2009: G.K.Pillai on “India’s Internal Security: Challenges & Responses”


31 OCTOBER 2009

The 5th General K. S. Thimayya Memorial Lecture was held on Saturday, October 31, 2009 at the Bishop George Edward Lynch Cotton Auditorium, Bishop Cotton Boys’ School, Bangalore at 11:00 a.m. and was delivered by Gopal K. Pillai, IAS, Union Home Secretary on “India’s Internal Security: Challenges & Responses”.
G. K. Pillai is a 1972-batch Kerala cadre IAS officer, who concurrently serves as the Secretary, Department of Justice, Ministry of Law & Justice, has earlier held plum postings as the Commerce Secretary, the Director General for Foreign Trade, Chairman of the Board of Approval for SEZs & EOUs and India’s Chief Negotiator at the WTO. He was appointed Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India in June 2009. One of three brothers to have studied at BCBS, Mr. Pillai passed out from Cottons in 1964 and went to Pope House.
A packed audience of senior officers from the Services, IAS, IFS, IPS and other walks of public life, Old and present Cottonians, Principals and staff were privy to an extraordinary and exhaustive presentation on unknown facets of India’s internal security and its underlying dynamics. The first-hand account of Mr Pillai’s experiences in the North-East, particularly in Manipur, made for an anthropologist’s delight! The wide canvas of information that was on offer was fully churned during the interactive session that followed, with a wide array of comments and questions that were masterfully (and candidly) fielded by the speaker. Fellowship followed over lunch at the Bangalore Club.
Earlier, Mr. S. M. Acharya, IAS (Retd.) formerly Secretary, Department of ex-Servicemen Welfare, Ministry of Defence and Old Cottonian, introduced Mr Pillai with vignettes of his memories of the speaker, having known him not only in School but indeed through the Service. Colonel John Ellis (Retd.), Principal of BCBS delivered a warm and uplifting Welcome Address. Lt. Gen. Avadhesh Prakash, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, Military Secretary and Colonel of the Kumaon and Naga Regiments was meant to deliver the Introductory Remarks, but was sadly constrained to cancel his visit at the eleventh hour owing to his brother’s severe illness. However, the text of his finely-crafted speech was read out to the guests and is available here.

Colonel John Ellis, Principal of Bishop Cotton Boys’ School, Bangalore, Family members of late General K.S. Thimayya, Patrons, former Speakers, Trustees, Cottonians, Distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
I am indeed honoured and happy to be back at Bishop Cottons. I am even more honoured that I have been invited today to deliver the General K.S. Thimayya Memorial Lecture on India’s Internal Security : Challenges and Responses. The late General K.S. Thimayya’s life has always been inspiration to all Indians. His courage and daring was well known. His tactical brilliance in combat during the Burma operations, and in rescuing refugees along with the Punjab Boundary Force has been widely acclaimed. His brilliant tactical manures during what is now considered to be the first Kargil war in 1948 helped save Kargil for India. I have no hesitation in stating that his tactical brilliance and innovation are not only a source of inspiration but also something from which we all need to learn from even today. I can recall no better tribute than that of Field Marshal S.H.F.J Manekshaw, MC when asked, in his opinion, who had been the best General of the Indian Army stated “Timmy, of course”. And his word is the last word in the Indian Army.
I have been asked to speak on India’s Internal Security: Challenges and Responses. India’s internal security challenges arise from both its history and the evolution of democracy. The present internal security situation has its history in the formation of the Indian Union and the failure of the Indian democratic process to suitably take care of those marginalized as Indian democracy and the Indian state evolved over the years. If one looks at it this way then the internal security situation can broadly be classified under three major heads:
(i) Externally sponsored threats (ii) Secessionist and ethnic identity issues (iii) Internal armed movements. Here, let me turn to my presentation on these issues.
To understand India’s security challenges, it is important to understand ‘the idea of India’. India today, in one sense, is a country at the cross-roads, with a significant minority having access to a high quality of education and opportunity, and enjoying a comfortable standard of living, while a substantial part of the country remains in poverty, malnutrition and lack of access to quality education and services.
The notion of India itself is primarily derived from a shared sense of history which includes a broad civilizational unity and a consensus evolved in the Constituent Assembly debates and cultural pluralism. The way forward was through recognition of individual rights and a program of accommodation and integration.
