Since Independence, the Indian State has faced challenges to its territorial integrity from external actors, both state and non-state. Internally, the nation has been continuously engaged in dealing with multiple fault lines, some of which continue to fester even after decades of proactive political, economic, social and security initiatives. Successive governments have attempted to bring their own unique approach to maintaining peace with India’s hostile neighbours and resolving conflict within the hinterland, with varying degrees of success.
The BJP led NDA government made a break with past practises through strategic doctrinal shifts in dealing with its hostile neighbours as well as in creating a climate where internal challenges can be holistically met. The policies first came to the fore in the first BJP led NDA government (2014-2019) and saw a continuation of the same when the BJP led NDA again won the national mandate.
The External Challenges
India has been involved in five wars, four with Pakistan and one with China, since Independence. India’s land frontiers still remain vulnerable to external threats, largely a result of historical legacies. Besides protecting its land borders, there is also a need to protect its long coast line and Island territories.
Pakistan’s hostility towards India has more to do with ideology than the so called ‘Kashmir issue’—a fact glossed over by many analysts. The question of ideology came up at the birth of Pakistan itself. Was it to be a secular state, a state of Muslims or an Islamic state? This lack of clarity still exists in Pakistan and is one of the reasons why Pakistan continues to teeter on the brink of disaster.[i] Recent peace overtures by Pakistan, with Pakistan army chief, Gen Bajwa calling for a resolution of the Kashmir issue in “a dignified and peaceful manner as per the people’s aspirations,”[ii] did not cut much ice with the Indian establishment, which in response, stated India’s desire to have “normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan in an environment free of terror, hostility and violence.”[iii]
The above is a fundamental policy shift in India’s dealing with Pakistan. Prior to 2014, Indian policy was geared to maintaining the status quo. This implied a willingness to settle the Kashmir issue on the existing Line of Control (LoC). The Simla Accord of 1973 was designed to freeze the borders as they lay. This was also the framework which drove the Manmohan Singh-Pervez Musharraf initiative, subsequently disowned by Pakistan after Musharraf’s departure. In contrast, the Narendra Modi government has reasserted India’s claim over all the territories of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, illegally occupied by Pakistan. Towards this end, the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution and the splitting of the state into two Union Territories, marked a fundamental irreversible shift in the governments stand. At an election rally in Haryana in August 2019, the Raksha Mantri, Shri Rajnath Singh stated that if talks are held with Pakistan, India will not discuss any issue other than Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.[iv] Similar statements have been issued by other political leaders too.
Pakistan resorted to the use of terrorism as a foreign policy tool in the late 1980s—a policy they have maintained till date. With both the countries becoming nuclear in May 1998, Pakistan’s support to cross border terrorism became more blatant, and was based on a security calculation that New Delhi would not react with force even if provoked, due to the nuclear overhang. The attack on a military base in Uri by Pakistan-based JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammed) terrorists on 18 September 2016 was the first time that India reacted aggressively to Pakistan sponsored terror, with the Indian Army carrying out surgical strikes across the LoC at multiple points on 29 September. In a bid to drive the message home, the Indian DGMO held a press conference the next day, announcing to the world, India’s military response.
Pakistan failed to respond and thus its nuclear bluff was called. Henceforth, this was not a ploy which could be used by Pakistan to keep New Delhi cowed down. While this did not, by itself, stop Pakistan from continuing with its policy of providing support to terror groups from within its soil, there were no further major incidents of terror anywhere in India till 2019, when a CRPF convoy was attacked in Pulwama on 19 February. New Delhi’s response this time was swift and brutal, with an aerial strike carried out on 26 February, deep within Pakistani territory, destroying the main JeM HQ in Balakot. More important than the strike was the political messaging—India will strike at terror perpetrators, even if they are based across India’s borders. This has radically changed the security dynamics in the India-Pak equation. India has also gone into a political and diplomatic offensive against Pakistan, for its state sponsored support to terrorism, which has put Pakistan firmly in the dock. Despite that, Pakistan still poses serious security concerns to India with its use of terror proxies. For the moment, Pakistan is perhaps checked, but not rendered out of the game. In conventional military capability, however, Pakistan is no longer a credible threat to India.
