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’The Challenge Of Internal Security...’

Tuesday 5 April 2005, by SINGH*Manmohan

’... is our biggest national security challenge today. The challenge of terrorism must be faced squarely and resolutely by all shades of political opinion. There can be no political compromise with terror. No inch conceded. No compassion shown.’

PM’s address at the CMs Conference,

When I was a student, in England some 50 years ago, one of my great teachers Lord Nicholas Kaldor used to say that the progress of a country depends critically on the mind-sets and motivation of those who are charged with the responsibility of making the critical decisions in the life of a nation.

We have assembled in this room, men and women, whose collective weight, I am convinced, can reshape the destiny of our country. I am firmly of the view that international environment for India’s accelerated development was never as favourable as it is now. There is lot of resources which are ready to flow into our country, provided we can take the critical decisions, provide peace and security, create a congenial atmosphere, secure and rewarding and working together, as I said we can reshape the destiny of this country. Make this country free from the scourge of war, want and exploitation.

I am therefore, delighted to welcome you all once again to New Delhi. At the previous Conference of Chief Ministers, we discussed problems relating to rural development and panchayat raj. Our government has made an explicit commitment to give a "New Deal To Rural India" and this is, I believe, our most important common priority. I had an opportunity once again to outline our perspective in this regard at the Agriculture Summit in New Delhi last week convened by the Hon’ble Minister for Food and Agriculture .

I have also had the opportunity of sharing my thoughts with some of you at meetings where we set out our agenda for education, for health care and for infrastructure development. As I had said in my very first address to the nation as Prime Minister these key areas of development remain our most urgent and important national priorities.

Today, we meet to discuss an equally important area of public policy, namely internal security and law and order. Development and security are truly mutually inter-related. We need therefore, to evolve a combined strategy to deal simultaneously with the twin challenges of development and security within the framework of a democratic polity committed to respect for all fundamental human freedoms and also committed to upholding the rule of law.

Our experience with democracy has so far been unique and all over the world, there is growing appreciation of the way we have stayed faithful to the vision of the founding fathers of our republic in carrying forward the tasks of democratic values. There is today, a recognition, all over the world, there is no other developing country in the world, of a billion people, as diverse as ours, that has successfully worked a democratic system dedicated to the rule of law. India’s example and experience in this regard will hold lessons for the world as the 21st Century moves on.

Yet, there are challenges that our democracy faces. These challenges arise partly as a consequence of the unevenness of our growth processes, the inequities that remain in our social institutions and the shortcomings sometimes of our political institutions. Often these challenges also arise because we are an open society and have allowed free expression to dissent of varying degrees. This is not our weakness. This is our strength. But in this also lies the challenge that we need to deal with and grapple with effectively.

A democratic government has to make a distinction between the genuine and legitimate expression of dissent and disaffection and the manifestations of anti-national, anti-social and anti-people threats to our democratic way of life. There are today many challenges to internal security: criminal activity, extremism, insurgency, terrorism, communal violence and atrocities against women, SCs and STs.

Our security forces are duty bound to deal with crime and law and order problems within the framework of clearly spelt out laws. Insurgency and extremism, on the other hand, have a political dimension that often requires the political management of a security situation. We have time and again attempted this in the North-East and in Naxalite affected areas.

The challenge of terrorism must be faced squarely and resolutely by all shades of political opinion. There can be no political compromise with terror. No inch conceded. No compassion shown. The people of India have suffered a great deal at the hands of terrorists and our government and I am sure, I speak for all the Chief Ministers represented here, is resolute in its determination to wipe out this threat to a civilized and democratic way of life. There are no good terrorists and bad terrorists. There is no cause, root or branch, that can ever justify the killing of innocent people. No democratic government can tolerate the use of violence against innocent people and against the functionaries of a duly established democratic government.

Extremism is not merely a Law and Order issue. This we recognize. Development, or rather the lack of it, often has a critical bearing, as do exploitation and iniquitous socio-political circumstances. Inadequate employment opportunities, lack of access to resources, under developed agriculture, artificially depressed wages, geographical isolation, lack of effective land reforms may all impinge significantly on the growth of extremism. There may be other more complex issues like language, ethnicity, caste or religion or cultural rights. In this complex world, that we live in, all these facets have to be taken into account in evolving a concerted and effective strategy to counter these challenges.

Whatever be the cause, it is difficult to deny that extremism has huge societal costs. Investments are unlikely to fructify, employment is not likely to grow and educational facilities may be impaired. Direct costs would include higher costs of infrastructure creation as contractors build "extortions" into their estimates, consumers may be hurt due to erratic supplies and artificial levies. In all, the society at large and people at large suffer.

