The India of the second Modi Government: National Security among the main challenges

(To Gloria Piedinovi)

The complexity of India, a country with a thousand faces and a thousand facets, is reflected not only in the tangle of heterogeneous cultures, philosophies, spiritualities and social realities, but also in the multiple challenges that the state security apparatus must face to maintain the territorial integrity and guaranteeing an acceptable level of security for its citizens.

The issue of national security was one of the pillars on which the newly re-elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi set his electoral campaign, declining it both as a set of actions to defend and contrast the phenomena that create unrest within the country, and as a defense and coping with threats from outside their borders.

Here, the intent is precisely to analyze what are, at present, the elements and situations that India perceives as threats to its security, then turning its attention to the type of actions and activities of which the Indian government has invested the Armed Forces in their role as guarantors of territorial integrity and defense of the nation and citizens. The perspective from which this analysis moves will start from the definition of the threat and, consequently, will come to explain what the Indian government has done so far, and what it proposes to do, to face it.

With reference to the challenges that India must face in the security field, in order to try to simplify and make the extremely complex picture as clear as possible, it was decided to divide the critical points into four macro categories: the intrinsic problems that create tensions in some areas internal; the ten-year unresolved dispute with neighboring Pakistan and the Kashmir issue; contrasts with the People's Republic of China for control over disputed territories; threats from the sea and the need to preserve the safety of navigation in the Indian Ocean.

The first category of threat to internal security by the fact that in some Indian states there are armed groups that act on the basis both of belonging to a specific ethnic and tribal reality, and of a specific political creed that rejects the authority of the government and institutions state.

In this sense, the most consistent and widespread threat is constituted by the Naxalites, a Maoist rebel group born at the end of the Sixties by the most radical exponents of the Marxist-Leninist Indian Communist Party. The group, declared a terrorist organization by the New Delhi government, up until 2015 was rooted in large areas of central and eastern India, including the States of Bihar, Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhands, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. To eradicate the Naxalite threat in the 2015 the "National Policy and Action Plan", In order to increase the efficiency of the intelligence network, as well as the cooperation between the Indian Army and the civil authorities of the affected states. A leading role was also played by the volunteers of Territorial Army (TA), the "second line" of Indian defense composed of citizens who have established professional roles in civil life, and who in case of emergencies serve as a complementary force to the regular Army. The synergy of action between the intelligence agencies, the Army and the TA has made it possible to considerably reduce the areas controlled by the rebels, which currently remain rooted in Bihar, Jharkhands, Chhattisgarh and Odisha. The second Modi government is focusing on continuing the strengthening of this cooperation, with a view to continuing the eradication process of the Naxalite threat in the country.

Much has also been focused on improving the intelligence network to respond to the problem of “illegal infiltrators ”, another plague of India. The word "sore" is not used inappropriately, since this phenomenon does not simply consist of the entry into India of immigrants who escape border controls, but of members of extremist groups that penetrate both from the west (Pakistan) and from north and east (China). The illegal infiltrators they favor the birth of cells from which they can start (as has already happened) terrorist attacks not only in the border states, but also deeper in the Indian territory. In addition to strengthening the role of intelligence agencies, the novelty in this case is the declaration by Modi of wanting to prepare the creation of a National Register of Citizens through which to monitor the flow of people entering and leaving Indian territory in border areas more vulnerable.

Another threat comes from the ten-year diatribe with Pakistan over the control of Kashmir, a region divided into two areas, one under Indian jurisdiction, the other under Pakistani jurisdiction, and separated by Line of Control (LOC). The situation has never stabilized, as both countries put forward a request to annex the entire territory to their own state. Alongside the perennial tensions between the Armed Forces along the LOC, a series of terrorist groups have proliferated in Kashmir Jihadists, whose activity exacerbates the clash between New Delhi and Islamabad: India, in fact, accuses Pakistan of offering support to terrorists; Pakistan, for its part, denies the accusation and replies that India is violating the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri population, with a Muslim majority and therefore, according to the Pakistani government, rightfully part of its own state. In short, the juncture between clashes between the regular Armed Forces of the two countries and group action Jihadists makes Kashmir a powder keg ready to explode.