The boundary dispute remains the primary stumbling block in normalising the India-China relationship. Another area of concern is increasing Chinese assertiveness in the region, especially with respect to India—a fallout of her desire to achieve preeminence in the region.[v]
The Modi government attempted to write a new chapter in the relationship, with the Indian Prime Minister inviting his counterpart Xi Jinping to India. The visit took place in September 2014, the two leaders apparently establishing a personal rapport with each other. However, Chinese troop incursions took place in the Chumar area of Ladakh when the visit was on, prompting many analysts to question Chinese motives. Ahead of Air Force Day on 8 October 2014, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, the then Chief of Air Staff and Chairman, Chief of Staff Committee, in a press conference made an oblique reference to this during a press meet. When questioned on the recent incursion by Chinese troops in Ladakh, he responded: “It is always mysterious…the way incursions get timed with visits…In diplomacy, there is little signalling done but I am not going to guess. The question that arises is why the incursion took place when the senior-most leader of their country’s hierarchy was here”.[vi]
The reciprocal summit meeting took place in Wuhan, China in May 2108, which was viewed as an attempt to bring the India-China relationship to a more even keel. This was a growing divergence of views between the two countries on issues on the boundary dispute, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Chinese assertion of its influence in India’s periphery, its belligerence in the South China Sea and its opposition to Indian membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, amongst others. The Summit was billed as an informal summit, without a formal agenda. While the cordiality of relationships was established, resulting in the term ‘the Wuhan Spirit,’ differences in perception remained.[vii] The Wuhan Summit was followed by the second informal summit at Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadi in October 2019, but key divergences of views could not be bridged.
The Governments policy towards China has however become more nuanced. There is a push back to every Chinese attempt to unilaterally change the Line of Actual Control (LAC), as witnessed in Doklam in 2017 and more recently in June 2020, in Eastern Ladakh. The latter standoff is still on, with India now linking a peaceful border with normalisation of relations in other sectors. This is a welcome change, indicating to China that unilateral actions by the Chinese will not be accepted.
The Indian Ocean Region
India’s dependence for its energy supplies from the Gulf, makes the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) an area of prime concern to New Delhi. India’s growth to a USD 5 trillion economy is also largely dependent on trade through the sea lanes of communication (SLOCS). Security of the SLOCS is thus of primary concern to India. As China also depends on the Gulf for its energy security, it provides India an opportunity to pose a counter pressure point on China in the Malacca Strait.
In the US discourse, the Pacific Ocean, as part of the US strategic discourse was considered an American lake. China’s rise altered the US discourse. Earlier, the US spoke of the Asia Pacific, which terminology excluded India. Since 2010, the Asia Pacific began being replaced by the Indo-Pacific as a regional framework for US strategic discourse under the Obama administration. By 2017, this had become a key regional term for official US discourse under the Trump administration.[viii] The change was the result of Chinese assertiveness, as also the fact that global trade was now shifting to this region. Chinese assertiveness was impacting Japan, Australia and India, and thus it became a sensible construct to strengthen the Quad. Prior to 2017, the Quad was a relatively defunct concept, but is now achieving greater coherence, with the leaders of the four Quad holding a virtual summit in March 2021 and also issuing a joint statement.
The Quad has given India a pressure point against China in the Malacca Strait. The present government is accordingly taking steps to strengthen the Navy and modernise ports, which will improve Indian capability in safeguarding its maritime and strategic assets.
Internally, India faces security challenges from two distinct streams. The first is a mix of separatism and sub national extremism, which has spawned violence in parts of Northeast India, Jammu and Kashmir and in a number of districts afflicted by Naxal violence, now officially referred to Left Wing Extremism (LWE). The second is equally vicious, where a set of people in a bid to derail the smooth functioning of the state, exploit religious and social fissures in Society, through motivated and agenda based campaigns.
Left Wing Extremism
The origin of Naxalism, now also referred to as Maoism or Left Wing Extremism (LWE) is traced to the Naxalbari uprising in 1967. From then till the present times, it has grown to a movement impacting many districts of India. In 2010, the then Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, described it as the “biggest threat to internal security”.[ix] At present, LWE impacts some districts in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, with Chhattisgarh being the worst affected. This geographical stretch is colloquially called the ‘red corridor’.
The Naxals have been successful in executing high profile attacks against the Indian State. In an attack by the CPI Maoists (CPI (M)), on the CRPF in Dantewada in April 2010, 76 CRPF personnel lost their lives. Three years later in 2013, the CPI (M) attacked a convoy of Congress Party leaders in the Darbha Valley in the Sukma district of Chhattisgarh in which 27 people were killed, many of them senior leaders. A Maoist attack in 2017 and another one in 2019 led to a further loss of lives of CRPF personnel.
