand India as a second-rate nation — even if it becomes a great power”.

There is hope that Prime Minister Narendra Modi can change the system and make it more responsive. He needs to take his own promise of ache din (good times) seriously and not let his supporters stoke divisive sentiments for political gains. For the internal security challenges are considerable – the unrest in Kashmir, lingering insurgencies in the North-Eastern states and frequent outbreaks of communal violence apart, the most serious internal security threat to the nation arises from the violent Naxal movement, running through half of India’s 29 states.

The external threat

The external threat is no less serious. It comes from China, Pakistan and jihadi terror outfits. Admiral Prakash says “there is, of course, the ever-present possibility of conventional armed conflict with China or Pakistan — or both in collusion”. He continues “As Pakistan jockeys for domination of Afghanistan, wherein it wants influence as well as ‘strategic depth’, and China resolutely seeks hegemony across the Indo-Pacific region through the establishment of a maritime silk route, these arenas promise to become the twin crucibles where India’s strategic acumen and diplomatic skills are going to be tested shortly. With few cards — economic or military — to play, India would need to employ a skilful hedging strategy and buy a breathing-spell for itself”.

In such a scenario, the former Admiral says “India’s national security structure, victim of neglect by several previous regimes, needs urgent reform and overhaul. We have neither a national security doctrine nor strategy. Just as our archaic higher defence organisation, lacking a single military head, is incapable of coping with contemporary threats, the continued segregation of the three armed forces from each other and their sequestration from strategic decision-making could lead to disaster in war”.

The Modi government needs to take charge. “None of the tantalising promises held out by the government, so far; whether it is ‘Make in India’, FDI in defence production or expeditious clearing of defence acquisition cases, can fructify in anything less that 5-10 years. In any case, they pertain only to hardware issues”.

Threat of Hindu radicalisation

Among the internal threats, the one that is more serious is the rise of Hindu chauvinist outfits after the BJP came to power. This goes against the grain of Hinduism, which is a liberal religion. It does not reach out through conversions beyond its legitimate constituency; it is not proselytising. It does not spread venom and fanaticism is frowned upon by most Hindus. So when a Gujarat or a Muzzafarnagar happens, these episodes are considered deviations.

Muzzafarnagar, in Uttar Pradesh, was in the news as a centre of sectarian violence in September last year. Charges were traded between political parties with the BJP being accused of fermenting the violence on the eve of elections; the UP government of the Samajwadi Party (SP) was guilty of not being able to control the frenzy of violence. The net result was the SP’s rout in the Lok Sabha elections. Whatever the truth, this was another sad chapter in the history of communal violence in India.
The town is tense once again with the discovery of the bodies of three persons who were killed after torture. The administration, on its part, has said there is no reason to suspect any communal angle to this, at least at this stage. However, incidents such as these can be exploited, and it might lead to a flare-up if the state government does not act in time. The district has not experienced real peace since the violence in September last year.

Lessons were learnt and in the case of the Saharanpur (another town in UP) disturbances in July this year, when a plot of land was supposed to be the reason for a dispute between two communities, the state government was quick to act and was able to minimise the casualties. It also ensured that violence did not spread in the way it did last year.

But if the government in UP is learning lessons, this is not so in the capital. In Delhi University last week, the ABVP (student’s wing of the BJP) flagged off a campaign to fight the “menace of live-in relationships”. On the pretext of restoring “respect for women”, it also proposes to raise awareness on “forced conversions” and the alleged phenomenon of women being trapped into marriage by “men with fake identities”. It was careful not to say “love jihad”, but the term has cropped up earlier — on ABVP posters across the university campus, and on the agenda of the student body’s national meet in Lucknow.
Political observers say “the ABVP’s campaign in Delhi is no isolated incident. It is part of an illiberal clamour that is seen to be emboldened ever since the BJP came to power at the Centre. It also points to a growing dissonance between this regressive politics and the insistently development-centric claims made by the top central BJP leadership”.

The ABVP swept the Delhi University student elections early this year.

Muslim radicalisation

Business Standard in one of its Editorial Comment “ISIS’ growth shows Indian govt must be more responsible” argues that with the Islamic State adding the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to the ranks of its vassals, the Sunni threat has arrived on India’s doorstep, even as the United States and Arab nations wage war on it. This has serious consequences for India that go beyond its reliance on crude oil and gas from West Asia. The IS and its sundry affiliates and partners have begun targeting India in their plans. Recruitment advertisements subtitled in Indian languages have started appearing on social media. According to a National Investigative Agency dossier, more than 300 youths have been recruited by the ISIS and the TTP.

In the circumstances, Modi needs to control his lieutenants on the ground to desist from the Muzzafarnagar kind of politicking that stoked communal tensions. He needs to do something to reassure ordinary Muslims, “who remain vulnerable to petty thuggery from local goons and their political patrons, that they can count on the state for their safety and security”.

The paper concludes that “the spectre of overt communalism haunts India again with all its attendant law and order problems. This is hardly likely to encourage corporate investment, especially from the multinationals that Mr Modi hopes to attract”.