Of Security and Insecurity : Rulers who Live in Fear Can only Rule by Fear

(This piece was written for publication in The Little Magazine, in its issue on the theme of ‘Security’, Vol. VII, Issue 3&4.)

To say that security is a basic human need may sound like stating the obvious. Yet I think it is extremely important to emphasise this essential human dimension of the question at the outset. It is not only the nation-state or global capital that needs security, we all want to feel secure – not only in our own original or usual surroundings but also when we migrate to other situations, or negotiate and contend with various challenges in life. In other words, security should be as central to any notion of human rights as human dignity and the very right to life.

How far is this right guaranteed in India? Ideologues of the Indian state would like us to believe that as a rule this right is perfectly secure in our parliamentary democracy. Periodic pogroms and massacres, Armed Forces Special Powers Act, ‘licensed’ and unlicensed police and paramilitary atrocities are just exceptions that only go to prove this rule.

Compared to Palestine and Iraq, or Afghanistan and Pakistan, we may surely consider ourselves luckier. But over time are we achieving higher standards of security in India? I think it is impossible to escape the reality that more and more people are feeling more and more insecure in this country. This is true not just for the so-called ‘backyards and badlands’ where we treat ‘criminalisation of politics’ as the norm, or the regions that have been experiencing terrorist strikes at almost regular intervals, but also for the peaceful and ‘progressive’ states as has been underlined so glaringly by the Nandigram developments.

The socio-economic dimension of the question of insecurity is also becoming more and more difficult to ignore. Even as Sensex hovers around 20K, the country has slipped two places down to the 128th rank in the latest Human Development Report. We have the Global Hunger Index that ranks India 96th – behind Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal – in a list of 119 poor countries of the world. Till recently there used to be only one Kalahandi in this country, today there are several in almost every state. And let us also keep in mind the Special Elimination Zones where every half an hour a farmer is driven to suicide.

The canvas of insecurity however spreads far beyond the people and regions mired in chronic poverty, hunger and economic disasters. It is not just about people who have long been displaced and dispossessed by the onward march of ‘development’ – the so-called development refugees. It is also about all those who felt somewhat secure till the other day, but are feeling increasingly helpless today in the face of the SEZ Act and other predatory corporate expeditions that are fast conquering almost all segments of our economy and society.

From this people’s perception of insecurity let us now turn to the rulers’ doctrines of security. The greatest global doctrine of security today is of course the one propounded by the Bush brigade. True to the no-nonsense American standards of efficiency, the Bush doctrine is bluntly precise and direct. The script has just three simple steps. Step One: Terrorism poses the biggest threat to American, sorry global security. Step Two: Terrorism starts with Islam but ends with whoever does not conform to US interests. Step Three: Eliminate every suspected terrorist to get the best and smartest security that bombs can buy.

From the ongoing post-9/11 ‘War on Terror’ to the more recent ‘Proliferation Security Initiative’, the US security doctrine can be seen at work in almost every part of the world. And the result is also there for anybody and everybody to see. The world is now more insecure than ever before and the US cannot possibly relocate itself in another planet!
In India, our rulers have always been fond of strategies ‘perfected’ in American laboratories. Soon after Independence, when we had acute shortage of food grains we got PL 480 wheat from the US. Next the US gave us the strategy of Green Revolution ostensibly to make us self-sufficient in food production. Now when the Green Revolution model has collapsed and we are trapped in a deeper and wider agrarian crisis, we have gone back to the US for ‘Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture’. Similarly, to solve our energy needs, we first went to Enron. Now that Enron has vanished into thin air following one of America’s biggest swindling stories, we want to buy the most expensive nuclear power from obsolete American reactors.

No wonder our rulers have also bought American insurance in their quest for an improved security environment in the neighbourhood. The US has offered us several insurance policies – strategic partnership, democracy initiative, security initiative, joint exercises and, if Manmohan Singh and Bush have their way, a nuke deal to boot. Most of these policies have also been on offer for Pakistan. The result has therefore been predictable – escalation of arms race between the two neighbours and more terror strikes and bomb blasts across the neighbourhood.