While the above is certainly a cause for concern, there has been over the last one decade, a reduction in the area which was under CPI Maoist influence as also a decrease in violent incidents and casualties, as seen in Figure 1. The attack by the CPI (M) in April 2021, which led to the loss of 22 personnel from the security forces, mostly from the CRPF, was perhaps a reassertion by the group, stating that they were still strong and active. When the timeline of major attacks is traced, it becomes clear that these attacks have been largely sporadic in nature and not continuously aggravating or maintaining status quo in its trend. Since 2011 there has been a 41% reduction in violent incidents involving the Naxals and 49% reduction in deaths due to these incidents since 2013. In 2019 alone, the violent incidents reduced by 19% and deaths by 15%. As per the data until March 2020, out of the 58 districts declared as Naxal-affected, violence is now restricted to 30 districts.[x]
The government’s two-pronged strategy to address LWE is based on Security and Development of the people living in the tribal belt. The initiative has yielded results which has led to a shrinking of the area under CPI (M) control. But weaknesses still exist with respect to the training and leadership of the CRPF, to operate in a counter-insurgency environment. Unless these weaknesses are overcome, the Maoists will continue to have the capacity to hit at selective targets at periodic intervals, as seen in the recent attack in Bijapur in April 2021. Cutting across political lines was the national resolve to address this issue holistically, as seen by the joint statement[xi] issued by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah, from the BJP, and Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, from the Congress Party. LWE needs to be combatted as a national priority, cutting across party lines and this joint statement was a step in the right direction.
Jammu & Kashmir
Pakistan’s desire to wrest Kashmir from India has led to four wars, the last being in Kargil in 1999. In the 1970s, after Pakistan’s humiliating defeat in the 1971 Liberation War, the Pakistani establishment, embarked on a strategy of wording bleeding Indian with a thousand cuts, and terrorism was the instrument to be used. The process of radicalisation in the Kashmir Division of the erstwhile state of J&K, which began sometimes in the 1960s, albeit at a low key, gained impetus over the next two decades, and towards the end of the 1980s, many groups with weapons and a virulent ideology had appeared in the Valley. The genocide of the minority Hindu population took place in the beginning of 1990, culminating in the displacement of about half a million Hindus from their homes, in which their ancestors had lived for thousands of years.
The challenge of putting an end to terrorist violence was the Constitutional protection given to the state under Article 370, which prevented the Centre from acting decisively against terrorism. The fact that certain political parties in the Kashmir Valley too were in touch with the separatists and were following a soft separatist line further complicated the issue.
A doctrinal shift in the government response to terrorism was reflected in the response given to the terror attack on a military base in Uri in 2016 and another attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama in 2019. Ceasefire violations by Pakistan were responded to with force, which again marked a shift from earlier policies.[xii] But the most significant event took place on August 5, 2019, when the Indian Parliament revoked the special status accorded to J&K under Article 370 of the Constitution. Furthermore, the erstwhile borders of J&K were bifurcated into J&K and Ladakh and both were declared as Union Territories. This bold move of the government led by Prime Minister Modi had a significant impact on the security concerns arising from J&K.
A comparative study on the security scenario in J&K in one year before and after the August 5 decision, which also coincides with the second tenure of the union government reveals significant betterment of the security scenario.[xiii] These statistics have been demonstrated in Figure 2.
The success of the government in normalising the security scenario in J&K has been backed by several key initiatives. Under the UDAAN initiative, nearly 39,000 candidates were trained and were offered jobs in the corporate sector. In a separate program nearly 5000 women were trained in warrior livelihood crafts in the year 2019-2020.[xiv] Proposals have also been worked upon for establishing educational institutions of national importance.[xv] Several such initiatives brought in a wave of hope and enthusiasm in the residents of J&K. This has been evident in the result of the District Development Council elections, the first democratic exercise since the scrapping of the special status. The voter-turnout for these elections saw a marginal increase as compared to the turnout for the Lok Sabha election of 2019. Terror infested areas such as Ganderbal, Kulgam and Shopian saw a considerable increase in the voter-turnout with 43.4%, 28.9% and 17.5%, respectively.[xvi] In the elections, BJP emerged as the single largest party, winning 75 seats, with the ‘Gupkar Alliance’—an alliance of the National Conference (NC), People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Congress winning 120 seats (NC-67, PDP-27 and Congress 26). Apni Party, an ally of the BJP, won 12 seats. While the Alliance has won the first election, post abrogation, internal fault-lines became evident when a political party quit the Alliance in January 2021.[xvii]
Northeast Quadrant of India
India’s eight north eastern states comprise 4 percent of the national population and 8 percent of India’s land mass. 96 percent of the borders of these eight states are international borders with China, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. This fact gives to the region, great strategic significance, well beyond its size. The creation of a conducive environment that fosters peace and security in the region is one of the topmost priorities of the Government of India.
During the last seven years of the NDA Government, significant emphasis was laid on strengthening and developing the region through India’s Act East policy. The stability and security of Northeast India is paramount for the economic development of the region. Towards that end, the region has seen substantial improvement in the law-and-order scenario since 2014 as seen in figures 3 and 4, as a result of which the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, (AFSPA) was revoked completely from Tripura, Meghalaya, and several parts of Arunachal Pradesh.[xviii]
The considerable progress made in the law & order situation in the region is a result of the multi-faceted approach adopted by the Central Government which comprised various components—political, economic and sustained counter insurgency operations agains the groups persisted with violence. Since 2014, a series of Agreements and Accords have been signed by the Union Government with various insurgent groups in North-East region which include a Memorandum of Settlement with ANVC (Achik National Volunteer Council) and ANVC/B of Meghalaya.[xix] This was followed by the dissolving of these groups in December 2014. In a significant development, a framework agreement was signed with NSCN/IM of Nagaland in 2015.[xx] A tripartite Memorandum of Settlement was signed in 2019 at New Delhi by the Government of India, Government of Tripura, and National Liberation Front of Twipra led by Sh. Sabir Kumar Debbarma.[xxi] Following the settlement, 88 cadres surrendered along with their arms. A Memorandum of Settlement was signed with NDFB (Progressive), NDFB (Ranjan Diamary), NDFB (Saoraigwra), United Bodo People’s Organization (UBPO) and All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) in 2020 at New Delhi to end 50-year-old Bodo crisis.[xxii] Following the settlement, 1615 cadres of NDFB surrendered their arms on 30th January 2020.[xxiii]
To arrive at a permanent solution to a 23-year-old Bru-Reang internally displaced persons (IDP) undergoing human crisis, an agreement was signed between Government of India, Government of Mizoram, Government of Tripura and representatives of Bru IDPs in 2020.[xxiv] As per agreement, Bru IDPs will be settled in Tripura and would be given financial assistance/aid by the Government of India for their resettlement and all-round development through a package of around Rs. 661 crore.
The security situation in the North-Eastern States has improved on all parameters with only sporadic incidents of violence over the year. Inputs reveal that insurgent groups are facing acute administration and financial crunch due to relentless operations by Security Forces and have been forced to form an umbrella organisation to maintain their capability for orchestrating violent activities. An important factor that has played an important role in the reduction of the insurgent activities in the North-East region is the difficulty faced by the Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs) to set up camps in the neighbouring countries. This has been achieved through excellent understanding and coordination with Bangladesh and Myanmar.[xxv]
Exploiting Social fissures
A major internal fault-line is the ability of certain vested interests to whip-up national hysteria on certain issues, with the prime objective of derailing the government. This was witnessed in the first tenure of the Modi-led NDA government, where a motivated hate agenda was created, of India being an intolerant society. In Modi 2.0, this tactic was amplified with the protests against the Citizens Amendment Act in 2019-2020 and now the present farmers stir against the farm laws.
An effective perception management narrative is the current need of the hour to bring out the truth of what Acts passed by Parliament entail, so that unscrupulous elements cannot exploit gullible people. This is the challenge which the Modi government is confronted with.
India’s ability to achieve stability in its land borders and prevent internal disturbances from going out of hand will be a major factor in propelling the Indian economy to initially a USD 5 trillion mark and thence to a USD 10 trillion economy.
Great hopes rest on the shoulders of India’s Prime Minister, but if the rest of the population do their bit, that burden will be considerably reduced to move India towards the status of a middle income country.
Authors Brief Bio: Major General Dhruv C Katoch is Director, India Foundation and Editor, India Foundation Journal and Ms Soumya Chaturvedi is a Senior Research Fellow at India Foundation. A lawyer by education, she holds a postgraduate degree from Jindal School of International Relations and a specialization in Asia Pacific Security from University of Birmingham, UK. Her research interests include internal security, terrorism, peace and conflict studies. She has written articles for academic journals, newspapers and blogs.
