When the term Homeland Security, coined by the US administration took root as a full fledged department directly under the US President, it was examined with great professional curiosity by the “cognoscenti” in India, faced with the ever enlarging problems of internal security afflicting the country. Fully conscious of reality that whilst a word to word scrutiny would neither be prudent nor justifiable but a thematic examination was likely to reveal more. Apart from both being practicing democracies, we were strikingly dissimilar in all realms of political and social ethos and most evidently in resources . But some sterling observations were relevant. American efforts were seen to have been driven primarily by counter terrorism objectives to which dealing with perils of disaster management were subsequently added.
These had emanated from their experiences preceding the attack on the World Trade Centre, very largely at their globally spread institutions including Embassies and ships of the US Navy. But the catalyst for restructuring of the security systems built around this concept was the shock of the infamous 9/11 terrorist strike. Since then, it has fiercely been promoted as a pro-active notion which unflinchingly activates mechanisms to detect and react to flows of ideas, ideologies, moneys and materials, considered detrimental to the well being of the American state. The Department of Homeland Security is empowered to unleash vast segments of US Government machinery consisting of nearly 200 federal agencies. Even the CIA, the FBI and the Department of Defence who are otherwise kept out of it’s ambit are expected to participate in their ventures.
With such empowerment, it inspects and scrutinises, what it considers is relevant to their assignment including all spoken and written word. To many of us and certainly to the liberal world, the approach appeared draconian and the USA, seemingly had become a police state. Even US citizens had groaned under its onslaught. But overshadowing all these issues symptomatic of resistance to altering the status quo was the acknowledgement that the effort has paid off. There has been no repeat of a terrorist act on American soil since then. The paradox was that the USA did not have a specially groomed police apparatus unlike in the countries like India, which became free from the colonial yoke. But it had a potent federal system which did not deter from its single minded campaign.
They did not choose a middle path. But on the other hand floods in Florida State were did not receive such care. There is logic in the perception therefore, that the USA is modeled as a national security state. The Indian state, from the very inception, evolved itself on the developmental model. The notion of the physical security of the people, somehow, did not receive its legitimate due. It is only recently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has placed the issues of internal security as the primary threat to Indian national security. But in the Indian political system there are serious limitations of implementing a focused plan. At the heart of the matter is our federal structure under which the matters of law and order are purely in the purview of India’s states. Any attempt, even at shifting from this fundamental position is considered a non starter.
An alternate approach was to enact suitable laws, create structures and provide central forces to deal with situations linked with acts of terrorism to empower the states with stronger support. But eventually, the task of pursuing the perpetrators of these crimes can only be left to the efficacy and wisdom of states. The dichotomies exist at this crucial juncture essentially for the lack of a convergence on the determination of the focus and agility of actions. What is even worse is the theological divide between the Central and State governments on matters of doctrine and policy, especially when they belong to different political camps and the party apparatus wield pressure on a regime.
— Prashant Dikshit can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org