July 1, 2021

Covid-19 and After: Internal Security Challenges

Written By: K N Pandita

Introduction

The first case of Covid-19 in India—the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus—and which first originated in Wuhan, China, was reported on 30 January 2020.[1] Covid-19 is. India is currently passing through the second phase of the disease and has the largest number of confirmed cases in Asia.[2] As of 19 June 2021, India has the second-highest number of confirmed cases in the world (after the United States) with 29.9 million reported cases of Covid-19 infection and the third-highest number of Covid deaths (after the United States and Brazil) at 388,164 deaths.[3]

Although China has rejected the claim that the virus escaped from a test in a chemical laboratory in Wuhan and has also stonewalled the demand for a probe into the accident, the general opinion with some evidence is that the virus did spread from Wuhan.[4]

The first wave

On 30 January 2020, the WHO declared Covid-19, a public health emergency of international concern.[5] This was also the day when the first Covid-19 case was reported in Kerala, India. Subsequently, the number of cases drastically rose. According to the press release by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) of 08 May 2020, a total of 14, 37,788 suspected samples had been sent to the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, and a related testing laboratory.[6] Among them, 56,342 cases tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.

To impose social distancing, the “Janata curfew” (14-h lockdown) was ordered on 22 March 2020. A further lockdown was initiated for 21 days, starting on 25 March 2020, and the same was extended until 01 May, but, owing to an increasing number of positive cases, the lockdown had to be extended for the third time until 17 May 2020.

The second wave

When the coronavirus pandemic was sweeping across India last year, the government appointed a committee of experts drawn from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), and the Indian Institute of Sciences (IIS). The committee developed a “supermodel” based on the peculiarity of Indian conditions, which predicted that the Covid-19 pandemic would come to an end in February 2021 in India largely due to herd immunity. The model estimated that there were 60-65 asymptomatic undetected infections for every lab-confirmed case of Covid-19. This estimate was vastly different from the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR) serosurveys assessment of 26-32 undetected Covid-19 cases for every lab-confirmed case.

The committee submitted its report in October 2020 when India’s Covid-19 caseload was around 75 lakhs. Taking that number as a base, the supermodel estimated that the country’s actual Covid-19 caseload would have been around 50 crore or close to 40 per cent of India’s population. By February 2021, the Covid-19 wave was to draw to an end, but by mid-February, India saw a revival of Covid-19—the second wave. The second wave has since strengthened, pushing active coronavirus cases beyond 9 lakh and the total Covid-19 caseload to nearly 3 crore cases.

It should be noted that the supermodel, named SUTRA, was correct in predicting ebb in the Covid-19 pandemic wave in February. The country saw daily cases falling below 9,000 from the high of over 97,000 in September. The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has taken the daily cases of coronavirus infections to an all-time high of more than 1.26 lakh. Now, the question dominating the public debate is when the second Covid-19 wave may end in India and will it be followed by further waves.

Given the complexity of the crisis, with variants of Sars-CoV-2 clouding the calculus, nothing can be said with certainty. But a continuation of the disease over a long period of time poses serious challenges to the well-being and security of the nation. In his broadcast on 14 May 2021, the Prime Minister spoke in detail about the challenges the nation would face in this regard and asked the people to prepare accordingly.[7]

The Challenges

Our experience with the first and second phase of Covid-19 indicates that the pandemic has hardly left any aspect of our lives untouched. Besides the severe debilitating impact on health care and the national economy, almost all vital services, social life, economic well-being, social interaction, security, law and order, development, planning etc. have been adversely and in some cases dangerously impacted. With India being sandwiched between two hostile neighbours that are in tango and trying to grab even the smallest of opportunity to bring harm to our nation, the threat to our nation is very real and serious. While nobody is in any position to predict how the future will unfold, yet prudence demands that we clearly explain the challenges and suggest remedial measures which the government may find useful for close consideration. These are enumerated in subsequent paragraphs.

