National Insecurity

The Modi government stays silent on real threats while exaggerating imaginary ones

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R), along with the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval (C) outside the Prime Minister’s Office, in Delhi’s South Block, on 31 May 2019. Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times
25 October, 2023

The Narendra Modi-led government is obsessed with the notion and perception of national security. It is the small aperture through which it views most issues, and unleashes the might of the Indian state, often domestically. Making laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act harsher, it has malevolently applied existing laws against lawyers, activists, NGOs, corporates, journalists, political opponents, scholars and university students, all in the name of ensuring national security. The latest on the chopping block is Newsclick,accused of trying to “disrupt the sovereignty of India” by using funding from China. This, even as those towing the government line shout of national security the loudest, to avoid any critical scrutiny or reasoned pushback against the arrest and intimidation of journalists. Let us not mistakenly presume that those screaming truly care for India’s national security. Because if they did, they would be raising questions about the 41-month-old Ladakh border crisis with China or the five-month-old majoritarian project of ethnic cleansing in Manipur.

After nearly a decade of the Modi government being in power, with Ajit Doval as the all-powerful National Security Advisor throughout, why is India’s national security still in danger? The question is the answer. The situation is so bad that every central government agency—whether the Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate, National Investigation Agency, Income Tax department or Delhi Police—has its hands full with such cases. It is an indicator of abject failure, but in a testimony to the absurd times we live in, Modi and his ministers claim that their biggest achievement is ensuring and strengthening India’s national security. Large sections of corporate-owned mainstream media cite it as an obvious fact that warrants no evidence, misleading many Indians into buying the fiction of it being Modi’s one great accomplishment. 

The evidence is to the contrary. The biggest, and ongoing, failure is of course the border crisis with China. Indian soldiers cannot access forty percent of patrolling points, on the Ladakh border, that they could regularly patrol till 2020, to demonstrate India’s control over the territory. After 20 rounds of talks between senior military commanders, the Chinese have refused to stop blocking Indian patrols in Depsang and Demchok, instead demanding a buffer zone deep into the Indian side. They have refused to de-escalate from other areas and have unequivocally stated that there will be no return to status quo ante. While the Chinese position is fathomable, the Modi government is inexplicably no longer insisting on a return to status quo ante—an end-state that has formed part of the resolution of all border disputes since 1987. Instead of demanding the restoration of patrolling rights, the Modi government is happy to proclaim a return to peace and security in border areas as a goal.

Modi cannot claim to have been suddenly betrayed by Beijing. In 2014, while Modi sat with Xi Jinping and his wife, on a swing in Sabarmati, Chinese soldiers were moving into Chumar in Ladakh. The following year, Xi rebuffed Modi’s attempts to delineate the Line of Actual Control, with Beijing going public about its stance. During the Doklam crisis in 2017, Modi agreed for disengagement, which resulted in Indian soldiers returning to their posts while the People’s Liberation Army established a major military base in the plateau. Modi still claimed to have a personal equation with Xi but as events of 2020 show us, he has been bested by the Chinese leader. Xi embarrassed Modi by stating that a bilateral meeting, on the sidelines of the BRICS summit, was held on an Indian request.