NC Asthana, Inspector General, CRPF COBRA, and wife Anjali Nirmal, who holds a doctorate in police administration, have taken an objective look at India’s security establishments. To be launched in August-end, India’s Internal Security: The Actual Concerns is a critique of various issues, including intelligence failure, the media’s role in the age of terror attacks and the victimisation of Muslims. The writers discuss some of these concerns with Kunal Majumder
EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
Is the Indian security establishment not addressing actual concerns?
We do not doubt the sincerity of the government. But the system as a whole is not yielding results. Whether it’s Kashmir, Maoist-affected areas or the Northeast, the returns are dismal. In Kashmir, we have 70 battalions of the CRPF, an equal number of BSF forces, three corps of the army, and yet insurgency has been on for 23 years. Northeast insurgencies have been on for 58 years. Naxalism has been around for the past 45 years. Our purpose is to point out that there is a serious problem. Kashmir and the Northeast are fringe areas and a large part of the country where Naxals are based doesn’t concern the great Indian middle class.
Your book touches upon almost all major internal security crises. You say a strong anti-India sentiment persists in Kashmir.
There’s no doubt about it. We have been there twice — in the mid-1990s and then in 2010, when there was unrest. We have given concrete examples. It is not merely reflected in slogans. For instance, we conduct anti-terrorist operations in a village in which a terrorist may be killed, who probably doesn’t even belong to Kashmir. If a local boy is killed, some resentment is understood. But even when a man patently from outside Kashmir is gunned down, there is very strong protest action.
Even if the man is not a Kashmiri?
Even if that person is an outsider, he is eulogised. Sitting MLAs lead the protest. In 2010, during an ongoing operation in Sopore, the crowd attacked the police party and someone fired from the crowd, injuring an inspector in the leg. A police gypsy was set ablaze. There is a strong undercurrent against India. Even in minor accidents involving outside vehicles, people start shouting slogans: Naare-e-takbir. That’s still fine; they’re asserting a religious identity. But, when it is followed by Hum kya chahate hai… azaadi, how does it make sense? As we write in the book, are we to treat them like spoilt brats? Even Naxalites don’t put up slogans like ‘Go [away] India’. Everybody speaks about the Kashmir problem as if we are on the defensive; as if we have done anything wrong somewhere and we are trying to justify our action and existence there.
You have also said that increase in tourist in-flow or peaceful elections should not be read as normalisation of Kashmir.
Our contention is that elections don’t prove that people are reposing their trust in the Indian system. People want representatives to help them with their day-to-day issues — a word with the local sub-inspector or local patwari. The 2009 election saw a reasonable voter turnout. But 14 days after the elections, the Shopian incident happened. Bodies of two young women were recovered from the Rambiara river. There was no evidence of rape, no medical examination that could confirm rape. But Kashmir burnt for 47 days.
You have also written about how Islam has been driven towards terrorism.
Yes, we have written about it in one of our earlier books on urban terrorism. We have a history of communal riots. But we never attributed terrorism to Muslims. That’s the West’s way. America always needs a hate symbol — first the Germans, then the Japanese, then the communists.
So you think ‘Islamic terrorism’ is a bogey created by the West?
More than that. We in India tend to regard the West as the font of wisdom. Whatever their distorted concept of Islam, we copy it verbatim. But the concept of jihad has nothing to do with terrorism. Terrorism is a modern phenomenon. Jihad has existed for hundreds of years. The West has created the image of a bearded man in a kurta with a Kalashnikov in hand, hell-bent on converting people to Islam or killing them.
You have two chapters on Indian Muslims and called them “Making of a Terrorist”.
Muslims in India have a reason to believe they are being persecuted. After the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast in Hyderabad, the police arrested 74 persons — all young semi-educated Muslims. All 21 who were chargesheeted, got acquitted. The state government even announced a compensation of 3 lakh for each at a public function. In the 2008 Jaipur blast, 14 people — all young Muslims, including doctors and engineers — were arrested. Each of them was acquitted at a trial court. But their lives were destroyed. This happened in Malegaon, too. Of the 194 cases registered against SIMI, only six got convictions.
Is the media biased against Muslims?