Mass involvement

The handling the Covid-19 means handling the vast masses of Indian people because the virus spreads indiscriminately in urban and rural areas and transcends all human barriers like caste, creed, colour, faith, belief, ideology etc. It means the entire nation is at war with the virus. Defeating Covid-19 depends on the unity and solidarity of the entire nation in meeting the challenge as a source of national disaster. Therefore, mass involvement means putting aside small and mundane differences, local and regional rivalries, jingoistic party affiliations and identification and suppression of criminal and anti-national elements in whatever form and shape these are. This objective can best be achieved by the political leadership, panchayat and social representatives inculcating the sense of responsibility among the masses of people on an unprecedented scale. Masses of the people are to be educated and informed that unity and observance of the established protocol of social interaction alone can save their lives and their livelihood. The government has to be vigilant about disruptive elements misleading sections or segments of society under one pretext or the other.

Law and Order

There is an established mechanism of fighting natural calamities and vagaries of weather. But Covid-19 is a unique and unprecedented calamity that nobody had ever imagined. The worst is that fighting its threats becomes the duty of almost all services of the government plus the voluntary services from NGOs and social and charity organisations as supplementary support to the efforts of the government.

We have noted that the law-and-order situation in the country has come under strain after the change of government in 2014/2019. The bane of democracy in our country is the rise of personality cult on the one hand and the rise of identities of various hues on the other after the first two or three decades of independence. Incapable of handling these aberrations with deft hands, the long-sitting ruling structures began feeling deprived and marginalised because they had lost political power. As the Indian nation opted for a change in aforesaid years through the constitutional process, the dislodged segment, instead of behaving as responsible opposition, unfortunately resorted to hostility to the elected regime and even had no qualms of conscience if national solidarity and territorial integrity were attacked. It is unfortunate that the seditious slogan of “Bharat tere tukde honge, inshallah[8] were raised by the students of a university that stood in the name of the first Prime Minister of India, a great patriot and a democrat.

Opposition is the backbone of democracy but when the opposition becomes anti-national and propagates divisiveness, it poses a very serious threat to the internal security of the State. These elements and their cronies are out to join hands with our adversaries with no purpose other than that of pulling down the elected government. The freedoms allowed by democracy are blatantly misused and need to be curbed so that law and order in the country is not jeopardised. We have seen how a small segment of people can mislead the masses and whip up sentiments on a communal and parochial basis as seen in the case of Shaheen Bagh or Delhi riots. Enforcement of law and order must be ensured, even if “coercive force” is to be used. The nation also needs to bring about reforms in the legal structure to ensure that disgruntled elements are not encouraged or allowed to pose a challenge to the solidarity of the state.

Police and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF)

Lockdowns are usually disliked by people. Labourers, business class, students, tourists etc. resent it. Lockdowns are highly detrimental to the economy of the country. But people have to understand the dire compulsions of the government to impose lockdowns which it also would not want to do. It is the question of public health. Lockdown is the effective way of enforcing social distancing which is of primary importance to remain safe from Covid-19.

Government has the compulsion of enforcing lockdown and it is obliged to use what is called “coercive force” meaning the police of various categories like State Armed Police and the CAPF. In many instances, these forces have to bear the wrath of the uncontrolled and irrational mobs throwing stones and hurling rocks or bombs at the security forces to discourage them and force them to retreat. In such a situation, the police or the CAPF are in a very embarrassing situation whether to use force or not when gentle persuasion fails to hold the undisciplined crowds. The miscreants and anti-government elements are on the lookout for such critical occasions to instigate the crowds that their rights and liberties are curbed and that they are being treated inhumanly.

What is of utmost importance is to provide the police and CAPF with an adequate defensive mechanism so that minimum harm is done to their person by the recalcitrant mobs. The police have to be given efficient and effective training of self-control and self-discipline not to get irritated and do any action out of frustration. Miscreants and anti-national elements will try to instigate the police which must be resisted. Sometimes the police force is asked to act against ideological war, something outside the purview of their normal function. It is the political system that must fight the ideological war and not the police force. But to malign the police, the miscreants and trouble mongers will tarnish them and paint them in a dark colour to reduce their prestige and status in the eyes of the people. This is a serious threat and all vigilance is needed to combat it.