1947, therefore began with a simultaneous effort of State building and incorporation of a Westminster model of Government. There was an excessive faith in the State playing the role of arbiter in area of conflict between States and groups composed on ethnic, religious, caste, territorial and economic differentiation. Dominant groups managed to garner the major share of the development benefits. Today, these groups are now seeking to exercise control over the State, sometimes peacefully, at times through violence and pressure it to serve their special goals.
Our democratic roots were strengthened not only by holding elections, but also widening the gains for various groups in the political and economic spheres. As a result, over the past two decades, there has been a radical shift in the social combination of groups that traditionally held the reins of power.
The present situation displays a divisive agenda by certain elements in the polity to institutionalise the social order and instill a feeling of separation in the different sections of the population; by making them conscious of their origin and identity. There are also the disturbing trends of growth in the politics of intimidation and mobocracy. Increasing competitiveness among political parties and the all pervasive presence of media aggravates the situation.
Let me now come to the issue of governance because it is central to the issue of security. To the common man, governance is about the rule of law, and a stable, participatory form of Government. According to the UNDP, governance is “the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels, comprising the mechanisms, processes and institutions through which that authority is directed.” The World Bank states that “good governance is central to creating and sustaining an environment which fosters strong and equitable development and it is an essential complement to sound economic policies.” Governance, therefore, includes:
Processes – like lobbying, grievance redressal, resource Allocation Practices – like norms setting, rule making Relationships – between State and society, ruler and the Ruled and Structures – like Government, police, civil society extra governmental organizations
Some of the criteria for good governance are
(i) Democratic institutions that are effective, accountable and transparent, an independent and fair judiciary. (ii) Law enforcement – with integrity that protects the people while strengthening their capacity to combat corruption (iii) Sound monetary, fiscal and trade policies that provide economic growth, equitable growth, social development and environmental protection. (iv) Participation by all members of the society in decisions that affect them.
The essence of these parameters is the assurance of “the greatest good of the greatest number.” This was also reflected in ancient Indian thinking. The essence and the basis of the moral State depend on the triangle of those actions for governance which are undertaken for universal governance (Sarva Loka Kalyankari Karma), maintaining and protecting each and everyone in creation (Sarva Loka Sanghvahamevapi) and securing universal care for all and everyone (Sarva Hitay Ratah). The centre point of this triangle of the common good is determined by the term “happiness for all (Sarvejana Sukhinah Bhavantu).
You may wonder why I have dwelt at such length on the need for good governance. I think it is the key to internal security and whenever good governance has faltered, security problems have arisen. Legitimacy, participation and distribution are the hallmarks of good governance.
Issues of criminalization of politics, (the Vohra Committee report stated that the growing nexus between politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen and criminal elements has debilitated the State’s capacity to grapple effectively with threats to security.) Caste and communal politics, political marginalization of vulnerable sections, petty corruption, onslaught of globalization, erosion of institutions, leadership crisis, judicial reforms are all challenges that need to be addressed now and cannot be postponed any further, if we are to improve internal security in the country.
There are also other non-militancy threats to security which have also to be kept in mind. Prominent among them are (i) Population migration (Bangladeshis, Tamil, Bru, Chakmas, Kashmiri pundits) (ii) Environmental degradation (river pollution, toxic waste, unabated mining) (iii) Cyber terrorism (iv) Organized Crime (v) Fake Currency infusion (vi) Climate change (looming water shortages) (vii) Pandemics (AIDS, Swine Flu)
India faces all these challenges and our capacity to fight each one of them is still poor. These call for new ideas and capacity building with which the Indian State is only coming slowly to grips with.
The lack of awareness and the lack of consensus on the understanding and strategy towards non-military challenges especially at the National and State levels is a major cause of concern.
The militancy and armed threats are perhaps the more easier to understand and to respond to. And this is what the Indian State has been primarily focusing on. This is essential, but not sufficient to tackle the entire gamut of internal security situations.
To tackle the militancy and armed threats both external and internal, the responses have been exhaustive and extensive. These include:
(a) Strengthening of intelligence apparatus, including setting up of Multi Agency Centre to coordinate intelligence inputs
(b) Setting up National Intelligence Grid
(c) National Counter Terrorism Centre (on the anvil)
(d) Setting up regional hubs of NSG at Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad.
