New Delhi: In his new avatar as India’s home minister, BJP’s master strategist Amit Shah, known for his aggressive brand of politics, will have a host of security problems on his plate — from rising violence in Kashmir to regrouping Left Wing Extremism and the issue of National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the northeast.
Former home minister Rajnath Singh took a series of initiatives in the core areas of national security, border security, crackdown on Maoists, outreach to the youths in Kashmir.
But as Shah, who has previously served as Gujarat home minister, makes his debut in the Modi government and takes charge of the ministry, ThePrint takes a look at some of some of the key challenges facing him.
Kashmir is a big challenge for the new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah, despite several measures taken by his predecessor Rajnath Singh, including withdrawing criminal cases against first time stone-pelters, financial assistance to West Pakistan refugees, increasing relief for Jammu and Kashmir migrants and Ramzan ceasefire.
A combination of challenges of conducting state elections, gingerly handling the controversial issue of abrogation of Articles 35A and Article 370, and curbing violence are some of Amit Shah’s immediate priorities to sew up the frayed ties between New Delhi and Srinagar.
Election preparations in J&K
The state is reeling under political turmoil with no government in place after the assembly was dissolved by governor Satya Pal Malik in June last year.
The government fell after 25 BJP members withdrew their support from PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti-led government, reducing them to a minority. The governor’s rule was imposed in the state for six months (compulsory under Article 92 of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution) citing horse-trading and lack of stability to form the government as the basis to dissolve the assembly.
After six months, on 19 December, governor’s rule expired and president’s rule was imposed in the state.
Assembly elections in the state are due since June 2018, but with a spurt in incidents of violence, conducting the election will be a major challenge for the security agencies.
The dates for the polls have still not been announced. For that, the Election Commission still awaits a go-ahead from the home ministry, now expected in October this year after the Amarnath Yatra.
Challenge of rising militancy
Another major challenge for Amit Shah will be to curb the rising incidents of violence in Kashmir by channelising its youths in the right direction.
According to the home ministry, there has been a 44 per cent increase in the incidents of violence in the valley. In 2017, 342 terror incidents were reported from Jammu & Kashmir, rising to 614 incidents in 2018.
It was after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen leader Burhan Wani in 2016 that the situation in the valley worsened, with many youths drawn towards joining militancy.
News agency PTI quoted an unnamed senior Army official to say that as many as 191 local youth joined various militant outfits in Jammu and Kashmir in 2018, as against 126 in 2017; 88 in 2016; 66 in 2015; 53 in 2014; 16 in 2013; 21 in 2012; 23 in 2011; and 54 in 2010.
The report also said the southern Kashmir districts of Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag have become a “breeding ground for militants”, with many youth joining their rank and file, particularly in Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The home ministry data also shows that since 2014, more than 339 security personnel have been killed in over 1,708 terror incidents in Jammu & Kashmir alone — a matter of grave concern for its internal security division.
Rift over Articles 35A, 370
As Amit Shah takes charge of the ministry, there is also there is also the looming political promise of abrogating Article 35A and Article 370.
Article 35A empowers the state assembly to define ‘permanent residents’ for bestowing special rights and privileges on them. Article 370 grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir and limits the Parliament’s power to make laws concerning the state.
In many of his election rallies and meetings as BJP chief, Shah has strongly spoken about abrogation of these articles. In one of his roadshows from Ahmedabad to Gandhinagar in April this year, he garlanded photographs of Jan Sangh founders Deen Dayal Upadhyaya and Shyama Prasad Mookerjee and then asked people present to chant, “The whole of Kashmir is ours”.
PDP chief and former Jammu and Kashmir CM Mehbooba Mufti has been criticising the BJP’s intent, threatening that if the articles are struck down, Kashmir would stop being a part of India. She has also said that the relation of J&K with India will end if the terms and conditions of the state’s accession to the Union are changed.
Last week, BJP’s J&K president Ravinder Raina said that Article 370, a temporary transitional provision, is the biggest injustice with the people of Jammu and Kashmir, while Article 35A is a constitutional blunder which was included through backdoor without the consent of Parliament and the President.
“We wish the early abrogation of both these constitutional provisions,” he said.
Lining up infra projects in Naxal-hit areas
Even though former home minister Rajnath Singh claimed that violence in Left Wing Extremism-affected areas has gone down by over 60 per cent and the Maoists have been pushed back, with newly built infrastructure, it remains a major challenge for the ministry.
The incidents of violence in these areas have come down. The government removed 44 districts from the list of those affected by LWE, according to intelligence agencies, but there is now a resurgent threat from the regrouping of Maoists in four areas — Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra. Last month’s attacks in Dantewada in which BJP MLA Bhima Mandavi and four security personnel were killed, and in Gadchiroli, where 15 security personnel were killed in an IED blast, were manifestations of the same, say the agencies.
In order to counter the regrouping, Amit Shah will have to focus on several infrastructure projects in line in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Maharashtra.
The Modi government has planned to install 4,072 phone towers across 10 Maoists-hit states. The Union cabinet had approved a total investment of Rs 7,330 crore for setting up towers in 96 districts.
Of the 4,072 towers, 1,054 will be installed in Jharkhand, 1,028 in Chhattisgarh, 483 in Odisha, 429 in Andhra Pradesh, 412 in Bihar, 207 in West Bengal, 179 in Uttar Pradesh, 136 in Maharashtra, 118 in Telangana and 26 in Madhya Pradesh.
Post-Pulwama focus on intelligence
To exclusively deal with security challenges, two dedicated divisions —Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Radicalisation (CTCR) and Cyber and Information Security (CIS) — have been formed within the MHA.
However, the two have not yielded any results so far. The divisions were meant to focus on tracking and assessing the online reach of global terrorists and the Islamic State, their strategies, recruitment.
The 14 February attack by Jaish-e-Mohammed in Pulwama in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed was a big intelligence failure.
Now, for the BJP, after politically capitalising on Balakot air strikes, strengthening of the agencies and intelligence apparatus will remain a big challenge.
Assam and Nagaland issues
The Naga peace accord, despite signing of the framework in 2015, is still hanging in uncertainty.
The agreement was signed with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) [NSCN-IM] in 2015 but the longstanding issue has still not reached any conclusive end.
There is confusion over who will sign the agreement on behalf of the Naga groups and a decision on this could take some time. This has led to clashes with the security forces.
On 22 May, sitting MLA and NPP assembly poll candidate Tirong Aboh and 10 others were shot dead in Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh. Militants from the NSCN-IM are suspected to be behind the attack.
Further, the home ministry is yet to come up with a structured approach towards handling the mammoth exercise of updating the NRC in Assam. The issue was one of the party’s main poll pitch even outside the state, with Shah promising to implement the NRC in West Bengal.