By Ajit Kumar Singh*
The average terrorism/insurgency-linked fatalities per day in India dropped to 1.38 during the first four months and three days of 2020 (data till May 3, 2020), from 2.13 during the corresponding period of 2019. This is the lowest daily average fatality recorded during this period of a year since 1986. A previous low of 1.95 was recorded in January-May 1, 2015.
Significantly, the daily average fatality through 2019 worked out at 1.44, the lowest at least since 1986. A previous low of 1.99 was recorded in 2015. In 2018, the average stood at 2.57.
2019 recorded the lowest fatalities in a year since 1986. There was a total of 621 fatalities [159 civilians, 132 Security Force (SF) personnel, and 330 terrorists/insurgents] in 2019. Since 1986, a previous low of 729 fatalities was recorded in 2015. 2018 accounted for 940 fatalities. 2020 has so far accounted for 179 fatalities.
It is useful to recall that, at the peak of terrorism/insurgency in 2001, the country had recorded a total of 5,504 fatalities (1,508 civilians, 883 SF personnel, 3,005 terrorists/insurgents, and 108 unspecified), working out to a daily average of 15.07.
Other parameters of violence like incidents of killing, explosions, recovery of arms, also witnessed significant improvements. 2019 saw the lowest number of incidents of killing, 332, since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling comprehensive data on conflicts in India. A previous low of 437 incidents was recorded in 2015. The number incidents of killing was 476 in 2018. 2019 recorded 1,787 terrorism-linked incidents, the lowest since March 6, 2000, significantly bettering the previous low of 2,119 recorded in 2018.
The geographical spread of violence also diminished. 84 districts reported fatalities in 2018. The number came down to 75 in 2019. 33 districts have recorded fatalities in 2020, thus far. India currently has a total of 733 districts. In 2001, at the peak of violence, 138 of 593 Districts then in existence, reported insurgency/terrorism linked fatalities.
According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Internal security issues in the country can broadly be categorized as follows:
Terrorism in the hinterland of the countryLeft Wing Extremism in certain areas.The security situation in Jammu & Kashmir.Insurgency in the North Eastern States.
2019 witnessed significant improvement in the security situation across all these theatres.
Despite sustained efforts, the intelligence and enforcement apparatus in India successfully thwarted all attempts by Islamist terror formations – global, transnational and Pakistan based – to carry out any attack in India’s hinterland through 2019.
Significant improvement was evident in 2019 in areas afflicted by Left Wing Extremism (LWE). Indeed, on February 4, 2020, the Minister of State in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), G. Kishan Reddy, confirmed in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament), “Left Wing Extremism (LWE) related violence and geographical spread have declined over the years”.
Jammu & Kashmir, though it went through an upheaval forced by the ruling political establishment for petty political gains, nevertheless saw significant improvement in the situation relating to terrorism in 2019. The trend of increasing fatalities, on year on year basis, established since 2016, had been reversed in 2019. Fatalities which had touched a 10 year high of 452 in 2018. There were 538 fatalities in 2008, with continuous declines thereafter till 2012, and then a steady inching upwards, came down to 283 in 2019.
Insurgency in the Northeast was at its lowest ebb in 2019. On March 4, 2020, MoS Kishan Reddy stated in the Rajya Sabha (the Upper House of Indian Parliament),
The security situation in the North Eastern States has improved substantially since 2014. Compared to 2013, there has been 70% reduction in insurgency incidents, 80% in civilian deaths and 78% in security forces casualties in the year 2019.
Punjab also remained terror free through 2019 despite the relentless efforts of Pakistan backed Khalistani terror groups. Buoyed by the improved security situation, Dinkar Gupta, Director General of Police (DGP), Punjab, in an interview on January 1, 2020, observed, “We have been fortunate that 2019 has gone without any terror crime.”
Indeed, India was safer in 2019 than any other year since 1986, purely in terms of terrorism-related incidents, even as the broader security situation improved considerably.
However, worries persist. There are over 40 banned terror outfits in the country. MoS Reddy on March 3, 2020, informed Parliament, “As on date, the First Schedule to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 contains names of 42 Terrorist Organisations”.
Islamist terrorist and extremist organisations, including global terrorist formations such as Islamic State (IS, Daesh) and al Qaeda, as well as the Pakistan sponsored groupings such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen (HM), continue to target India in their campaigns for jihad. Though they found mobilization among the Indian Muslim population extraordinarily difficult, the patterns of politically engineered communal polarization, particularly by majoritarian political formations, have enormously escalated over the past years, driving up the risks, though not the current manifestation, of Islamist terrorist and extremist mobilization.
Left-Wing Extremists continued to make renewed efforts to halt their downward slide. According to an April 16, 2020, report, the Maoists were using the nationwide lockdown amid the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak to regain strength, as a large group of the rebels entered the South Bastar region of Chhattisgarh from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, and even Nepal. The report citing intelligence inputs noted,
…[Maoists were] continuously conducting meetings in the core areas in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma District and in the Darbha Division in Jagdalpur District of the State and part of Dantewada District there under the supervision of top Maoist leaders. They are also organising villagers for confronting the Government on the issue of fixing a minimum price for plucking up of tendu leaves and compensation for death or injury of villagers involved in plucking of the leaves.
Pakistan has also stepped up efforts to create more trouble in Kashmir. On March 4, 2020, the Government informed the Parliament,
There have been 1,586 incidents of ceasefire violations in 2019 and 646 incidents of Ceasefire Violations during the first two months of 2020 [January/February (upto 23rd February)], on Indo-Pak International border as well as Line of Control after 5th August, 2019.
According to official data, there was a total of 3,168 cease fire violations in 2019 as against 2,140 such incidents through 2018, and a much lower 881 in 2017 and 449 in 2016. According to media reports, the first four months of 2020 has already recorded 1,231 ceasefire violations as against 919 recorded during the same period in 2019. The continuing political misadventures of the ruling dispensation at New Delhi are likely to provide more ammunition to Pakistan’s disruptive designs.
Though there are no such worries in the case of insurgency in the Northeast, since the region has recorded continuous improvements in the security situation, periodic ethnic clashes (four such clashes recorded in the 2019) remain a worry. Moreover, the long delay in concluding the talks between the Government of India (GoI) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) may have a cascading affect. Again, initiatives driven by the majoritarian impulse of the ruling dispensation in New Delhi, specifically the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), have provoked significant ire in the region, and have dramatic potential for future disruption.
Punjab despite an extended period of peace, always has a looming threat. On January 1, 2020, DGP Dinkar Gupta cautioned,
It is difficult to say what the future holds for us, but when you are dealing with a neighbour like Pakistan, there will be attempts to foment trouble in Punjab. So, we have to be always vigilant.
In the meantime, the Government has taken several measures to deal with these threats across several theatres. Referring to one such measure, MoS Kishan Reddy stated in the Lok Sabha, February 11, 2020,
The Union Government has created an all India digital network – Crime & Criminal Tracking Networking System (CCTNS) in 15152 out of 15985 police stations of the country which has digitised police processes like registering complaints, FIRs, Investigation details, etc. 100% FIRs are being recorded in 14,992 police stations. In addition, the Government has launched Interoperable Criminal Justice System (ICJS) which integrates the process of speedy justice by facilitating data-exchange between the courts, police, prosecution, jails and the forensic laboratories.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has also been fully operationalized. On March 3, 2020, the Parliament was informed that out of 319 cases entrusted to the NIA for investigation, charge-sheets had been filed in 237 cases. Judgement had been pronounced in 62 of these 237 cases, of which 56 cases resulted in conviction, a conviction rate of 90.32 per cent.
However, several other mega institutions announced to be created under “A New Architecture of India’s Security“, way back on December 23, 2009, remain on paper. While one of them, the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), targeted to be established by the end of 2010, subsequently lost favor, the establishment of the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) remains far from reality. Updating the status of NATGRID, MoS, Reddy disclosed on February 5, 2020,
NATGRID has been created as an IT platform to assist the Security and law enforcement agencies to counter terror for national security. Physical infrastructure for NATGRID will be completed by 31.03.2020 and IT Solution will go live by 31.12.2020. NATGRID will link several databases including Railways, Police, Stolen Vehicles, Immigration, Airline, Passports, Vehicles ownership, Driving Licenses, PAN data etc.
Meanwhile, deficiencies continue to afflict the Police Force, the first line of defense terrorism. According to the Bureau of Police Research & Development (BPR&D), as on January 1, 2019, deficits in the Police Force as against sanctioned strength were 20.34 per cent. The Police-population ratio ((policemen per hundred thousand population) in the country, as on January 1, 2019, was 158.22, much lower than the projected minimum of 222 for peacetime policing. 958 vacancies existed in the apex Indian Police Service (IPS), with 4,024 officers in position, as against a sanctioned strength of 4,982, a 19.22 per cent deficit, considerably weakening executive direction of the Force. Worryingly, funds under the ‘Assistance to States for Modernization of Police’ scheme were reduced by the Central Government. As against 7.08 billion released in Financial Year (FY) 208-19, the Government released only 4.02 billion in FY 2019-20, a reduction that can only have an adverse impact on the quality of Police Forces across the country.
Moreover, the Intelligence Bureau (IB), described as the ‘brain’ of the national security apparatus by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah on December 23, 2019, faces acute shortages of manpower. According to the BPR&D, as on January 1, 2019, as against a sanctioned strength of 40,650 personnel, the IB had only 29,784 personnel in position. A deficiency of 26.73 per cent in the ‘brain’ of the security establishment is indeed worrisome.
It is imperative for the Union Government to take all necessary measures to overcome these deficiencies within the fighting forces and intelligence apparatus to help SFs maintain the hard-earned peace. Any negligence at this stage could facilitate the resurgence of forces inimical to India.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management