x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Republic Day rallies are showing India's benign side

Waning violence mellows martial mood, but victories based on government inaction to wear down insurgents’ patience can’t hide the failure of attempts at structural reform.

NEW DELHI // It is a day of colour and pageantry when ceremonial troops mounted on elaborately decorated camels, accompanied by tanks and missiles march today from New Delhi’s presidential palace to the Red Fort where the Mughal emperors once ruled.

The annual Republic Day parade showcases the might and centuries-old traditions of one of the world’s most powerful and battle-hardened nuclear-armed militaries.

Many years the spectacle has sent an unambiguous warning to enemies at home and abroad of India’s readiness to defend itself against any threat – even nuclear.

But this year, the commemoration of the day the constitution took effect on January 26 1950, the atmosphere is more benign – despite the snipers and the anti-aircraft guns routinely deployed around the city centre.

Pakistan, with which India almost went to nuclear war in 2002, is in political chaos and a confrontation between the government and the military that may topple civilian rule and is tied up with rising Taliban-linked militancy.

Violence is down in disputed Kashmir in part, analysts say, because Kashmiris are increasingly questioning their ties to Pakistan.

Almost all of the dozens of separatist groups in the northeastern states near Myanmar – which had been running some of the world’s longest insurgencies against central rule – are now talking peace with the government.

Violence in the so-called “red corridor” stretching from Nepal through a swathe of central and eastern states is down, thanks in part to the police curbing operations there.

In an end-of-year report, the home ministry attributed these improvements to a range of policies over recent years, from increased security forces to new rural development schemes to help combat poverty and take away the attraction.

But analysts say these positive trends have little to do with government policy, and merely reflect a fortunate coincidence of factors.

“People were fatigued after the violence in the previous summer and there was a backlash against the separatist leaders,” said Ajai Sahni, director of the South Asian Terrorism Portal in New Delhi.

“Pakistan, where the separatists have always taken their inspiration, has descended into chaos, making many of them question where they are headed.”

Low-level violence continues around the country, often using homemade bombs made from material looted from local mining companies as well as pressure cookers and gas cylinders.

On Saturday, a homemade bomb ripped through a vehicle in which 13 police officers were travelling in Jharkhand. There were reports that survivors were shot in the head.

“The police are sitting ducks whenever the Maoists want to strike,” said Rahul Pandita, author of a book on the Maoist movement.

“If clashes are down, it’s because the police have scaled back their combing operations in these areas.”

More than 600 lives were still lost to Maoist-related violence in 2011, almost half of them civilians, and abortive attempts to open peace talks in West Bengal came to nothing.

Where the government has attempted structural reform, it has largely failed.

The National Counter-Terrorism Centre, created after the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 170 people, was supposed to streamline intelligence and response capabilities.

It would have been used against the Islamist networks that planted three bombs in Mumbai last July and the Delhi High Court bomb in September.

But already a year overdue, it has been gradually undermined by competing government departments fearing a loss of responsibility and power.

“I don’t think the government has done anything much in recent years to improve the security situation anywhere in the country,” said Bibhu Routray, former deputy director at the National Security Council in New Delhi.

What ultimately saves the republic is perhaps its sheer size and bewildering variety, which make it difficult for any one rebellion or issue to threaten the state as a whole.

The government’s lumbering response – referred to as “masterly inaction” in the corridors of power – can often appear effective.

“In the long run, the government’s indifference and inactivity brings everyone to the point of exhaustion,” said Dr Sahni.

“The rebellions whither away, but nor are they ever resolved.”


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