Yes. We have a chapter on Muslim-bashing by the media. Whenever a bomb blast takes place, you have some reporters attributing it to LeT and the HUJI. Have the accused ever been convicted? If the judiciary acquits someone, we have to believe he is innocent. As simple as that.
You also claim that there is lack of scientific investigation.
People don’t know that in the case of Mrs Salvi vs the state of Karnataka, the Supreme Court ruled lie-detector, narco-analysis and brain-mapping tests as unethical and unscientific. When the apex court has itself decreed it, why does the media insist on them?
‘Just because elections in Kashmir are peaceful does not prove that people have reposed their trust in the Indian system’
You have raised a lot of doubts about the NHRC report on the Batla House encounter case. Why?
The NHRC is not a court. It took recourse to dermal nitrate test, which was scientifically disapproved more than half a century ago. Since when did NHRC become an authority on scientific methods?
You also say the concept of Hindutva terrorism is a myth.
The conceptual difference between terrorism and communalism has not been clearly understood. Aseemananda has retracted his confession in any case. Even in Lt Col Purohit’s case, there is a technical point that everybody in the media missed. Purohit’s defence is that he was asked by the Military Intelligence (MI) to penetrate Abhinav Bharat. Even the Court of Inquiry accepts that. The charge against him is that he exceeded his brief. But what the media has missed is that, in fact, the MI was exceeding its brief. This is a matter of internal security, since when did the army start getting involved in internal security?
One of the biggest intelligence embarrassments has been Hafiz Saeed. Pakistan keeps saying we never offered any credible evidence.
You might have a watertight case against Hafiz Saeed, you may have all the dossiers but if the Pakistan Supreme Court has acquitted him, what can you do? How can you tell Pakistan to override its own Supreme Court’s judgment? Pakistan may be abetting terrorism but there is nothing in international law to address it.
The Saeed issue aside, do you think Indian intelligence failed somewhere on 26/11?
It didn’t fail somewhere. It failed everywhere. As professionals we know what kind of vague warnings are issued. Even in the recent Bengaluru case (Northeasterners’ exodus), the alert comes a day late. Come any 15 August or 26 January, alerts are issued on every possible place under the sun. They say places of religious worship are going to be attacked. Now, in our country, we have 10 lakh places of worship and in the event of an attack the intelligence will claim that they had warned beforehand. The same thing is happening in anti-Naxal operations. There is nothing wrong with the forces dealing with Naxalism. People are prepared to lay down their lives fighting for the nation. The fact is, forces in Naxal areas are like blindfolded boxers in the ring. They don’t know what to do, where to go, whom to capture. In a jungle of thousand acres, how do you know where the enemy is? The number of operations conducted is in access of 3,000. And, I guess, there is not a single operation in which the intelligence was accurate. Now, there are two kinds of intelligence. The first is of the vague kind, where you are notified that there’s information of Naxal presence in such and such place. Now, this area is so big that you don’t know where to look for them. The more you search the more the chances of getting exposed. Operations can be successful only when they are short and swift. The second category is when intelligence is more accurate. But when you go there, you find nothing, not even their <gutka> sachets. Before GPS came, they used to blame us, that we are lying, that we didn’t even go to the spot. Now everything has changed. An operation requires accurate intelligence or else it turns into jungle-bashing.
You talk about how most anti-Naxal operations have been unsuccessful. Is inaccurate intelligence the only reason for the failure?
Intelligence is our Achilles’ heel. The firepower our forces possess is overwhelmingly superior to that of the insurgents. However, even though the insurgents lack good strategists, they are intelligence enough to refuse to fight on the terms of the security forces. Whenever they see that the forces are in a strong position, they simply melt away. They attack only when the situation suits them. So, the tragedy of anti-Naxal operations is that we are not fighting on our own terms; we are fighting on the terms of the enemy. That’s why the kill ratio is so skewed in their favour.
As a parting note, are you really so pessimistic about the Naxal situation?
It is not a question of being pessimistic, the reason why I think this is a no win-no lose situation is that we have not been able to eliminate them militarily in the past 45 years. At the same time, the Naxals have not been able to exponentially grow in the manner that Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal had hoped. They could not get the support of the agrarian community, industry workers or students. Eventually, the movement is confined only to the tribals and the other marginalised societies.
Kunal Majumder is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka.