Sunday, October 10, 2004

India: Analysis - Master of Disaster

[There has been a flip-flop on cross-border infiltration. Immigration from Bangladesh has been termed a ‘‘human problem’’ by the Home Minister. And now with the Bangladesh angle suspected in the Nagaland-Assam blasts, Patil is still shying from taking a tough stand. ‘‘Let diplomatic channels handle it,’’ he insists. The Northeast is firmly back on the terror map.]

Master of Disaster
Bhavna Vij-Aurora

It’s been four months since Shivraj Patil took over the home ministry but he’s still to set his house in order, writes Bhavna Vij-Aurora

THE ‘correct’ Congressman, who lost the elections from Latur, probably never expected a cabinet berth. And when Shivraj Patil found himself in North Block — heading one of the most important ministries — he was never really at home.

Four months down the line, he is still trying to come to grips with the functioning of the Home Ministry — floundering and fumbling along the way. The result: the UPA government can’t shake off its reputation of being complacent about crucial internal security issues.

The Kashmir peace process is stuck and so is the dialogue with Naga insurgents, the NSCN (I-M). The Manipur crisis was mishandled and mismanaged. It is the PWG which is dictating terms in their dialogue with the state government—it continues to carry arms even when it comes for talks—that are being closely monitored by the Centre. The handling of census on religion has only made the criticism against the government shriller.

There has been a flip-flop on cross-border infiltration. Immigration from Bangladesh has been termed a ‘‘human problem’’ by the Home Minister. And now with the Bangladesh angle suspected in the Nagaland-Assam blasts, Patil is still shying from taking a tough stand. ‘‘Let diplomatic channels handle it,’’ he insists. The Northeast is firmly back on the terror map.

WHILE Manipur burned, Patil merely bungled along. First he sent his junior minister Sriprakash Jaiswal, who promised the agitated Manipuris that the Centre would consider the withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). This he said without any clearance from the Centre.

And when the situation continued to deteriorate — after receiving flak from allies, partners and Opposition alike — Patil finally decided to make a much delayed visit to Manipur. He came back and said that Assam Rifles — whose personnel were accused of raping and killing a suspected underground insurgent Manorama Devi — could be withdrawn from the state. He was quickly contradicted by Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who claimed that there was no question of removing the force. The Assam Rifles continue to be in Manipur.

While the series of recent blasts in Assam are reported to have been triggered off by the ULFA-NDFB combine, the Home Ministry still has no clue about the insurgent group behind the blasts in Dimapur, Nagaland. ‘‘It is not just an intelligence failure but also that of security and investigative agencies,’’ sources say.

The talks with Naga insurgent group, NSCN (I-M) have been stuck for some time now, and the Home Ministry has given no indication that it wants to revive them.

THE effect of Home Ministry’s dithering on internal security issues has been felt the most on the Kashmir peace process. Talks with the Hurriyat Conference have collapsed and there are no signs that they will resume in the near future. While Patil blames it on internal problems of the Hurriyat, the separatist leaders have made it clear that they do not want to talk to the Home Minister. They have gone on record to say that Patil does not understand the problem and they had rather talk to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

DMK member and MoS, Home, S. Regupathy handles the Northeast but even the Assam and Nagaland blasts could not persuade him to visit the region

Fellow minister and Congressman Manik Rao Gavit is so low profile that the peons in North Block don’t recognise him

Sriprakash Jaiswal handles internal security. Does most of the talking. And most of it is a cause for embarrasment

Patil’s multi-speak on the talks has not helped. Initially, he said that the talks will be held within ‘‘four walls of the Constitution’’ but when it was seen as a condition by the Hurriyat, he said that the Centre was ready to talk without any conditions.

The delay in resuming the dialogue — two rounds had already taken place with the previous NDA government — has given time to the hard-line faction led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani to try and bring the moderates on board and unite the Hurriyat Conference.

And the fact that at least two of Patil’s junior ministers hardly get to do any work in the home ministry has made matters worse. In terms of work allocation, the only department of any import that DMK member and MoS, Home, S. Regupathy handles is the North-East. But he has not even been in Delhi — let alone go to the North-East — with the region on the boil. He was nowhere to be seen when Patil visited the region following the bomb blasts.‘‘What to do? He is more often than not in Chennai. These are some of the problems of a coalition government,’’ says a Congress leader. But then what about the other MoS, Manik Rao Gavit; he is a fellow Congressman.

Indian Express 10/10/2004