[i] Saleem MM Qureshi, Pakistan: Islamic Ideology and the failed state? in Veena Kukreja and MP Singh (ed), Pakistan: Democracy, Development and Security Issues, (Sage Publications, New Delhi), pp 88, 89.
[ii]“Bajwa offer on J-K issue: India, Pakistan should resolve it in ‘dignified, peaceful manner’,” The Tribune, February 4, 2021.
[iii]“Transcript of Virtual Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson (February 04, 2021),” Ministry of External Affairs, February 5, 2021.
[iv]“Any talks with Pak now will only be on PoK: Rajnath Singh,” The Times of India, August 19, 2019.
[v] Claude Arpi, The Rediff Special, http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/archive/index.php/t-23648.html
[vi] “Timing of Chinese incursion with Xi visit a mystery,” Hindustan Times, 04 October 2014, available at https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/timing-of-chinese-incursion-with-xi-visit-a-mystery/story-Y1oTpaBL1YqiSPofVeARpO.html
[viii] David Scot, ‘The Indo-Pacific in US Strategy: Responding to Power Shifts,’ available at https://risingpowersproject.com/quarterly/the-indo-pacific-in-us-strategy-responding-to-power-shifts/
[ix] “Naxalism biggest threat to internal security: Manmohan”, The Hindu, 24 May 2010, available at https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Naxalism-biggest-threat-to-internal-security-Manmohan/article16302952.ece.
[x] Annual Report 2019-2020, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, available at: https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/AnnualReport_19_20.pdf
[xi] “Bastar attack: Fight against Naxals will be intensified to end menace, says Amit Shah”, The Indian Express, 05 April 2021, available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/amit-shah-chhattisgarh-cm-bhupesh-baghel-pay-tributes-to-soldiers-killed-in-maoist-attack-7259403/.
[xii] S. Chaturvedi, ‘Four Years after the Surgical Strike’, Chintan India Foundation Blog, 28 September 2020, available at: https://chintan.indiafoundation.in/articles/four-years-after-the-surgical-strike/.
[xiii] Report of Jammu & Kashmir Security Tracker: A Comparative Analysis of Security Scenario Pre and Post the Removal of the Special Status, India Foundation, available at https://indiafoundation.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/JK-Security-Tracker.pdf.
[xiv] Annual Report 2019-2020, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, available at: https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/AnnualReport_19_20.pdf.
[xv] “IIT, IIM, AIIMS to open in J&K soon, part of Rs 80000 crore package sanctioned by Central Government”, TimesNowNews.com, 22 January 2020, available at: https://www.timesnownews.com/education/article/iit-iim-aiims-to-open-at-j-k-part-of-rs-80000-crore-package-sanctioned-by-central-government/543681.
[xvi] “The Number Theory: Understanding the DDC election results in Jammu and Kashmir”, Hindustan Times, 24 December 2020, available at: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/the-number-theory-understanding-the-ddc-election-results-in-jammu-and-kashmir/story-JjJ6fMjzP2DXcn0LTMpM6H.html.
[xvii] “Sajad Lone’s Peoples Conference quits Gupkar Alliance, cites ‘breach of trust’ by partners”, The Print, 19 January 2021, available at: https://theprint.in/politics/sajad-lones-peoples-conference-quits-gupkar-alliance-cites-breach-of-trust-by-partners/588485/.
[xviii] “Revoking AFSPA”, Press Information Bureau, Government of India, available at https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1539889.
[xix] “Union Home Minister stresses for overall socio-economic development of Meghalaya”, Press Information Bureau, Government of India, available at: https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=109965.
[xx] Press Information Bureau, Government of India, available at: https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=124221.
[xxi] Press Information Bureau, Government of India, available at: https://pib.gov.in/Pressreleaseshare.aspx?PRID=1581729.
[xxii] Press Information Bureau, Government of India, available at: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1600717.
[xxiii] Press Information Bureau, Government of India, available at: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1605144.
[xxiv] Report on “Resettlement of Bru Migrants”, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, available at: https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/NE_Bruscheme_23022021.pdf.
[xxv] “Year End Review – 2020 Ministry of Defence”, Press Information Bureau, Government of India, available at: https://pib.gov.in/Pressreleaseshare.aspx?PRID=1685437.