There are three important components of internal security— communal violence, insurgency and terrorism. In the past, all the three used to receive equal attention from the internal security machinery of the government of India as well as the state governments. Equal priority used to be given to all the three threats to internal security from the point of view of collection, analysis and assessment of intelligence and follow-up action.
While threats from insurgency and terrorism continue to receive the same attention and priority as before, likely threats to internal security from communal tensions and violence do not seem to receive the same attention as before. The comparative communal peace since the Gujarat riots of 2002 appear to have induced a sense of complacency among our internal security managers and led to the rusting of the reflexes for preventing and controlling outbreaks of communal violence.
This is evident from the serious outbreak of violence between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities of the Bodo areas of Assam following the reported murder of two leaders of Muslim youth organisations by unidentified Bodo elements earlier this month. These murders led to retaliatory attacks on Bodos by members of the local Muslim community which, in turn, led to counter attacks by the Bodos on the Muslim residents in their areas. As normally happens, the Muslims are reported to have suffered heavily in areas where the Bodos are in a majority or in large numbers and Bodos are reported to have suffered heavily in areas where Muslims are in a majority or in large numbers.
The violence has led to about 50 fatalities in both communities and to the internal displacement of nearly 300,000 members of the two communities who have been accommodated in refugee camps. Apart from attacks on human beings by enraged mobs of the two communities, there have also been widespread destruction of houses due to arson.
One cannot blame failure of intelligence of the state or central government for what has happened. Kokrajhar and the adjoining Bodo areas have always figured in the list of communally sensitive pockets maintained by our intelligence and security agencies. The moment there were reports of the murder of two Muslim youth leaders by some Bodo elements, an alarm should have been sounded by the state police and the central intelligence agencies and the preventive machinery of the two governments should have been activated.
In such instances, preventive and pre-emptive action normally consists of increasing the visible presence of uniformed and armed security forces to deter possible acts of retaliation and activating important leaders of the two communities in order to enlist their help for controlling anger. Such action does not appear to have been taken by the state as well as the central governments. While the principal responsibility for the initial inaction is that of the state government and its police, there has been contributory negligence by the internal security machinery of the government of India too.
The moment the reports of the initial acts of violence came, there should have been an assessment of the likely consequences by the internal security machinery in New Delhi and appropriate instructions for follow-up action to prevent retaliatory attacks should have been issued to the state government from New Delhi.
Even after the retaliatory attacks broke out, there does not appear to have been a prompt assessment of the serious situation that was developing. As a result, there was a delay on the part of the state government in requesting for the help of the Army for stopping acts of violence and in the deployment of the Army once the request for help was received from the state government.
The sins of commission and omission by both the state and central governments should be examined, the deficiencies in the reflexes and responses of our internal security machinery identified and action taken to remove them. We cannot afford to downgrade the priority and attention given to the prevention of threats to internal security from communal tension and violence.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.
Always a pleasure to read this column. Indians are mature enough to deal with a factual report about a flare up that names the communities concerned. The fact that 3,00,000 people have left their homes shows that it will be a very slow and painful return to normalcy.
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