Homeland Security

Neglect of India's frontier areas
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Issue Vol 24.3 Jul-Sep2009 | Date : 17 Jan , 2011

Perceived Impregnability of Himalayas

The Himalayas have always been considered as an impregnable natural barrier for the Indian peninsula. No need was ever felt to station troops in strength to defend the region, with the result that the area remained undeveloped with negligible surface communication network. The Government and the military has been of the view that road construction in border areas is “an avoidable security risk”. They feared that road connectivity up to the international border would help an aggressor to develop a line of communication for his advance into the Indian territory during hostilities. Therefore, they took a deliberate decision to create a defensive geographical barrier by keeping the border areas devoid of road communication.

Also read: China: Friend or Foe

It was a highly short sighted and counter productive decision. It was only after the Chinese occupation of Tibet and its subsequent aggressive posturing that a need was felt to construct a few roads to enable induction of troops to the border tracts and facilitate their subsequent maintenance. Indo-Chinese War of 1962 demolished the delusion of impregnability of the Himalayas. The rate of advance of the Chinese came as a surprise to the Indian leadership.

Even after six decades of gaining Independence, India has not been able to integrate its frontier areas physically and emotionally.

Ethnic Diversity

Due to cultural and ethnic diversity, there is a lack of emotional integration. Because of their Mongloid features, North Eastern Indians are often mistaken by some to be foreigners from the East Asian countries. A few years back, a Naga girl studying in a Delhi college went to the Railway Station to book a seat on student concession. The booking clerk curtly told her that only Indian students were eligible for the concession. It hurt her immensely — to be treated as a foreigner in one’s own country is the biggest affront. It will be incorrect to apportion the whole blame to the booking clerk. The failure is of the nation as a whole.

Political Apathy

Frontier areas, by their very nature, are sparsely populated and send very few representatives to the Centre. As they count for little in determining majority, they carry much lower political priority. No main stream party considers it worth the effort to traverse undeveloped areas for the sake of a handful of Parliament seats. Regional parties with highly localised agenda proliferate to occupy the vacant political space.

Such a scenario has two major adverse fall-outs. First, projection of problems faced by the frontier areas at national level remains grossly inadequate. The country remains ignorant of issues confronted by these areas as there is little coverage in main stream media. The Central Government allocates funds annually and steers clear of all other responsibilities. As most of the bureaucrats who rise to occupy top posts at the Centre possess no first hand knowledge of these areas, they find it difficult to relate to them and find an easy way out by ignoring them.

The major reason for non-use of air power (though India was favourably placed) during Indo-China War of 1962 was fear in the minds of the rulers that the use of the air force might escalate the war and bring it closer to the heartland.

Secondly, and worse, local leaders exploit Centre’s lackadaisical attitude to siphon off funds allocated for development. A few families prosper while development suffers. Common man feels disillusioned as there is little visible improvement in infrastructure and his life continues to be a struggle for survival as before.

Ill-Conceived Closed Door Policy

Fearing ingress of elements inimical to national security, the Government, in a highly questionable policy decided to keep the border area out of bounds to foreigners. It was mistakenly feared that opening these areas to outsiders would make them vulnerable to increased influence of hostile forces which want to destabilise the area by fanning anti-Indian sentiment. ‘Inner Line Permit’ scheme has effectively kept these areas isolated.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Maj Gen Mrinal Suman

is India’s foremost expert in defence procurement procedures and offsets. He heads Defence Technical Assessment and Advisory Services Group of CII.

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