Looking ahead to 2015: Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s plate is more than full

By Manisha Singh | Last Updated: Jan 23, 2015, 00:46 AM IST

Manisha Singh

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh definitely has his plate more than full as far as challenges regarding India’s internal security are concerned. The recent massacre of nearly 60 Adivasis by Bodo militants in Assam, the killing of 14 CRPF personnel in Chhattisgarh, the terror blast in Bengaluru and the appearance of the dreaded ISIS or the Islamic State in India gives glimpses of what is staring the Home Minister in the face.

While bloodshed and violence like the Peshawar school attack and the Paris terror attack are grim reminders of how unsafe the world at large is becoming and with what impunity the ‘terrorists’ are acting, fact is that in India too we are literally sitting on a time bomb.

Since Rajnath assumed office there has been an air about him of being busy. From taking on Pakistan for creating internal turmoil in India, to extensive tours to Naxal infested regions of the country, to launching of women’s mobile app for safety in Delhi, to making it mandatory for all radio taxis to have GPS, to making surprise visits to local police stations, to travelling to Israel for seeking assistance in areas like aviation security and border protection, he has been a busy man.

However, considering the humongous challenges that India faces as far as internal security is concerned, Rajnath and National Security Advisor (NSG) Ajit Doval have a long way to go.

Also read - Looking ahead to 2015: Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has his task cut out

To start with, just when we thought that there was relative calm as far as terror strikes in the country were concerned, the government went into a tizzy after the recent bomb blast in Bengaluru. While the causality in the attack may have been just one person, it is a grim reminder of the fact that we are safe only till those who perpetuate terror want us to be, especially in a big and densely populous country like India. What is worrying is the fact that intelligence agencies have not been able to zero down on who carried out the attack, though reports have said that the involvement of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and South India based al-Ummah is being suspected.

Then the arrest of a Bangalore-based executive, who was allegedly operating a pro-ISIS Twitter handle to spread their ideology, should be a wake-up call for the Home Minister and his men, as should be the disappearance of four Mumbai youths in Iraq-Syria and the subsequent return of one of them. When earlier ISIS flags were spotted in the Kashmir Valley, the government had maintained that there was no presence of the dreaded terror group in the country. However, the fact that the Indian hinterland is a focus area of groups like the ISIS and al Qaeda and that they may attempt to radicalize youths from a particular community cannot be taken lightly. After all al Qaeda did announce recently the formation of a new outfit, called Qaeda-ul-Jihadi, for the Indian subcontinent with Gujarat, Assam, Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir and Bangladesh being its specific target.

The fact is that home-grown terror is a reality that India cannot wish away. Whether it is the Indian Mujahideen, which is being operated from Pakistan or whether it is SIMI, the authorities will have to be more pro-active as far as coordination between security agencies is concerned and also regarding sharing of intelligence inputs between the Centre and states. Though agencies like the NIA and the IB have made major breakthroughs in recent times but terror modules have to be nipped in the bud. We have heard a number of times that intelligence was shared with so and so, but it was not acted upon.

Not to forget the aspect of coastal security with India having over 7,500 kms of coastline and especially after the recent incident of the ‘bomb boat’ off the Gujarat coast which apparently was loaded with ammunition, had Navy installations as target and allegedly had terrorists on board. While one can say that major coastlines and ports are by and large well-secured, there are over 200 minor ports and 1500 landing points which still appear vulnerable. One cannot forget that the 1993 and 2008 attacks in Mumbai were both carried out through the sea route.

As far as insurgency is concerned, India faces major challenges in many parts of the country – Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, some parts of Bihar, few districts in Uttar Pradesh, few districts of Maharashtra, certain areas of West Bengal, some parts of Andhra Pradesh and Northeast India. These are areas which have seen bloodshed and unrest for years now with the government at times looking clueless as to how to handle them. The unrest in these regions is specific in nature and has to be dealt with accordingly. From Left-wing extremism to ULFA to Bodoland issue to militancy in Northeast, the list is long.

And reports of Maoists forging ties with Kashmiri separatists and ULFA have only made matters worse. As per an estimate nearly 200 civilians and more than 60 security personnel were killed in Left-wing violence in the past year with another report saying that Naxals have been extracting money to the tune of more than Rs 140 crore annually from contractors, businessmen and other sources. And if one goes back in time, then thousands have lost their lives due to Naxal violence over the years.

Experts have often said that inclusive growth and socio-economic development of affected areas is one of the ways through which Left-wing extremism can be tackled. While the government can go in for hot pursuit of extremists as it is the right thing to do, it also has to look inwards and see whether they have been guilty of neglecting the areas affected by red terror. And though Rajnath has categorically said that Left-wing extremism was a ‘national challenge’ and ‘had to be put to an end at all cost’ and that the government was ‘ready to talk, but could not allow any violence to occur’, on fighting insurgency, inter-state cooperation and a better coordination among paramilitary forces and state police is a must.

And we all know about cross-border terrorism sponsored by Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir since 1989. The problem of separatists, the restlessness of youths in the Valley, numerous terror attacks in the state and ceasefire violations by Pakistan leading to huge migration from border areas has been a constant headache for the state as well as Central government. On the J&K situation, Singh said recently that recruitment of local youth by terrorist groups had come down. Nonetheless, India will still have to find a way to bring the so-called disgruntled elements in the Valley to the mainstream and also find a way to deal with Pakistan with an iron hand.

It has often been said that India has the misfortune of sharing its border with those countries which do not provide it much succour. While Nepal’s borders have always been porous enough for terror elements to slip in and out of India (remember IM operative Yasin Bhatkal ran away to Nepal after slipping away from authorities before he was arrested in Bihar), the so-called ‘illegal migrants’ pour into Assam from Bangladesh and to a certain extent into West Bengal with ease. Also, there have been reports of Lashkar-e-Toiba and Indian Mujahideen setting up their infrastructure in Bangladesh and using the permeable Indo-Bangla border to send arms and ammunition into India.

In addition to all of the above is the challenge of modernizing the police force and paramilitary, police reforms, women’s safety, safety of children in schools and homes, and dealing with caste tensions. To give an example, a recent data released by Delhi police stated that street crimes in Delhi had surged 186 percent in 2014 and the overall crime rate had also doubled compared to the previous year – 147,000 cases till December 15, 2014. To add to it, a rape was reported every four hours and a molestation every two hours in the national capital.

To top it all, the fear of communal tension and communal violence is always lurking round the corner.

In a nutshell, it can be said that India’s internal security challenges are complex and manifold. And these can only be dealt with if there is pro-active bureaucracy, a hands-on minister and a government which is sensitive and active 24x7. Are Rajnath Singh and his men ready to take up the baton and run against time? We’ll have to wait and see.

(This article is second in the 'Looking ahead to 2015' series.)