Dealing with internal conflicts

People in crucial posts in the government can be fallible and vengeful.

The Centre for Security Analysis (CSA), headed by Lt. Gen V.R.Raghavan, has been making a signal contribution to the understanding and awareness of the implications and impact of security issues at the national level and on international relations.

Its meetings, organised on a regular basis with the help of eminent experts and academics, have covered the various dimensions of a very complex area of study which has largely remained outside the purview, or perhaps even comprehension, of the intelligentsia.

The efforts that it is putting in have added greatly to the content and quality of public discourse on a vitally important adjunct of governance. The discussion it had recently arranged at Chennai on ‘Governing Systems and Internal Conflicts’ was also of a high standard, drawing attention to the changing dynamics of ethno-political conflicts in India, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka, including their linkages and consequences for maritime and littoral security in South Asia.

State’s failure

The panelists, Sudha Ramachandran, Visiting Faculty at the Asian College of Journalism, P. Sahadevan of South Asian Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Geeta Madhavan, en expert in International Law and Terrorism, and Lawrence Prabhakar, Associate Professor of the Madras Christian College, did ample justice to the topics assigned to them with their comprehensive overviews as well as critical analysis of factors bearing on the safety and stability of national polities.

Lt. Gen Raghavan’s introduction and summing up were in a class by themselves.

A few caveats, though. There are no doubt a number of possible approaches that had been, and could be, adopted to resolve internal conflicts, all the way from launching negotiations for political settlement, hastening the pace of economic development, and creating employment opportunities to the use of armed forces.

In extreme cases, the state has resorted to a full-scale deployment of the military to root out elements engaged in rebellion against it (as in Sri Lanka), or military juntas have seized power (as in Myanmar) abrogating basic rights and civil liberties, and bringing the judiciary under their control.

But one fundamental question remains unanswered in all such discussions: What drives any section of the population within a country to develop alienation and ill-feeling towards the state, and what accounts for the state’s failure to respond with the needed sensitivity and empathy?

For instance, I have been to Kashmir nine times beginning from 1952, and six times between 1961 and 1969 when I was handling the political and security portfolio in the Union Home Ministry. I had not seen a nicer, gentler, sweeter and warmer people anywhere in the world: What happened along the way to turn them against the established order? Why didn’t the so-called ‘state’ take corrective steps in advance?

The tribals of the North-Eastern region have always been described by the chroniclers of earlier times as an innocent, laughing and cheerful lot. Why, then, did it become the breeding ground of insurgency? Is there something lacking in the way ‘the state’ deals with its own people that makes them feel left out?

Proper, timely decision

The hawks in scholarly gatherings argue eloquently for the state’s right to protect itself and to invoke the stringent provisions of laws such as Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention (Amendment) Act for that purpose. But what is ‘the state’? It is an abstraction. In tangible terms, ‘the state’ means ordinary human beings in the three branches of government, ruling establishment, the bureaucracy, and the various institutions and organs.

These human beings are fallible, and can be small-minded, foolish and even vengeful, as they had shown themselves to be during the 1975-77 Emergency. They can send thousands to their death by declaring a war that is unnecessary and unjustified, or expose the country to disaster and destruction by their recklessness. The state’s right to protect itself in effect may amount to the right of the inept and the corrupt to protect themselves and hence needs to be hedged by impregnable safeguards.

The foremost among them is people’s capacity to influence ‘the state’ to take the right, proper and timely decision before alienation turns into hostility and then on to militancy and insurgency.

The imperative pre-requisite for developing that capacity is correct information and dispassionate analysis. The CSA should be complimented for providing both. Only, its invitees and members do so sometimes in incomprehensible jargon. They should learn to speak, read and write simple English if they want the average politician and bureaucrat to understand their message!

Published on March 24, 2013

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