(e) Setting up of Quick Reaction Teams.
(f) Setting up of Counter Insurgency and Terrorism Schools for training security forces.
(g) Sanctioning 29 new battalions of BSF, 38 new battalions of CRPF, 12 new battalions of ITBP.
(h) Sanctioning of 145 no. of IRB in the States.
(i) Modernising the State Police Force through better weapons, equipments, etc.
(j) Augmenting Coastal security through purchase of high speed interceptor boats and issuing identity cards to all residents of coastal villages (ongoing).
(k) Procurement of ALH helicopters for CPMFs
(l) Safe Mega City policy
(m) Setting up of National Investigation Agency
(n) Strengthening State Police Forces and augmenting their capacity to tackle terrorism and armed movements, etc.
(o) Media Management
(p) Laying down Standard Operating Procedures for different situations
I must, however, state that in so far as the non-militancy challenges like governance, population migration, etc. are concerned, the response has been much slower. Our ability to deal with internal security challenges highlighted in the presentation will depend on how quickly the Indian State, polity and civil society can together get its act together on the non-militancy challenges. These are the ‘soft responses’ and like the software in any electronic equipment, more critical than the hardware (the military or armed response) which is taken as the soft way out but only postpone the inevitable day of reckoning.
I have, however, absolute faith in our democratic system and our ability to find solutions even if it is a little delayed. This reflects the basic integration of democratic traditions and the rule of law into our fundamental beliefs. We just need more participation from our citizens who have to realize that their increased participation in all forms of social and democratic activities enhances our democracy and is necessary, if not always readily appreciated by the State.
To view the power point presentation, please click here:

Lecture Transcript

1. It is indeed a matter of immense pride and privilege for me today to be standing in front of this august gathering which amongst others also has Mr Gopal Krishna Pillai, the Home Secretary present amongst us. As the Col of the illustrious KUMAON & NAGA Regt, it is indeed a rare honour to have been invited to introduce the Gen Thimayya Memorial Lecture, instituted in the memory of an officer who is a legend not only within the Regt but also in the Indian Army. I must, therefore, thank the Gen Thimayya Trust and its patrons to afford me the opportunity, not only to speak to all of you but also to experience first hand the hallowed portals of the Bishop Cotton School, Gen Thimayya’s alma mater.
2. It would be difficult for me to chronicle the exploits of Gen Thimayya in the short time that I have today but I would definitely like to dwell on the character of a man who was the very epitome of an officer and a gentleman. Gen Thimayya, as we all know, hailed from an affluent family and was sent out at an early age to a boarding school to acquire quality education considered so essential during the times. Bishop Cotton School was a significant milestone that the General touched along this journey. Interestingly, his arrival at the school, accompanied by his brother, was by itself, very eventful. Addressed derogatorily by a group of students, he retaliated in a manner that he considered appropriate, with his fists. On being admonished for landing the first blow and held responsible for initiating the fight, Thimayya chose to leave immediately and not join the school at all. This primarily because he was convinced that the course he had adopted was correct and one which he proceeded to defend zealously. However, the principal’s adroit and cheerful handling of the episode left a lasting impression on the young man’s mind and eventually paved the way for the boys to be admitted into the school. The school provided him the wherewithal to express himself in multifarious fields, especially as a sportsman and also notably as a singer in the school choir. Very significant progress though was made in the way Thimayya began to see the British. In his earlier school, he had seen them as a master race, haughty displinarians who lacked sensitivity. Here he observed a new side to them, warm, wiser and gifted. He began to admire them, their ways and also the manner in which they conducted their social lives. These were experiences that were to pave the way for the young man to consider a career as an Army man although the final decision to do so was taken in consultation with his father and led to Thimayya joining the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College a necessary stepping stone towards the Indian Army in those days.
3. Thimayya’s military career began at Sandhurst for which he was one of the only six Indian cadets nominated after a stringent selection process which culminated with an interview by none less than the Viceroy of India himself. Needless to say, he gave a fitting account of himself despite the somewhat biased conditions that prevailed in the academy for Indian cadets. On commissioning in 1926, he spent his initial year in the 2nd Battalion of the Highland Infantry, a pure British troops unit. Later he was assigned the 4/19 Hyderabad Regiment which became his parent unit for the rest of his military career. It was also the beginning of a glittering career that saw him handling various appointments of repute on his way to reaching the pinnacle i.e. the COAS.
