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Manufacturing compulsions of national security

by Ashok Mitra, 16 January 2009

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The Telegraph

A Great Confidence Trick

Why has the Centre set up a National Investigation Agency?

Whom are the authorities hoping to fool?

Ten young men, armed to the hilt with artillery and explosives that are products of the state-of-the-art terror technology, quietly land in Mumbai, saunter into three or four locations of high visibility and hold the city to ransom for three ghastly nights and days. They make a merry bonfire of this country’s security. They must have planned the operation meticulously over weeks and months on end. The nation they targeted knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about it. The agencies and institutions responsible for this sorry state of affairs are not difficult to list. These are, seriatim: (a) the office of the national security adviser; (b) the Research and Analysis Wing, the country’s outfit for external espionage, with its agents all over the world including, under clandestine designations, in our high commission in Islamabad; (c) the Indian navy, coming under the umbrella of the ministry of defence; (d) the country’s air force, again an integral part of the ministry of defence; (e) the national coastal guard, once again a wing of our armed services, and, finally, (f) the Port Authority of India that presides over the Mumbai Port Trust and is very much under the jurisdiction of the Centre.

The Mumbai shame could take place because of the failure, both individual as well as collective, of these agencies to do their duty by the nation. If a people’s tribunal were to sit in judgment, the chances are it could not reach but one conclusion — the head of each of these agencies ought to roll, their incompetence does not justify their further continuance in office, and democracy without accountability is a big zero.

While nothing has happened at the Central level except token sacrifice of a convenient scapegoat — the gentleman of supposedly sartorial elegance who was in charge of the ministry of home affairs — a different kind of game is on. Till today, no charges have been posted in any quarters that any part of the responsibility for the Mumbai catastrophe is to be laid at the door of any agency of any of the state governments. All that the state government of Maharashtra has been charged with is alleged failure to inform the public regarding the magnitude of the disaster. And yet, in an extraordinary display of effrontery, the authorities in New Delhi have rushed to use the pretext of the Mumbai horror to set up a National Investigation Agency. The agency has been given staggeringly sweeping powers, overriding the constitutional provision that jurisdiction over law and order belongs to the state government.

The Centre could accomplish this bit of derring-do because of the frenzy let loose by the happenings of November 26-28 last. That frenzy, why not say it, is largely a manufactured product. Those who have appropriated most of the milk and honey from India’s inequitous economic system suddenly feel menaced. Unlike the series of explosions occurring in different parts of the country in the recent past and affecting only humdrum ordinary people, it is the super-rich who were principally targeted in Mumbai. The resulting sense of insecurity is reflected, verbatim, in the media, owned by and large by the super- rich. The media have gone about as if they have proprietorial rights over the nation’s mind. Taking advantage of the situation, a government, which has failed to secure the nation and stands thoroughly exposed, has the gall to vest itself with further powers as reward for its incompetence. Not that protests have not been aired against this vulgar act of opportunism. Such protests are, however, muted — and for understandable reasons. Were dissent to rise to a higher pitch, the dissenters might well be accused of lack of patriotism.

No reason, however, exists to be less than blunt. Little people are in charge, people who lack the faculty to think through. They are evidently unable to appreciate the implications of what they have embarked upon. The way things have been allowed to develop, the situation is now ideally suited to those who would like nothing better than see the democratic functioning of the Indian polity stilled for ever. The electronic media have, in fact, already gone on record: they do not want politicians, they want only the commandos. A former national security adviser, a career democrat, has quickly added his input: multi-party politics is dangerous for national security, it encourages divisiveness amongst the people. Armed with such species of wisdom, New Delhi could feel tempted to avail itself of the new pieces of legislation, including the one establishing the NIA, to indulge in a danse macabre, curbing, in the process, both the ambit of state governments and the prerogative of ordinary citizens to think on their own.

Is it not all a great confidence trick? No question, the activism displayed in the establishment of the NIA has a direct link with the strategic alliance sealed with the United States of America. The American lobby in India has been campaigning long for such an alliance, and for setting up here a federal investigative agency in the mirror image of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI has actually been trying for the past two decades to open outposts in India so as to cope better with both the immediate peril of ‘Islamic terror’ and the impending peril of the US losing its global hegemony to China. Once a Central investigative agency comes to have a corpus in India and closely collaborates with the FBI, the latter would be saved the trouble of dealing with intelligence outfits at different layers of administration, including the states. The FBI’s wishes have now been fulfilled. Perhaps for reasons of bashfulness, the new outfit will be known as the National Investigation Agency and not the Federal Investigative Agency — but that is a small matter.

Given the present mood of the nation’s rulers, funds can be expected to be voted generously for the new agency, with little parliamentary control over how these funds are spent. At the same time, as the global economy sinks deeper into recession, here too, the pace of economic activities will slow down, leading to a considerable shrinkage in public revenue. The state of the budget will however have no impact on the allocations for the nation’s security, which will bulge and bulge. Since taxing the rich is an unthinkable proposition, the authorities will therefore either raise the burden of taxation on the nation’s poor or cut back spending on anti-poverty measures, or do both, to meet the compulsions of national security.

The consequences are predictable. With issues of food security and employment-creation pushed to the background, mass discontent will intensify, eventuating in occasional bloody confrontations between the protesters and State power. Inevitably, a new genre of terror will emerge. Thanks to the electronic media, even those denied the minimum opportunities of life and living are growing aware of the quality of indolent existence indulged in by the nation’s rich and super-rich.

The underprivileged and the dispossessed, determination writ large on their faces, will like nothing better than to proximate to the living standards of the fortunate ones in society. They will not worry over the means they deploy to reach their objective. They will steal, snatch, maim and kill. That is to say, they will not flinch from taking recourse to terror. The outcome will be a kind of wish fulfilment for the NIA; it will be able to justify its existence. And since it will have a veto over points of view expressed either by any state government or by conscientious dissenters, all worthwhile checks and balances on unbridled exercise of power will wither away.