Securing India

Published : Jun 19, 2009 00:00 IST

P. Chidambaram arrives at North Block in New Delhi on May 25 to assume charge as Union Home Minister.-RAJEEV BHATT

P. Chidambaram arrives at North Block in New Delhi on May 25 to assume charge as Union Home Minister.-RAJEEV BHATT

ON his first day in office after returning to the North Block, Home Minister P. Chidambaram announced that there would a second 100-day plan, beginning June 1, aimed at protecting the nation from terrorism. The announcement was at the instance of the Prime Minister, and would be analogous to the one that Chidambaram had implemented on moving to the Ministry of Home Affairs from the Ministry of Finance prior to the Lok Sabha elections and in the aftermath of the November 26 terror strike in Mumbai.

Chidambaram has said that there would now be a monthly report on tasks completed so as to facilitate public evaluation of his Ministrys performance. This is unmistakably a Harvard-educated Home Ministers management approach to looking at the nations woes on the criminal justice front. This is an unexceptionable workplan, except that it is likely to be assailed by cynics as too academic a view of a complex problem that hardly rendered itself to a classroom exercise.

Such criticism, however, is not wholly fair in an era dominated by management gurus in every walk of life. Despite all the chaos around us, if we see some order and fairness in everyday life, it is at least partly due to systems flowing from major management schools across the globe. What will, however, be grievously wrong is to believe that management solutions are a panacea that will take care of many of our problems. This is especially true in the area of public order which has multiple players with multiple perceptions.

Let us at least give Chidambaram a chance to succeed in the backdrop of growing propensity to violence.

As I write, there is violence all over Punjab following a shoot-out in Vienna, Austria, between warring groups of Sikhs. How do you provide for a situation where an incident abroad sets on fire a part of India, that too in such quick time? Actually, events of the past few days in Punjab reflect the growing complexity of what the Indian Police is asked to deal with, day in and day out.

Chidambaram is modern to the core. He is also a man in a hurry. He is impatient with red tape and will not accept excuses. He cannot suffer fools who entertain but do not deliver goods. In sum, he does not answer to all that an average Indian politician is. He, therefore, needs enormous luck to transform the Home Ministry that he presides over. We will have to keep all these in mind while examining what he can do and what he cannot.

The greatest obstacle to Chidambarams well-meaning endeavours is the constitutional position that places policing and maintenance of public order within the realm of State governments. This is the gravest mistake that those who drafted the Constitution committed, one that haunts us each day. An abrasive Chief Minister can ask Chidambaram to mind his business without understanding that a Home Ministry kept in good humour can do a world of good to a State government in distress. This is where politics creeps in.

For instance, I can already sense confrontation developing between the Akali Dal-led Punjab government and the Union Home Minister. The latter is appalled that although curfew had been imposed in the State, the administration is not enforcing it and violence remains unabated. On the night of May 25, I heard the media adviser to the State government saying on television obviously in response to Chidambarams demand for a tough handling of the situation that it was not proper to train guns on ones own population even if it indulged in violence. This is the sickening dichotomy in India between how violence in the community ought to be tackled and how it is actually dealt with on the ground. There cannot be a more galling example of the divergence between theory and practice.

In sum, a State government can mess up public order but can still ask for Central assistance in the form of paramilitary forces which are owned and run by New Delhi. State demands are insatiable, and all manpower planning by the Home Ministry goes awry. A 100-day plan can touch only a fringe of the problem.

In view of the rigid constitutional position that policing is a preserve solely of the State government, the Home Ministrys role is severely confined to that of an adviser and a facilitator. Even the worst detractor of the Home Ministry would concede that the Ministry can rarely be faulted on this count. There is a dialogue all the time with States that takes care of important matters. The most crucial of these is the sharing of intelligence that is fed to the Home Ministry by the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.), an attached office of the Ministry. Normally, politics does not creep into the process, even if the political parties ruling at the Centre and in a State are not the same.

It is an entirely different matter that most States complain about the quality of intelligence furnished to them. This is especially so in the areas of terrorism and VIP security, where timely and accurate intelligence is extremely difficult to come by.

While this is understandable, and possibly pardonable to an extent, what is culpable is the agencies reluctance to share available information. One saw this in the United States. when 9/11 happened. The turf war between the two American intelligence agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), is still cited as a reason for their failure to piece together available facts, which would have unravelled the terror conspiracy much before it was put into action with diabolic efficiency.

The creation of a Multi-Agency Centre (MAC) in the Home Ministry is Chidambarams innovation, which tries to overcome such a lacuna. It is a sort of clearing house where agencies periodically meet and help one another. While joint intelligence meetings are not a novelty, giving a structure under the aegis of the Home Ministry is an experiment which, if successful, would go a long way in the fight against terrorism. It is too soon to comment on how well it would function, given the jealousies and mistrust between Central Police Organisations. Ultimately, a lot will depend on the heads of agencies constituting the MAC burying attitudes of oneupmanship.

A similar model has been proposed at the State level. If the one in Delhi does succeed, States will take their cue.

The Home Ministry can be of real help to States by making the latest technology available to police forces. It has the facility to scout for information internationally to identify gadgetry that has proven capacity to enhance police effectiveness in the field. Many enforcement agencies in the U.S. and Europe are leaders in the use of modern scientific aids for crime detection. Organisations working under the Home Ministry, including the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), have played a positive role here. The Ministries of Information Technology and Science & Technology can also help in procuring valuable information. Possibly under Chidambarams leadership, this assistance will grow exponentially. It is for State police leaders to exploit this avenue. Monitoring devices to keep track of physical movements and conversations between suspects are the need of the hour. Gadgets in this area are becoming sophisticated each day, and any assistance from the Home Ministry will be of great help to States.

The Home Ministry doles out grants to States every year for modernisation of their police forces. At least, until a few years ago, such grants were being used for humdrum needs such as motor vehicles and computers. I presume the situation has changed and that precious Home Ministry funds are now used to sharpen police skills in modern methods of investigation.

All of us who have a stake in better policing will be curious to know what benefit the second 100-day plan would bring to the fight against terrorism. We should hope for an unreserved response from the State police forces. There are young Indian Police Service officers in the States who should be involved in the process of upgrading technology. Their relative youth and inexperience should not stand in the way of utilising their talent. I am sure Chidambaram will ensure this. His rapport with Chief Ministers, especially those in States run by parties that are not part of the UPA, will be crucial.

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