In the domestic domain, Manmohan Singh has designated Maoism as the biggest threat to national security. This perception puts him on the same strategic boat with people like Advani on the one hand and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on the other. Of course, Advani articulates this theme with a stronger ideological thrust – he dubbed Naxalism the biggest enemy of the dream of India – but they are united in their common minimum (or maximum?) clamour for a hard state. More recently, Manmohan Singh has started lauding the Andhra school of ‘Greyhound governance’ as the most efficient way of tackling the Maoist threat.

What is particularly revealing is that these governance gurus talk about the Maoist threat not just in the context of killings and military acts perpetrated and usually owned by the self-styled Maoists, but more loudly with reference to clear cases of people’s resistance like in Nandigram. Between January and November 2007 Nandigram has witnessed three major massacres – all perpetrated under public-private partnership by the state-CPI(M) combine – and yet the CPI(M) continues to treat us to all these stories of mysterious Maoist presence in Nandigram.

In Chhattisgarh, the BJP and the Congress collaborated to launch the so-called ‘Salwa Judum’ peace campaign in the name of combating the Maoist insurgency. The result has not only been more violence but systematic stifling of press freedom, massive curtailment of civil liberties, promulgation of yet another draconian law like the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and arbitrary incarceration of an eminent doctor and human rights campaigner like Dr. Binayak Sen.

This pattern is quite familiar to all of us. In the early 1970s, the West Bengal police and CRPF perfected the culture of custodial killings and third-degree torture to crush the CPI(ML) movement. In just a few years it culminated in a total eclipse of parliamentary democracy all over the country. The North-East had only a couple of armed insurgencies to begin with. The way the government sought to crush them by giving the ‘security forces’ a virtual licence to rape, kill and plunder at will has led to a massive proliferation of armed outfits in the region and a situation of endless social strife and inter-community clashes. And then there is of course the most well known case of Kashmir.

I hold absolutely no brief for our self-styled Maoists. Their misplaced militarism has done immense disservice to the cause of the people’s movement. Our party’s fearless refutation of their anarcho-militarist path – particularly through our successful mass expansion and independent political assertion of the people – has angered the Maoists no end and so many of our leaders, activists and supporters have fallen prey to their cowardly attacks. Yet I have no hesitation in rejecting the branding of Maoists as the biggest threat to national security. In fact there can be no bigger threat to public security than this dubious doctrine of national security that seeks to legitimize all kinds of extra-judicial repression. Acts like NSA, MISA, TADA, POTA that have all been legislated in the name of defending national security and combating terrorism have always been used to silence the democratic voice of the people.

The neo-liberal policy regime is playing havoc not just with the natural and human resources of India, but also with whatever constitutional rights and democratic freedom we had won for ourselves. The deeper the disconnect between the policies and priorities of the rulers and the needs and aspirations of the ruled, the more afraid and desperate is the state. And rulers who live in fear can only rule by fear. This is the crux of the insecurity syndrome that now grips the country and the answer lies in a relentless battle for comprehensive and consistent democratization of every social sphere. Greater justice and greater democracy alone can pave the way to real security, individual as well as collective. 


PM Manmohan Singh at a Chief Ministers’ Conference on Internal Security, December 2007 :
“I have said in the past that Left Wing Extremism is probably single biggest security challenge to the Indian state. It continues to be so and we cannot rest in peace until we have eliminated this virus. We need to cripple the hold of naxalite forces...we also need to choke their support infrastructure.”

Significantly, Manmohan Singh does not consider communal fascism to be any threat to Indian security or democracy, and has never deployed such pathological language about the saffron brigade and its communal genocides and hate-peddling network. In order to “eliminate the virus” of people’s resistance, Governments of all hues are invoking draconian laws like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act against perceived ‘sympathisers’ of Naxalites, to “choke” and “cripple” democracy and the right to dissent. Dr. Binayak Sen in BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh; People’s March editor, 68-year-old Govindan Kutty now arrested and on a fast-unto-death in LF-ruled Kerala; Statesman correspondent Prashant Rahi jailed in BJP-ruled Uttarakhand; publishers and distributors of Daanish books charged with sedition for selling Left literature and Bhagat Singh’s writings; Lachit Bordoloi (senior journalist and human rights activist of Assam, former member of the Peoples Consultative Group (PCG) for talks between the Government of India and United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA)), now arrested for alleged links with ULFA – are just some instances. 


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