Photograph of Anil Chawla

Author - Anil Chawla

December 13, 2001 was a day when Indian parliament was under siege and Indian democracy was saved by the bravery of a few security personnel and by the Almighty. The men, who love to see their own face on the television screen and media displayed an astounding lack of security concerns. Minute-by-minute account of the location and movement of all constitutional heads and members of parliament even when the attack was supposedly on, could have easily provided the vital intelligence to terrorists. The day after the attack it was back to normal - the opposition attacking the Government for security lapses and the ruling party making 'responsible' statements attacking Pakistan.

From the noises made by the top leaders, it seems that a war with Pakistan is just round the corner. It is not unlikely that by the time this article reaches your hands, the firing may have already begun. Indian people and leaders are used to looking at a war as a spectator sport almost like the frequent cricket matches. The spectator mindset prevents Indian leaders from giving necessary importance to security concerns. There is often an utter lack of strategic vision on the part of everybody except armed forces.

Strategic vision is seen as the exclusive domain of armed forces. All departments of Government of India as well as of states take a large number of decisions which affect the backbone of national security. Power plants, roads, agricultural production, railways, water supply, telecommunication networks, cable television, newspapers, schools, colleges, in fact almost everything that satisfies the needs of Indian citizens has a strategic importance. It is said that during cold war, the part of Berlin under West German control, used to stock a few months requirement of even such essentials like toothpaste and there was a system of continuously replenishing this stock. Germans recognized the strategic importance of toothpaste. Surprisingly, there are ministers in India who do not even consider goods handling at airports as a matter concerning national security. Just a few months ago there was a proposal to hand over some critical functions at international airports to an agency which had a large number of Pakistani employees. Fortunately, the defense ministry put its foot down and the proposal was dropped.

The concept of security at Government of India does not seem to include terms like food security, power security etc. In India civilian leadership wishes to retain control of the armed forces without in any way accepting their part of the responsibility for national defence. The only job that civilian leadership seems to have kept for itself is to indulge in rhetoric.

A typical instance of mindless rhetoric is the statement made by a number of top leaders that the country is prepared for any type of war including nuclear war. This may sound a ridiculous statement to anyone with a schoolboy's idea of a nuclear weapon, but the fact remains that the top leaders of Indian Government have made such statements in the past and are shooting similar sentiments even in the aftermath of 13 December.

Let us look at one possible scenario in the event of a nuclear attack. All the constitutional heads of Indian state live in Delhi in an area of about three kilometer by three kilometer. Just one well-timed nuclear bomb on Raisina Hill will eliminate President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, all ministers, a majority of Members of Parliament, almost all Supreme Court judges, all chiefs of armed forces, Chief Election Commissioner and almost everybody else who can be called someone with constitutional authority in Government of India. If this sounds too drastic, let us consider that if RDX carried by the terrorists on 13 December had exploded and if both houses of Parliament were debating some crucial bill, a large number of the above functionaries could have been killed. If instead of RDX, the car had carried a nuclear weapon, even without the Parliament in meeting, almost all the functionaries named above would have been killed on 13 December. It is difficult for anyone to imagine such a nightmare. But this is what the terrorists and their sponsors in Pakistan want - a total destruction of Indian state. They have given sufficient indication of their goals.

It must be admitted that Indian state is a sitting duck at Raisina Hill which is well within the range of missiles from Lahore and certainly not out of reach of any fidayeen attackers. The armed forces can fight a war and even win it, but no army or air force in the world can guarantee a country immunity from damages. If Pakistan launches a nuclear attack and is able to destroy all the constitutional heads of India, the army of India may still win the war and destroy large parts of Pakistan. But will the country be able to recover after such a catastrophe? Is such a risk worth it? Does it not make sense to use the vast spread of the country to reduce the risks to key constitutional heads?

It seems most logical that India should spread its capital out of Delhi. It is high time that the traditional concept of a capital is replaced by a power structure which is not centered geographically in one city. It may be worthwhile to have Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha in two different cities of the country. Say, Lok Sabha can be based in Delhi while Rajya Sabha is shifted to Chennai. Supreme Court can be located in a third city say Bhopal. Headquarters of armed forces can be shifted to a fourth city say Nagpur. President who is the titular Head of State can be based at Delhi while Vice President can be based at Chennai. Prime Minister and Cabinet of Ministers may be shifted to another city say Kolkata. This geographical spread of constitutional functionaries will make it virtually impossible for any enemy to eliminate the Indian state in one stroke. There will be other advantages too. This will reduce the feeling of distance and alienation that is presently experienced to some degree by the regions distant from Delhi. It will also reduce the pressures on the city of Delhi and make it a more livable city.

Of course, it must be admitted that the solution suggested above is not easy. But defending one's country from mad barbarians is never easy. Are the leaders of India equal to the task? Will they be able to rise above their petty interests and fights? Will the desire to be seen on TV give way to some realistic assessment and some out-of-box thinking? Let us hope that the averted catastrophe of 13th December will serve as a lesson. Let us hope that Indian leaders will realize that security is a matter of design and not of placing a few more men with guns. Let us also hope that democracy and liberal secular state will no longer be a sitting duck at Raisina Hill.


22 December 2001

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ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.

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