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Understanding the internal security apparatus of India

By, New Delhi
May 15, 2023 12:02 AM IST

The book, Internal Security in India: Violence, Order, and the State, reveals a clear centralization of power in the functioning of India’s internal security apparatus functions

Since Independence, the Indian state has grappled with a variety of internal security challenges—insurgencies, terrorist attacks, caste and communal violence, riots, and electoral violence. And although most forms of collective violence are on a steep downswing, their toll has claimed more lives than all of India’s five external wars combined. This is one of the findings of a new book by the political scientists Amit Ahuja and Devesh Kapur, which unpack this black box of India’s internal security state.

Grand Tamasha is a weekly podcast on Indian politics and policy co-produced by HT and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. (HT Photo)
Grand Tamasha is a weekly podcast on Indian politics and policy co-produced by HT and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. (HT Photo)

Ahuja and Kapur spoke more about their new volume, Internal Security in India: Violence, Order, and the State, on last week’s episode of Grand Tamasha, a weekly podcast on Indian politics and policy co-produced by HT and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The book, which features analyses by some of the most renowned scholars of Indian security policy, reveals a clear centralization of power in the functioning of India’s internal security apparatus functions.

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This centralization, Kapur points out, is visible in a broad range of fields—from welfare to water and is by no means limited to security. “The centralization has occurred in substantial part because of the abdication of responsibilities of the states to their core constitutional obligations,” explained Kapur, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. “And, over time, for anything they would ask central forces to be sent over. Now, the more they’ve relied on the centre, it’s basically led to the centralization of power...That power was not taken by the centre, it was given to the centre by the states.”

On law and order, specifically, the states have very little to show for themselves. “The police in India were brutal to begin with under the British because it was really about order. But the fact that this has continued for so long, I think is a real indictment of India’s political class,” said Kapur, noting law and order is a state subject under the Constitution. “Every party has been a part of this. And it is a deep betrayal of India’s people.”

This centralization, however, has significant political consequences for it has provided a major opening for the central government to wield the discretionary powers of investigative agencies for political purposes. “Opposition parties are in power at the state level and if opposition politicians are being targeted, then that relationship between the centre and the state—its functionality and effectiveness—that comes under question,” explained Ahuja, an associate professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara. “And then how do you solve serious problems related to internal security where central-state coordination is required? Whether it is criminal investigations, terrorism, insurgencies, you need centre-state coordination for those problems to be addressed.”

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