The police are also a source of intelligence that forms the main plank of action against the anti-national elements. Be it the terrorists in Kashmir or the Maoists in Bastar or Naxalites in Telangana, the police are the main source of intelligence for the government. Therefore, the security, welfare and proper equipment are what the government must ensure in their case. We have had so many casualties of policemen and officers in tackling the anti-national elements. It is important that the public take the police as its supporter and not adversary which, unfortunately, is the prevailing idea at the moment.

Migrant workers

A very large number of labourers move out of their native places and head towards other states in search of work. They usually choose to move to industrial regions where there are good chances of finding work. Their migration may be of long or short duration depending on how long they can afford to be away from their small landholdings. Millions of daily wagers were working in numerous industrial units in Mumbai, Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh etc. when the first wave of Covid-19 struck with all fury. The industrial units were closed down and millions of these labourers were rendered jobless and forced to return to their homes. This large-scale migration raises many critical concerns, such as transportation at a time when the rail and bus services have been suspended. Unable to find means of returning home, many labourers with their families, undertook a long march to reach their native places. On 14 September 2020, Labour and Employment Minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar stated in the Parliament that information collected from state governments indicated an estimated 10 million migrants had attempted to return home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lockdown.[9]  He later stated in Parliament on 15 September 2020 that no data was maintained on the number of migrants in the country who had either died or become unemployed, as a result of the pandemic. [10]

Just coming back to their homes did not solve their problem as most were now jobless and penniless. It is highly appreciable that the government rose to the occasion and came to their succour. Soon after the nationwide lockdown was announced in late March, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a ₹1.7 lakh crore (US$24 billion) spending plan for the poor. This consisted of cash transfers and steps to ensure food security.[11]  By 3 April, the central government had released ₹11,092 crores to states and UTs under the NDRF, to fund food and shelter arrangements for migrants. To help provide jobs and wages to workers, the average daily wages under the MGNREGA were increased to ₹202 (US$2.80) from the earlier ₹182 (US$2.60), as of 1 April. ₹1,000 crore from the PM CARES Fund was allocated for the support of migrant workers on 13 May. On 14 May, FM Sitharaman further announced free food grains for the migrant workers, targeting 80 million migrant workers by spending ₹35 billion (US$490 million).[12]

It has to be remembered that the migrant workers are sustaining India’s industrial and economic growth to a great extent. If neglected and not cared for, it will result in colossal damage to our economy which we cannot afford.

Cyber threat

Writing under the caption ‘India becomes a favourite destination for cyber-Criminals amid Covid-19’, Shivani Shinde and Neha Alwadhi wrote, “In February 2021—nearly one year from the start of the pandemic—there were 377.5 million brute-force attacks—a far cry from the 93.1 million witnessed at the beginning of 2020. India alone witnessed 9.04 million attacks in February 2021. The total number of attacks recorded in India during Jan & Feb 2021 was around 15 million.”[13]

According to Kaspersky’s telemetry,[14] when the world went into lockdown in March 2020, the numbers in India went from 1.3 million in February 2020 to 3.3 million in March 2020. From April 2020 onward, monthly attacks never dipped below 300 million, and they reached a new high of 409 million attacks worldwide in November 2020. In July 2020, India recorded its highest number of attacks at 4.5 million.

In a Study titled ‘Covid, cyber-attacks, and data fraud top threats for India Corporate’ the Economic Times gave the following inference:

“The public health crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as the top threat for Indian corporate, while cyber-attacks and data frauds loom equally large, according to a study. While there is great optimism about the ability of organisations to rebound and address future pandemic-related challenges, cyber-attacks and data fraud continue to be paramount concerns for risk professionals in India, as per the survey round 63 per cent of the 231 survey respondents — which included C-suite executives and senior risk professionals — identified the continued fallout of COVID-19 among the top three risks facing their organisations.

