UPA Report Card: Home Affairs & Security
Akrita Reyar THUMBS UP The interesting thing about Home Affairs and particularly India affairs is that there are always two sides to the same coin. And however prudent a government may be in securing the rights of a community, it normally ends up antagonizing another.
And thus in this relation, there are several measures that that government undertook which can be classified as having both positive and negative repercussions. J&K The one singular achievement that the government can show is that the state of Jammu and Kashmir got its first semblance of peace for a long time. People were out on the streets late in the evening, mobiles brought in better communication facilities, café bars and video game outlets suddenly found a market, and the ubiquitous tourist, who was often founding posing at Dal Lake in halcyon days, was busy snapping again. The massive effort at peace and restoration was a result of the joint efforts of the Central and State governments. While militancy was crushed with a heavy hand by the armed forces, a behemoth package of Rs 24,000 crore for reconstruction brought in jobs and a new lease of life for the unemployed. There was also better connectivity with the introduction of a bus link with PoK and laying of rail lines to Srinagar and Udhampur. The infrastructure was upgraded at the Srinagar Airport to give it an international airport status. More than anything, it was the success of democracy, when Kashmiris came out to vote in droves despite boycott calls by separatists. North East For the North East, the UPA government set up a full-fledged Ministry indicating that it was keen that the fruits of development reached far-flung corners. Peace deals were extended with Naga groups and the Bru/Reang tribes resettled. The surrender package for militants made more lucrative, though the success of this cannot be written home about. Infrastructure in the region was improved with better rail, road and air connections. There was a special allocation for 8737 km of roads (of which work is on for 2304 kms) and there will better rail links especially to state capitals. A plan to establish train connections with South East Asian countries was given the go ahead with the formal signing of Inter-Governmental Agreement on Trans-Asian Railway. And the Nathu La trade route with China was re-opened. Private and public partnership was encouraged especially in the power sector. Special Central Assistance is being provided to the state security forces and all seven North East states have been made eligible for 100% central funding. All in all, the budgetary allocation for the North East has increased three-fold over the past 5 years to Rs 16,447 crore. Others The Congress picked its Sikh Prime Minister to offer what can be termed as a sort of apology for the 1984 riots, as well as unveiled a comprehensive compensation and rehabilitation package for the riot-hit victims. On terror, while the government can only have the blushes, the saving grace was the removal of our “image conscious” Home Minister Shivraj Patil, though a wee bit too late in the day. The tail end of the UPA tenure has seen P Chidambaram infusing greater confidence in the nation about taking on terror with a comprehensive programme of security that includes setting up NSG hubs and presence of trained personnel across the country. The National Investigation Agency has been set up to coordinate better intelligence flow between different bodies. About further plan of action, PC has declared that the Indian security set up will now be drafted on the lines of the United States. Considering there hasn’t been a single terror attack in the US since 9/11, that’s a tall promise, only if it can be fulfilled!
THUMBS DOWN Terror The one major failure of successive governments at the Centre, very much including the UPA, has been their inability to rein in terror. India has become such a soft target that it is unperceivable for the common man to have any faith in the government regarding his security. Every few months have been marred by some terror incident or other, with each attack growing bolder than the one before. Major cities have been targeted including Ahmedabad, Delhi, Jaipur, Bangalore, and of course Mumbai. The 26/11 attack is a landmark considering its audacity, planning and the time that was taken to overcome the terrorists. Besides announcing some words of comfort, regret and a compensation package each time, the government was seen as doing little else. Home Minister Shivraj Patil’s obsession with his gelled hair and creases only made matters worse, lending levity to a very serious issue. Ministers of the government like A R Antulay did the country no service by questioning the Mumbai gunbattle and the death of ATS chief Hemant Karkare, thus only demoralizing the Police Force.
