India is haemorrhaging badly and may soon be in a coma, given the recent spate of headlines about scams — 2G spectrum scam, the Indian Premier League scam, Madhu Koda — and terror. The June 7 verdict on the Bhopal gas tragedy should reinforce the argument that Parliament urgently needs to pass a suitable liability bill to protect Indian interests. The tragedy of India is that common sense proposals are often overlooked due to ignorance, arrogance and zero accountability.
No great crystal ball gazing is required to predict that the next big threat to India will arise if Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence manages to “coordinate and manipulate” the activities of Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), Indian Maoists, and local insurgents of the Northeast, in the same manner as it is doing in Kashmir. Media reports already mention “links” between the Maoists, Northeast insurgents and the LeT.
After the two Maoist attacks near Dantewada on April 6 and May 17, 2010, followed by a series of incidents of blowing up rail tracks and derailing trains (including the horrendous May 28, 2010, twin train derailing incident), the time has finally come to use the military while allowing the paramilitary and police time to build up the required capability in terms of personnel, training and equipment.
On May 17, 2010, news channels broadcast an interview with a home ministry bureaucrat who made the following valid observations:
l There are 350,000 vacancies in the police force that need to be filled up.
l To have sufficient capability to enforce law and order in the country, about 800,000 additional police personnel would be necessary.
Given the importance of the police force to act as the last line of defence against Maoists and foreign terrorists, it is evident that the country will need another decade to recruit, train and equip a police force that is able to combat terror and the Maoists.
Some urgent interim measures have to be found to combat terror. The reluctance of the overstretched Army and Air Force to get involved is well known. However, the fact remains that the Indian Navy, despite being overstretched on anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden and exclusive economic zone patrols off Maldives, Mauritius and the Seychelles, was additionally tasked with the duties of peacetime coastal security after 26/11. Extraordinary situations call for extraordinary measures. A few available interim options to combat Maoist terror are as follows:
l Use of “benign” air power: The Indian Air Force’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could be used for surveillance; helicopters could be used for surveillance, casualty evacuation, ferrying supplies and quick movement of paramilitary forces to tactically advantageous positions, while bypassing the improvised explosive device threat on land.
l Permit selective use of armed helicopters against terrorists and Maoists, especially in open areas, where probability of collateral damage is low.
l Permitting seamless movement of security forces involved in hot pursuit across state boundaries.
l The Army could be given adequate land in the most Naxal-infested areas to set up training centres, cantonments etc. The Army’s presence would boost the confidence of the local people, paramilitary and police.
l All police and paramilitary officers should serve for one year with Army infantry units at the beginning of their careers. This will ensure higher standards of common training, leadership and synergy.
The financial implications of urgently raising, equipping and training an additional force of about one million for the police, paramilitary and intelligence would be high, especially given the fact that India expects to spend about $9 billion in the next three years on equipment for its existing police and paramilitary, and would also be buying weapons worth over $100 billion for its armed forces in the next decade. Nonetheless, additional money will need to be found quickly.
While ensuring that the writ of the state government prevails and the estimated 35,000-armed Maoists and their co-conspirators (the mining mafia) are neutralised, winning the “hearts and minds” of the totally neglected tribals is equally essential. Given the fact that the tribals have been exploited since 1947, special development programmes (which protect their land, mineral wealth and forests) must be implemented urgently. The right to food, potable water and employment is as important as the right to information and education. About 75 per cent of the subsidised food does not reach the poor, while 10 per cent of our total food production is lost due to poor storage. As per a TV channel, the present potable water shortage in India is about 400 million litres per day. The country is sitting on a ticking bomb that needs to be defused.
Aesop once said, “We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to high office”. The scams of independent India have seen the loot of about $1 trillion, which is what “Imperial Great Britain” is estimated to have siphoned off in 200 years of colonial rule (according to an article by Mohan Murti, former director, CII). Also about $1.4 trillion is reportedly stashed away in Swiss banks. If this combined $2.4 trillion loot is miraculously recovered then India’s present $1 trillion economy will triple overnight, and war against poverty-cum-domestic terror can be won. Not by additional money alone, but also by good administration and a speedy and fair judicial system.
Tackling corruption is critical to eliminating Maoist terror in the long-term. In the short term, the reluctant military will once again be needed to establish the rule of law, since all other state institutions have failed. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has his work cutout as this crisis cannot be resolved by inaction or appeasement.
Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval