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India election - security

Peace with the neighbours ... and with each other

by Rosslyn Hyams

Article published on the 2009-04-24 Latest update 2009-04-30 09:12 TU

Smoke and fire billows out of the Taj Hotel during 2008's attacks on Mumbai(Photo: Reuters)

Smoke and fire billows out of the Taj Hotel during 2008's attacks on Mumbai
(Photo: Reuters)

Is India safe from attack from abroad? Will it suffer more terror attacks and communal violence? Nationalist parties are keen to pose these questions and no party can ignore them, so security is an issue in this election.

India is relatively secure in that it has its own nuclear arsenal. Then again, so does India’s neighbour and sometime-enemy, Pakistan.

The dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir has lasted since India was partitioned at independence in 1947, and Pakistan came into being.

Killings of soldiers and suspected militants crossing the de facto border, the Line of Control (LoC), are still reported quite frequently. Kashmiri Muslim separatist leaders are often put under house arrest.

In 2008, a land transfer deal, which was later withdrawn, pitched Hindus and Muslims against each other in the Kashmir Valley. The moderate separatists want to negotiate an agreement with the central government in Delhi.

A peace process with Pakistan had seemed to be picking up momentum, but was shelved when the only surviving member of the group which attacked Mumbai in November 2008, turned out to be a Pakistani national.

Relations with Pakistan are at a low ebb, and the next government will have to tackle that question.

There’s not a huge difference among the different major parties when it comes to dealing with that next-door neighbour, or even with the one on the other side, Bangladesh. The border with India’s eastern neighbour can be quite tense too.

Defence and security are serious issues for people who live in border areas. But India is also prey to flare-ups among its varied, diverse communities, religious or tribal.

Over the years, there have been moments of intense communal conflict between Hindus, who are 80 per cent of the population, and Muslims,13.5 per cent of the population. But after the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, which were held to be carried out by Muslims from Pakistan, there was no communal backlash. 

The recent communal troubles were Hindu/Christian. India was criticised from outside for not preventing, or halting quickly enough,  violence perpetrated on Christian communities in the east of the country in September 2008. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reminded his country that India is a ”secular state", and ”a multi-religious, multicultural nation".