Cyber-attacks (56 per cent), data fraud or theft (36 per cent), failure of critical infrastructure (33 per cent), fiscal crises (31 per cent) and extreme weather events (25 per cent) were highlighted among the other top risks for Indian businesses. The majority of survey respondents (85 per cent) said the pandemic necessitated a shift to remote work, which has increased the organisations’ exposure to potential cyber-attacks.

In the light of the pandemic and shutdowns imposed by national and local governments, failure of critical infrastructure climbed the ranks in the 2020 survey as many organisations re-evaluated their risk management priorities.[15]

We are already aware that at one time China almost locked down Mumbai, the financial hub of India. Pakistan has also been trying it. The threat is dimensional as it can penetrate every private and personal data and hack even passwords, bank account numbers, codes and sensitive documents etc. More importantly, our defence network can become vulnerable. This is a very big threat and the remedy is that India must upgrade and have the state of art cybersecurity mechanism impenetrable to any hacker howsoever crafty and improvised.

Divisive forces

Black marketers, hoarders, financial criminals, economic burglars, anti-social elements, enemy agents, communalists and sectarian malefactors are out to join hands with antagonistic political opportunists and foreign agents to strike at the roots of the values of our society like humanism, equality, democracy and respect for the law of the land. They subvert the law of the land and paint the country in the darkest colour. The partisan sections of media are playing a very negative role and they have formed a nexus with the international anti-India syndicate. When India made the vaccine, they raised doubts about its genuineness and refused to take it. But when many countries including the US appreciated India’s successful efforts, these elements are now raising the question of why the government does not vaccinate 130 crore people overnight.

The government will have to revisit the law that pertains to the internal and external security of the country. Redundant laws have to be weeded out and replaced by pragmatic and highly desirable laws that ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the State. A new standard of administrating the state in a scenario of Covid-19 and its variants has to be evolved.  Rules can be harsh because the crimes are almost inhuman. Even the judiciary has to revisit the entire scenario and bring new blood to the veins of the law and dispensation.

Conclusion

Covid-19 with its undefined variants is intractable. In all probability, it is going to stay for long with the global population. The adverse impact hardly spares any aspect of life. Therefore, the States must understand that they have to deal with a new situation in which the rights, duties, freedoms and privileges of citizens have to be given new value and new interpretation. India is vulnerable owing to its population and landmass. She has to begin new lessons in administrating the country and handling the crowds.

Author Brief Bio: Prof. K N Pandita has a PhD in Iranian Studies from the University of Teheran. He is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

References

[1]  “India’s first coronavirus infection confirmed in Kerala”. The Hindu    https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/indias-first-coronavirus-infection-confirmed-in-kerala/article30691004.ece, Retrieved 24 February 2021.

[2]   Hindustan Times. 29 May 2020.

[3] https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ accessed on 21 June 2021

[4]  W.H.O. Declares Global Emergency as Wuhan Coronavirus Spreads, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/30/health/coronavirus-world-health-organization.html (accessed February 03, 2020).

  1. 5. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmed.2020.00250/full
  2. 6. Indian Council of Medical Research. Government of India. ICMR (2020), https://main.icmr.nic.in/content/covid-19 (accessed May 09, 2020).

[7]  News 18, 14 May 2021

[8]  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwqusr8YDwM-3mEYTDeJHzw

[9]  The Economic Times. Retrieved 12 November 2020

[10]  The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 12 November 2020.

[11]  Beniwal, Vrishti; Srivastava, Shruti (26 March 2020). “India Unveils $22.6 Billion Stimulus Plan to Ease Virus Pain”. Bloomberg Quint.

[12]  “India to Provide Free Food Grains to Millions of Migrant Workers”. The New York Times. Reuters. 14 May 2020. ISSN 0362-4331 Retrieved 16 May 2020.

[13]  The Business Standard, April 6, 2021

[14]  Ibid

[15]  The Economic Times of 9 Dec 2020

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