Delivery systems are often the first casualty. Schools do not run, dispensaries do not open and PDS shops remain closed. Public service providers can now ascribe all their inefficiencies to "extremism". In many cases, "extremist" areas also appear to be closely associated with a lack of strong participatory mechanism. Panchayats in these areas, are generally weak and even where they do exist, not enough powers are delegated. Panchayats are important from another angle. They create room for political action - by mainstream political parties, by NGOs and civil society. Generally, traditional headmen and village institutions are treated with respect even by extremists. Ideologically driven movements do exploit the vacant spaces caused by the absence of mainstream political formations at the grass roots level.

When genuine dissent becomes extremism there can be no ambivalence about tackling it, even if it be only symptomatic. The Chief Ministers, I urge, should recognise these different facets of the security threats we face and develop effective policies designed to address them. Our citizens are free to choose the particular brand of politics they wish to follow, they have the freedom to take recourse to collective action to achieve the social, political or economic changes that they desire, but no one is either permitted or expected to resort to violence to achieve these ends or to try and prevent elected functionaries from doing what they are supposed to do. This should be made amply clear in our policy announcements. Talks and negotiations should always be welcomed.

I have repeatedly stressed that we are ready to talk to any group that abjures violence.

But the basic issues regarding violence and the State’s obligations to curb it, should be clarified at the outset, so that there are no misunderstandings or a feeling of being let down at later stages. In our country, symbols and gestures matter. Nothing should be done which detracts from the authority of the Indian state and its primary role as an upholder of public order. The State should not even remotely be seen to back away in the face of threats of armed violence. We need to be firm, but not transgress the limits of human rights or dignity. We must prevent our society from being brutalised. However, legitimate needs and aspirations, even if set out in procedurally or presentationally inappropriate terms, should be examined with care and with sympathy because we are dealing after all, with our own people, even though they may have strayed from the path of rectitude.

You, represent both political and administrative leadership. We must, therefore, do all we can, to evolve the required policies, frame the action programmes and deliver the outputs. This is our common goal, this is our common objective. We must empathise with the underlying causes and be able to tactfully handle the strong feeling arising out of long-standing deprivation or neglect of certain regions or certain classes. But we should also be uncompromising in our resolve, to uphold the position of the duly elected governments. The need for a focussed, compact, multi disciplinary group to handle such a complex issue, cannot be over-emphasized. This group both at the official level and at the political level, should have strong political leadership and backing and should, under all circumstances, have direct access to the highest political executive.

I have repeatedly emphasized the importance of good governance. This entails effective, if humane maintenance of law and order and efficient policing. I urge your Conference to also deliberate upon the need for police reforms. A well-trained, sensitive, citizen-friendly, but, firm police force is a necessary element of good governance. The government has at its disposal the wisdom of many committees of enquiry and study on police reforms. I urge Chief Ministers to give the recommendations of existing committees utmost importance and initiate the required reform, in training, in service conditions, in career progression, in technical support and, finally, in depoliticising to the maximum extent possible, the functioning of our police forces.

I must pay tribute to the courage, the dedication and commitment of our police and other security forces, especially in parts of the country that have been disturbed by anti-national and anti-social forces. I salute the courage and commitment of the security forces in our border States where they have had to deal with cross-border infiltration by extremist elements .

The Home Minister has drawn our attention to the fact that in the last one year we have seen a marked decline in infiltration and in violence in Jammu & Kashmir. I compliment, his ministry, our security forces and our State governments for this track record. Notwithstanding, the recent dastardly attempt to disrupt the bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad by terrorist elements, the people of Jammu and Kashmir came out onto the streets as one, to welcome this gesture of reconciliation.

I hope the terrorists and extremists in the region have grasped the mood of the people and will not try to disrupt this bus service again. I do believe that it is the joint responsibility of the governments of India and Pakistan, and of the local authorities on both sides of the line of control to work together in providing full security cover to the bus service, which is a service for peace, and for promotion of reconciliation.

I sincerely hope that we can work together in protecting the lives of innocent people and in fighting the sources of terrorism in the region.

We have also seen a decline in extremist violence and restoration of normalcy in many parts of the North-East including Manipur and Assam. I sincerely believe, this region is ripe for accelerated and economic development provided we can ensure peace and security. Destiny beckons the North-East to become an active bridge between South Asia and East Asia, at a time when this Century is going to be an Asian Century. I hope all shades of political opinion in the region will grasp this opportunity and help us, join hands with us, and bring peace and prosperity to the region as a whole. I reiterate once again that violence and the use of force cannot win the rewards that insurgents and extremists seek. Our governments will deal firmly with insurgency. However, we are willing to conduct an honest and meaningful dialogue with any group that abjures the path of violence and is willing to engage in a dialogue.