The government has also been sitting indefinitely on the issue of hanging Afzal Guru, the convict in the Parliament attack case, for the fear of turning him into a martyr. By ducking exemplary punishment, the government earned itself image of indecisiveness, and one which was deliberately soft on terror to appease minorities. The government also repealed POTA, which in fact was actually draconian in many ways. However, it failed to bring in a comprehensive terror law to replace it, till after 26/11, when it had no choice but to show that it was taking some tough measures. While terror modules are mostly inspired from foreign lands, with perhaps the help of some local sleeping cells, the threat from within the borders came by the way of Naxals. The corridor drawn from Nepal to the Deccan including Andhra Pradesh took the hue of a deadly red, as several massacres were executed especially of paramilitary personnel, when entire posts were blown up and security men gunned down. As of now, no solution seems to be in sight for this cancer, which is consuming us from within. J&K On Jammu and Kashmir too, while the government can take a lot of credit for putting the state back on track, equally it can be blamed for nearly derailing peace. A small issue of land transfer in Amarnath was so blown out of proportion that immediately the Valley was sucked into a secessionist movement that had gradually died down. Once again anti-India slogans reverberated across the scenic Valley while counter protests broke out in Jammu cleaving the state like never before. The government let the situation stay on boil for too long before bringing about a negotiated solution. Quicker action would have certainly spared a lot of heart burn. Bringing back an alienated populace into the national mainstream yet remains an unfinished task. North East In the North East, soon after the government had taken over, the case of the rape and killing of Manorama Devi united Manipur against the Centre like never before. The relentless campaign for the removal for the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), continued for months in the restive state, and only a personal visit of the Prime Minister to Imphal doused passions. The locals had a grouse that AFSPA provides too much immunity to security forces deployed in counter-insurgency operations. The PM, who met a delegation of Apunba Lup, the umbrella organization of protestors, promised bringing the guilty in the Manorama Devi case to book and replacement of AFSPA with a more “humane” Act. The country, especially the North and the West, was paralysed over demands of Gujjars to be given ST status and thus reservations. Train and road blockades over months threw normal life in the region in disarray. Again peace was finally brokered through negotiations, albeit it was delayed for too long. Anti-Christian Attacks But the real blot on the government came when a peaceful community like Christians came under concerted attacks by Hindu bigots. Triggered by the murder of a prominent VHP leader in Orissa, allegedly by the Naxals, the bloodbath soon engulfed other BJP-ruled states like Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. Churches were torched, nuns raped and innocent civilians killed or forced to flee. While the Centre kept issuing advisories to the State governments(as law and order is a state subject), these had little impact. The fall out was that it slurred the secular image of the country internationally and the Prime Minister got to an earful from several European leaders. Eventually, some tough talking by the Centre and caveats regarding imposition of President’s rule in did the trick and peace was restored. Sethusamudram Project Another issue that continued to vex and polarize parties and people was the Sethusamudram project, which proposes a shipping channel between Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar by dredging through the narrow natural bridge between India and Sri Lanka, believed in mythology to be built by Lord Ram to cross over to Lanka. The government approved the project as it is believed be profitable commercially. The DMK, an ally of the government, also made every effort to pressurize the government to press ahead, but this only raised the pitch of resentment among the masses, who found the idea as sacrilege, and one that hurt the Hindu sentiment. The impasse continued for a long time and the matter was debated extensively in Supreme Court, where too the government made several gaffes. Finally the issue was referred to a committee, and thus relegated to cold storage. Others The defence forces, for the first time, came out publicly to protest what they claimed shabby treatment at the hands of the government. They demanded better pay scales and perks and implementation of same rank same pension policy. Many ex-servicemen went to the extent of returning their gallantry medals, which was a shame. The end of the UPA tenure once again saw the issue of travesty of justice in the 1984 anti-Sikh riot case being raked up. The CBI clean chit to one of the main accused Jagdish Tytler, due to lack of proper witnesses, could not have come at a worse time for the government. All said and done, the reality is that after 25 years of the pogrom not a single guilty has been booked for the riots. The frustration of the community found vent in a crude exhibition, when a Sikh jurno hurled a shoe at the Home Minister Chidambaram at a press conference. While the Congress is downplaying the issue, it is unlikely to find a quiet burial.