Internal security is key to being a global power - Hindustan Times
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Internal security is key to being a global power

Sep 04, 2023 08:24 AM IST

Despite significant progress, India’s claims to global leadership become credible only if it manages to showcase an effective grip on internal security

As New Delhi hosts the G20 summit this week, India finds itself in a geopolitical and geo-economic sweet spot. New Delhi’s leadership credentials today are taken more seriously than ever and most nations remain keen to enhance their ties. As one of the fastest growing major economies in the world, a young and aspirational demographic, a vibrant democracy trying to deliver to those at the bottom of the pyramid, and a foreign policy that seeks to find pragmatic convergences, India seems set to emerge out of its self-imposed constraints of the past.

New Delhi’s leadership credentials today are taken more seriously than ever and most nations remain keen to enhance their ties(PTI) PREMIUM
New Delhi’s leadership credentials today are taken more seriously than ever and most nations remain keen to enhance their ties(PTI)

This emergence has been long pending. Observers often complained that India was a land of forever promise that never quite reached its potential. A major factor in this global gravitation towards India is New Delhi’s ability to consolidate itself internally and underscore the potency of the Indian State. There has been a remarkable shift in the internal security environment in the last few years. Domestic terrorism has been brought under control in an efficacious manner, both by strengthening the internal security apparatus and by keeping the nation’s external adversaries on a tight leash.

It is in this context that the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A by Parliament – which led to the bifurcation of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories – assumes critical importance. The status quo in Kashmir became unsustainable long back. It was only the political and policy inertia that was keeping policymakers from challenging it. The success of the government’s reform agenda is critically important for the people of Jammu and Kashmir and for India’s own future. And its full operationalisation will take time. This seriousness of intent is appreciated by India’s adversaries. After all, one of the reasons China upped the ante in Ladakh was in recognition of the fact that these measures can fundamentally alter India’s strategic periphery to China’s long-term detriment.

The other periphery that has seen serious engagement is the Northeast. This is a geography that was always eyed by China but never deemed important enough by New Delhi to be brought into the mainstream of the nation’s consciousness. It is also what makes India more than just a South Asian power. India’s Northeast is the nation’s organic link with Southeast Asia, making the country’s claims of being an Indo-Pacific power more credible.

With a multidimensional approach to reviving the Northeast as an economic and cultural hub, Indian policymakers have now revolutionised the way the rest of the country engages with this region. The unfortunate turn of events in Manipur shouldn’t blind us to the magnitude of change in the governance of the Northeast. This is reflected in the declining number of insurgent activities as well as security and civilian casualties in the region over the last few years. As a result of a significant improvement in the security situation, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) has been removed from large parts of the region.

The third leg of India’s success story in the domestic realm has been the marginalisation of Left-wing extremism (LWE). From the security forces gaining an upper hand over the Maoists to the financial choking and targeting of their top leadership, Indian policymakers have shown a worthwhile resolve to achieve targeted results in this struggle. The whole-of-government approach that incorporates a mix of security and development initiatives has had a significant impact on the trajectory of LWE. What was once deemed to be the gravest internal security threat facing the nation, the Maoists no longer pose an existential threat to the Indian State. A more effective governance machinery on the development and security fronts makes it difficult for the insurgents to generate attraction for their ideology.

Growing resources alone don’t make for a major power or a player in global politics. India has long been viewed through a “strong society, weak State” prism. But without a strong State that can effectively demonstrate its grip over domestic governance, no country can rise in the global inter-State hierarchy. India’s claims to global leadership become credible only if it manages to showcase an effective grip on internal security. Only a strong State that has managed to consolidate its control over internal turbulence would be able to harness the national economic prowess for its external engagements. That’s a lesson Indian policymakers seem to be learning, slowly but surely.

Harsh V Pant is vice president for Studies at Observer Research Foundation. The views expressed are personal

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