On this issue, Modi's government has always immediately authorized any military response to attacks from the Pakistani forces. Moreover, for about two years the Indian security apparatus has been developing a system of prevention and response to the Pakistani threat which, from activating itself in need (ie in a reactive function when an attack is foreseen or occurring), goes towards greater systematicity and readiness. This is the creation of the Integrated Battle Group (IBG), or multi-role units structured according to the integration of infantry, artillery, special forces, aviation, engineers and transmissions. In addition to responding to the needs of general rationalization of the size of the Indian Army, IBGs have been conceived as units destined to be located not in the whole country, but in those areas where there are more critical issues such as, precisely, long the LOC. The IBGs, still undergoing training and experimentation, were used for the first time in operation last February, during the air raids between the Armed Forces and Pakistanis near the city of Balakot, right in Kashmir.

Relations with the neighboring People's Republic of China are also rather tense. In fact, China and India compete for control over some border areas, particularly along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which represents the effective border between the two countries along the eastern slope of the Himalayan range. In the last year, the escalation of tensions has led India to prepare a progressive and massive militarization of the borders, fortifying the already existing garrisons, building new military infrastructures and deploying more soldiers along the LAC. As for Kashmir, the Indian government intends to proceed with the use of IBG also to deal with cross-border disputes with China.

In addition to assuming a solid defensive position on earth, in the last year the Navy and the Air Force have been asked to devote themselves with particular vigor to the program of strengthening and modernization of their vehicles and systems. It is interesting to note that one of the reasons of such urgency lies in the Indian side's prospect of employing the Navy in patrolling and controlling Chinese commercial and energy traffic passing through the Indian Ocean. According to official statements by the Indian government, the intention would certainly not be to hinder or threaten the routes taken by ships that are part of Chinese trade flows. Obviously a declared action in this sense would bring the clash on an even higher level of tension. However, it is undeniable that behind the use of the Navy for (officially) patrolling and maintaining the Indian Ocean in security, we wanted to reiterate once again the firm intention of the Indian government to show itself to be intransigent and ready to respond broadly scale to a possible Chinese military challenge. However, it should be pointed out that the effectiveness of this response remains, at present, subordinate to the effective capacity of the Indian defense industry and shipbuilding sector to keep pace with the operational and modernization needs of the Armed Forces, an area in which the Indian industry still seems to struggle.

Finally, the Indian Ocean has an enormous importance for India, whose strategic value lies in the fact that over the 95% of the trade is transported by sea. For a fast-growing economy in search of new markets around the world, it is vital to maintain a safe maritime environment that allows the free exercise of economic activities. Consequently, addressing and eliminating the criticalities that can compromise the safety of these waters is an imperative for Indian national security.

Also in this case, the situation is complex: the Indian Navy is engaged not only in patrolling territorial waters (together with the Coast Guard, Air Force units and intelligence agencies), but it must also provide for the fight against piracy in more distant areas and equally important for India's commercial and energy traffic. In the Gulf of Aden, for example, a deep-sea combat patrol is deployed permanently, carrying out anti-piracy operations to allow safe passage for merchant ships. In the same way, the Indian Navy goes to patrol also the waters off the coast of Somalia, in which the state of anarchy of the country and weakness of the government is reflected in the total inability to autonomously counter the phenomenon of piracy, giving rise to a series of critical issues which could potentially harm Indian trade.

Starting from the 2018, the Navy has launched a program to modernize its fleet, in order to be able to fulfill the broad spectrum of operations in which it is involved more and more effectively. Also in this case, it is likely that the ability of the Indian industrial sector to keep pace with the development and production needs of the Armed Forces will make the difference.


Photo: Indian Army / Indian Navy / Indian Air Force / web / Twitter