Thursday, 31 May 2012

India: For an Introspective Turn

by Ali Ahmed

January 24, 2012

A statistic noted by the India prime minister as a ‘national shame’ has it that 42 per cent of India’s children are malnourished; twice as high as the rate prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. 59 percent have been found to be stunted. The Hunger and Malnutrition report of the Naandi Foundation has it that 230 million Indians go hungry. In 2010, an Oxford University study had found India to have 410 million Indians in poverty equivalent to that found in war torn Democratic Republic of Congo.
Such statistics are the staple for the Planning Commission. These are marginalized in strategic thinking under the catch-all term for consequential issues of long term import, ‘non-traditional security’. As a result, the facts and figures do not get the attention they deserve, with security experts fixated with traditional security issues. The phrase ‘two front threat’ is now more to fore to highlight India’s military predicament. The formulation ‘two and half front’ genuflects towards the internal security challenge, more for including proxy war rather than acknowledging the problems brought on by neglecting non-traditional security.
The neglect owes in part to the process of ‘securitization’ not having occurred in respect of human security. The state being taken as the referent of security, the threats to it dominate strategic thinking in India. Since these threats are considered numerous and of considerable magnitude, human security is not allowed to acquire the space in strategic thinking that it should logically be due.  The effects of deprivations are at best local since those affected are usually on the margins of perceptions, confined as they are to the social and spatial peripheries.
Thus, as the Copenhagen School of Security Studies conceptualizes, the social construction of the abysmal human security indicators as threats does not occur. This owes to want of a securitizing actor. The strategic elite remaining inattentive the non-traditional domain gets restricted to university faculties at best, with think tanks at best including a conference session on the theme in the post lunch session! As a result, the poor majority is not treated as a referent and the neutralization of their multiple insecurities is not taken up on a war footing. The problem is that there is little chance of threat emanating from this direction, since Indians have historically never experienced a revolution. The upper echelons of society are also considerable in terms of numbers, with India’s middle classes numbering 400 million people.
The state is constitutionally bound to take ameliorative measures. These are very much in evidence, such as the well-regarded rural employment guarantee scheme, etc. There is the food security bill under debate. Improvements in the public distribution scheme are ongoing with the unique identification scheme underway. The current dispensation, the United Peoples Alliance government, has a National Advisory Council that is seized of the issue, particularly since the last elections had revealed that making headway on this is an effective route to power.
While these can serve as prevention in terms of any threat to the state and the ‘haves’, the state also has increased its paramilitary and policing capacities of late. Operations against the Maoists, who alone can exploit and profit from alienation, are ongoing. The security forces are immunized from any infiltration, insulated as they are from society by the state catering for their amenities to some extent and enjoying higher remunerations since the last pay commission.
In effect, both preventive and management measures are in high gear. However, the magnitude of the problem is such that state intervention pales in comparison. The measures also have a learning curve, which means leakages and inefficiencies make them less than effective. Multiple insurgencies also hamper state penetration. There is little indication of a ‘peace surge’ in such areas. With the administration unable to reach ‘normal’ development, it is not possible for it to also take on the additional developmental works. For instance, it is uncertain how the sanction to the tune of $ 5 million per district in Left Wing Extremism (LWE) prevalent areas can be disbursed to effect.
The fallout of a choice in favor of a neo-liberal economy model adds fuel, increasing numbers of dispossessed, unemployed and unemployable. Infrastructure works and urban expansion are adding to numbers of the displaced and migrants. State downsizing in the social security sphere adds to insecurities. The opening up of mineral-rich areas for corporate action, in the hope that this translates over time for the benefit of local communities, has proven problematic. Tribal India has resisted the intrusion by affording left-wing extremists sanctuary through striking up a strategic alliance.
Despite the incipient problem, the security discourse remains dominated by high politics. This is evident from the words of the chairman of the National Security Advisory Board, who is also heading the task force on restructuring national security: “Suffice it to say that this (Pakistan) is the most serious challenge that our armed forces, intelligence and security agencies and the people as a whole have to face in the next decade or more.” To him, among the “security challenges nearer home” is the “rise of China” as the “first issue”.
This outward focus, understandable in light of strategic studies having an external orientation, suggests a blind spot in India’s strategic thinking. India’s theoretical lens is obviously unsuited to its strategic circumstance. India is not the ‘usual’ state. It is instead a continent-sized state, encompassing a continent’s diversity and with problems of like magnitude. India is oblivious to the theoretical lens that best captures its strategic reality. The external fixation distracts attention and diverts financial, technological, and human resources from addressing the more consequential challenge within.
Favoring human security can help the government realize its constitutional obligations. Since India faces no existential threat, exaggerations such as the ‘two front’ threat notwithstanding, India can make this shift. Announcing this through a strategic review document is a necessary first step. It would bring about a securitization of the emerging problem and thereby enable timely prevention.

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