Reimagining National Security

Pushparaj Deshpande

India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval recently argued (rightly so) that managing internal security will be a major challenge for India. However, in extolling IPS probationers to “become powerful intellectually, emotionally and spiritually”, he contended that “only the policemen…can fight this battle (managing internal security) and win it”. It is a fact that the police risk their lives every day to maintain public safety and uphold the law. However, the complete outsourcing of maintaining internal security to an already overburdened police is not only logistically myopic, but also betrays a deficient understanding of national/internal security.

Conventionally, India’s conceptualisation of national security has been stunted. Threats to national security have routinely been compartmentalised and dealt with individually, rather than holistically. This is partly to do with how national security is defined, and partly by who defines it.

The establishment is by and large wary of independent opinion (despite a rich tapestry of schools of thought, ranging from Nehruvians like JN Dixit, neo-liberals like Kanti Bajpai, C.Raja Mohan and Sumit Ganguly and hyper-realists like Brahma Chellaney and Bharat Karnad). Bluntly putting it, this institutionalised opacity has to be eliminated if India wants to avoid atrophy in strategic thinking.

National security, as it is conceptualised today, is limited to protecting the territorial integrity of the nation, and this needs to be urgently problematised. As both the former Home Minister, P. Chidambaram and the former NSA, Shivshankar Menon pointed out (separately, whilst delivering the K. Subrahmanyam and the Raja Ramanna lectures respectively) this automatically excludes other equally pertinent issues like energy, water or environmental security (which are not yet acknowledged as serious threats to national security), and internal issues such as left wing extremism, communal conflicts, terrorism etc. which are consequently outsourced to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

This lacuna in strategic thought arises primarily because of a flawed understanding of the State. Both Aristotle and Gandhi famously differentiated between the State and a government. They did not define the State in the narrow sense of an agency possessing a monopoly over the legitimized use of coercive force. To them, a ‘State’ meant the body of the people, and its end is not merely to survive, but to live a happy and fine life. In this normative framework, the State (and also the government) is not an end in itself, but merely a means to an end, which is the fulfillment of a good life that enriches each human life.

It is this author’s contention that national security is intricately linked with internal security, that a ‘State’ cannot only be defined in terms of geographical boundaries, and must necessarily mean the body of the people. Once this is institutionalised in strategic thinking, every government will have to to mandatorily protect the different customs, cultures and security of its entire people, something which Pandit Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel collectively strived for, and which most governments since have more or less followed.

Both Nehru and Patel firmly believed that governments cannot differentiate between communities and groups of people because they belong to a certain community or caste or gender. They believed that a government must respect, protect and further the collective aspirations of each of these, regardless of the ideological imperatives of the party it belongs to. That is the only way a government can truly protect the state and its national security!

Why does this skewed understanding of the State even exist? Why is that despite having witnessed centuries of caste and gender based oppression, despite the partition (which has been characterised as nothing short of genocide) and numerous communal riots, we continue to tolerate cruelty, and intolerance and oppression of communities and groups of people? Who is to blame for this? Verily there are some more responsible for this than others. But attributing blame to one party or one organisation is too simplistic. To really understand who is ultimately responsible for this atrocious state of affairs, we have to look no further than the mirror. It is we the coalition of the mute and willing, who by doing nothing, gave away our power to construct the kind of society we want to live in.

This could partly be because of sheer laziness, or the burdens of everyday life. But it is also because we trust our government to defend the idea of India. We trust that the government will uphold equality, justice and freedom. We trust that it will honour the Constitution of India, which among other things, guarantees freedoms of speech, expression, religion, and most of all, the right to live with human dignity. Betraying our trust, this government has entertained and tacitly endorsed the vilest schemes to tear apart the fabric of this nation.

Just four examples will serve to demonstrate this point. The manufactured campaigns on cow slaughter, and ghar wapsi and the attacks on churches etc. have alienated and disillusioned a large section of Dalits, Christians and Muslims. The very real danger is that this has created fertile ground for communal discontent, which if allowed to fester could even lead to civil unrest. If this happens, will it not threaten national security?

Similarly, if land is ruthlessly acquired (and the NDA government has given a clean chit to state governments to bypass the LARR Act, 2013), it will inevitably lead to (forced) displacement and disempowerment. Again, this could directly lead to increasing dissatisfaction and quite possibly (as in the past), a swelling of naxal ranks. Will this not threaten national security?

Moreover, if the government continues to stifle or dismiss dissent, either stemming from NGOs (remember the clampdown on Greenpeace?) or from students (remember the FTII and the more recent lathi charges on students protesting against the withdrawal of non-NET scholarships?) or civil society (remember the numerous authors, poets, filmmakers, historians, scientists, sociologists etc. who’ve returned their awards citing the culture of intolerance spread by the Sangh and winked at by the NDA?) or even the political opposition (remember the 25 Members of Parliament who were summarily suspended from Lok Sabha?), then it leaves no room for freedom of expression or speech. Does this not threaten national security?

Finally, if the government continues to, for its own political grandstanding, follow its myopic policy on Pakistan, it will continue to create more animosity between the two nations. It is only because of this that a record 562 violations (the highest in 11 years) were recorded in 2014, most of them after the NDA came to power. If we were to combine the ceasefire violations of 2013, 2012 and 2011, they’ll still not be as much! 2015 has already witnessed over 250 violations. This directly alienates the people of Kashmir, who have to constantly live in the combined threat of insurgency, terrorism and now thanks to the NDA government, increased cross border firings and a communalised atmosphere because of the beef driven ban and inter-religious attacks. The growing frustration will either lead to louder demands for azadi, or militants will easily manipulate and brainwash the disillusioned. It is no coincidence that thousands of people turned up to show their solidarity with Abu Qasim, the recently slain LeT operative. Such high pitched solidarity for a Pakistani militant has not been witnessed since 1991, and this is the direct consequence of the NDA’s and the Sangh’s concerted policies. Does this not threaten national security?

Jawaharlal Nehru, in spearheading the Poorna Swaraj resolution in 1929, famously argued that “it is the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil and have the necessities of life, so that they may have full opportunities of growth…if any government deprives a people of these rights and oppresses them, the people have a further right to alter it or abolish it”. It is up to us to insist that the NDA government not conceptualise the State and national security narrowly. It is also up to us to insist that the NDA take adequate measures to respect, protect and further all of India’s peoples. John F. Kennedy once argued that “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”. PM Modi will do well to pay heed to this.

(Disclaimer: The views espoused by the author of this article are entirely personal)