I am aware that many of you, Hon’ble Chief Ministers, are grappling with the threat of Naxalism. We cannot ignore the fact that the threat of naxalism is geographically spread out to the more backward regions and districts of our country. Hence, our strategy to tackle this threat to law and order in these districts and regions will have to be to "walk on two legs": To implement programmes and policies that address the pressing needs and demands of the people, especially the scheduled tribes and scheduled castes; and, at the same time, to ensure effective policing and maintenance of law and order. The speedy implementation of land reforms, the redistribution of land, the assurance of tribal rights to forest produce, implementation of development projects and spread of mass education and health facilities are all important steps we must take.

At the same time, we cannot ignore the inter-State and external dimension to Naxalism today. This requires greater coordination between State governments and between the Centre and States. We have to take a comprehensive approach in dealing with Naxalism given the emerging linkages between groups within and outside the country, that the Home Minister has referred to. I also draw your attention to the Home Minister’s perceptive observations on the nexus between terrorist groups, organized crime syndicates, drug trafficking and external forces interested in destabilizing our polity. I strongly urge leaders of all political parties to ensure that such forces and groups are kept away from our political processes. We need to have zero-tolerance for criminalisation of politics in our country.

I am happy to note that the incidence of communal violence has come down in recent months. Our government, and I am confident, I speak for all of you, are firmly committed to the assurance of security to all our citizens irrespective of caste or religion. We are doubly committed to the protection of the lives and livelihood of all Minorities. We have stood tall as a nation because of the fact that we are the world’s most successfully functioning multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious democracy. There is no precedent elsewhere, in the history of the world, where billion people are trying to realise their destiny in the framework of an open society and an open economy.

It is, therefore, incumbent upon us, the custodians of our nation, to ensure that this precious character of our nationhood is not weakened by forces of bigotry and chauvinism. Our security forces must remain sensitive to this and act decisively in the face of any challenge to communal peace and harmony. Every citizen has a right to demand and secure the protection of our police and security forces.

Continuing crimes against weaker sections, particularly women and children and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are a matter of disgrace in a civilized society. Deeply concerned about the historical injustices faced by the weaker sections of the society, our founding fathers had made provisions in our Constitution for protecting their interests and prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of race and caste. Despite our best intentions and efforts, unfortunately, the crimes against these sections of society still persist. This calls for serious introspection and a comprehensive review of the strategies adopted so far and an analysis of the factors that have been responsible for this unfortunate trend continuing. Both the Central and State governments need to collaboratively work out a comprehensive plan of action and take all necessary measures for preventing crimes against the vulnerable sections of society particularly, our women.

Finally, I urge, all Chief Ministers to pay special attention to intelligence gathering and the modernization of our intelligence services and security forces. We live in an era, where human knowledge is growing at an unprecedented pace, the developments in communication, transportation, technologies, today enabled anti-social terrorist elements to have access to most sensitive technologies to indulge in their nefarious activities.

Our intelligence gathering and our security apparatus must rise to the occasion to meet this challenge. The timely availability of reliable information is a key weapon in the defence of national security. Our intelligence gathering agencies have a creditable track record of human intelligence as well as the use of new technologies. But we need to do a lot more in this area. We can not rest on our laurels and must constantly improve our skills and capabilities. There has to be much better integration and coordination of work between different intelligence agencies, between such agencies and security forces, between the Centre and the States and among States.

Technological modernization and training in tackling new dimensions to national security, like economic security, cyber-security, energy security, container security and such like must get their due attention. We must equip ourselves better in dealing with the extant and emerging challenges in all these areas.

The challenge of internal security is our biggest national security challenge today. We have complete and total confidence in our capability and ability to take on any challenge to our national security from outside the country. We are proud of our gallant armed forces. We will also address resolutely the external threats to internal security and fight terrorism and the ideology of terror. In dealing with this, and other manifestations of criminal activity, extremism and insurgency, I urge you, Chief Ministers, to function as a cohesive team, work on a war-footing and pay the highest attention to the challenges of internal security.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate the two key themes running through my address. Firstly, there is no place for violence and extremism of any kind in a democratic, rule-based society. One should not be ambivalent about this and we must be firm in sending this signal to all groups treading the forbidden path. At the same time, we must realize that disaffection and alienation are a result of pent up grievances against economic and social deprivation. Therefore, the onus is on all of us to provide good, effective governance that provides a ray of hope to all and a stake in our collective future.

I wish your deliberations all success.

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