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Is Union Home Ministry losing teeth under Modi?

New Delhi,Manan Kumar(dna): Soon after the BJP came to power, a life-size portrait of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first home minister known for his iron resolve, came up on the staircase leading up to offices of the home ministry in North Block. Many viewed it as a sign that the new home minister, Rajnath Singh, meant business and wanted to send the message that his tenure would be different from the lacklustre one of his predecessor Sushilkumar Shinde.

A year on, the resolve seems to be missing and the promise of a decisive home ministry seems to have faded with the ministry itself being sidelined, money for key schemes being slashed and issues such as minority insecurity following attacks on churches and the rightwing chorus against love jihad and ghar wapsi leaving analysts worried about the implications. The resolve to improve the internal security situation is yet to get reflected in real terms.

According to Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management, the inertia that has set in with respect to policies and schemes on internal security is no better than the previous Congress government. “The clear and powerful vision of India’s security future that Modi had articulated in his electoral campaigns appears to have evaporated under the more pressing expedients of running a government,” said Sahni.

Senior officials agreed that the role of the home ministry is diminishing in matters of internal security with most matters being dealt with at the level of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

Budget cuts

Last May, when the Modi-led government was elected to power, the home ministry was directly monitoring several key schemes. These were the crime and criminal tracking network system (CCTNS), integrated action plan (IAP), police modernisation fund PMF) and special anti-naxal security forces (SANF) – all potentially aimed at making the country’s internal security more robust.

Ministry officials and security analysts, however, got a shock when the finance ministry slashed the budgetary component of these schemes following the 14th Finance Commission’s recommendation to devolve 42% of total tax share to the divisible pool of states

According to Sahni, the centre has actually slashed about Rs.800 crore from funding for key police infrastructure – construction and upgrading of police stations, police housing, forensic labs and training facilities under the modernisation of police force (MPF) scheme – that may tell upon the internal security situation.

Worse, the CCTNS project, the single most crucial initiative in the internal security sphere, to seamlessly link more than 14,000 police stations and 6,000 higher police offices, has received no allocation at all in the latest union budget.

The scheme now stands transferred to states which are expected to fund it from their ‘increased share of union taxes.

IAP, a key scheme to deal with Maoist insurgency through targeted development by giving Rs.30 crore annually to 88 Maoist stronghold districts, is as good as terminated. So is the SANF that sought to constitute crack commando teams in four states on the lines of Andhra Pradesh’s Greyhounds.

“The real situation will be known once the states allocate their budgets aimed for these schemes. The centre may have to make an extra effort to coax and cajole them if they don’t run these schemes,” said former union home secretary GK Pillai.

Communal tension

The orchestrated attack on churches, minorities and the whipped up communal outcries of ‘ghar wapsi’ and ‘love jihad’ by rightwing groups have led to concern about the repercussions with analysts worried that this could lead to an unstable security environment.

“This openly whipped up communal conflagration should have been contained by some forceful statements and action at the level of top government ministers, including the PM. Some statements have been made by both PM and the home minister but they are not tough enough,” says a senior bureaucrat.

Restive Assam and J&K

The government’s foremost challenge lies in bringing down the fatalities caused by insurgency and terrorism, which fell from a peak of 1,902 fatalities in 2010 to 803 in 2012 and then rose to 885 in 2013 and 976 in 2014.

Among the theatre of conflicts, Assam and Jammu & Kashmir are again emerging as potential trouble spots.

After remaining relatively calm until 2013 when it recorded 101 fatalities, Assam became restive again in 2014 with fatalities more than tripled to 305. The fragile peace in Nagaland was shattered too with the NSCN-Khaplang abrogating the ceasefire agreement and killing eight army soldiers.

In Jammu & Kashmir, the cycle of violence seems to be revving up again with fatalities steadily rising – from 117 in 2012, 181 in 2013 and 193 in 2014.

“The blame for escalation in some of the theatres of chronic conflict cannot be laid at Modi’s door; nor, indeed, can he can be credited for improvement in others. But what is clear is that no dramatic or new direction has yet taken shape for conflict resolution under his leadership,” said Sahni.

Confused Pakistan policy

Security analysts also see confusion in India’s blow-hot-blow-cold policy towards Pakistan.

Days before being elected, Modi had said while questioning the rationale of talks with Pakistan that the bomb blasts and gunshots would have to stop for reasonable discussions between the two countries. But he called his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif for his swearing-in ceremony even in the midst of escalating border tensions.

Soon, the new government decided to hold foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan but stalled the process in July 2014 when the Pakistan high commissioner met Kashmiri separatist leaders. Without any changes in the ground situation, the process resumed and talks were held in March 2015. The very next month, the government again declared that “terror and talks cannot go together”.