4. Before I wax eloquent on Gen Thimayya’s contributions to the Army, I must speak of his association with the KUMAON Regt, which is today the largest and amongst the most decorated in the Indian Army. It also has the unique distinction of being the only Regt which has had three of its doyens rising to be Chiefs of Army Staff. Gen Thimayya, as I mentioned earlier was commissioned into the 4/19 Hyderabad Regiment which was amongst the battalions that later formed the KUMAON Regt of today and is presently called 4 KUMAON. The 4/19 was peculiar in its class composition in that it drew troops from the Kumaon hills as also Ahirs from areas south of Delhi. Compared to other battalions which were pure in their composition, such a mix was considered a man-management challenge but Timmy as he was popularly called, brought his inherent communication skills to the fore and made certain that the hyderabad’s did not suffer in comparison to their illustrious peers in any activity, operational, administrative or extra-curricular. Thimayya commanded the 8/19 Hyderabad Regt in Burma during the second world war and here too he achieved perfect synchronization amongst the Kumaonis and Ahirs, to achieve outstanding success where supposedly more superior British units had failed. A very interesting episode highlights the canny ability that Timmy possessed of alleviating the troubles of his men. The Ahirs in his unit depended on milk as a primary source of their nutrition but were getting almost none in Burma. The deficiency was beginning to affect their health. Timmy hit upon an ingenuine idea of offering them nutritious soup made from pork and beef kidneys. It was ofcourse blasphemous to expect the Moslem Ahirs or Hindus to drink it but Timmy drank the soup in front of a Subedar and remarked how lip smacking it was. Further, before the officer could question him about the contents, he proceeded to give him a sermon on the heating mechanism of the tin that carried the soup. The nonplussed Subedar drank the soup, endorsed it as delicious and soon the entire lot of troops was drinking it in loadfulls. His conscience did not bother him in the slightest in making the men do something that may have been considered morally reprehensible. The men were innocent; they suffered nothing spiritually and physically they showed visible improvement (which was in any case the aim of the whole exercise). The 8/19 Hydrabads especially distinguished themselves under his leadership in the now famous battle of Kangaw.
5. Thimayya’s innate talents of professional soldiering and leadership were soon recognized by Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army and he was specially selected to lead the 268 Infantry Brigade as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan. H proved to be an outstanding commander and his diplomatic skills emerged wonderfully in his dealings with General Douglas Macarthur, the supreme allied commander of the South Pacific Theatre, the other allies and the vanquished Japanese. He represented the country during the surrender of the Japanese in Singapore followed by the one in Phillipines.
6. Thimayya returned to India in 1947 and was a member of the committee to agree to the allotment of weapons, equipment and Regiments that were to remain in India after partition. Later as GOC of 19 Infantry Division he gave a glowing account of his generalship when he first halted the raiders in the Kashmir valley and then drove them beyond Uri. The master stroke however was to employ tanks of the 7 Light Cavalry at the dizzying, snow ladden heights of Zoji La Pass thereby striking terror into the hearts of the raiders who had entrenched themselves on dominating heights. Timmy yet again had thought beyond the ordinary and won the day for his country. His plan was to drive the raiders all the way back to Muzzaffarabad but his pleas for three months to do this fell on deaf ears and the rest as they say is history.
7. General Thimayya took over as the COAS in May 1957 and continued till May 1961, completing a glittering career spanning 35 years. His standing up to Mr VK Krishna Menon, the then Defence Minister in 1959 in protest to what he considered interference in purely military matters was symptomatic of his forthright personality. Timmy then went to head the United Nations Mission in Cyprus and here his earlier experience as the Commander of the UN Repatriation Commission in Korea stood him in good stead. Needless to say, he excelled and after his death in Jul 1964, while still in Cyprus, he was accorded the rare privilege of a road being named after him in Larnaca, Cyprus and also here in Bangalore.
8. At the end I must salute one of the finest soldiers and officers to have donned uniform and I feel extremely proud to be part of the Regiment that the great General served in all over the world. I also assure all who sit here today and many others who matter and have not been able to make the journey that the KUMAON & NAGA Regiment is carrying on the worthy legacy of General Thimayya and will continue to do him proud in times to follow.
Jai Hind!

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