5 JANAURY 2016
Time for a national security doctrine
By restarting dialogue with Pakistan and acting with diplomatic restraint following the Pathankot attack, the Narendra Modi government has wisely differentiated between the Pakistan government and non-state actors. The challenge thrown up by the terrorist attack on the Pathankot air force base is to evolve India’s national security doctrine to include its response to non-state actors. While carrying on diplomatic engagement with Pakistan, India needs a firm strategy to deal with terrorist threats that are now the prime challenge to the state. Political consensus must be evolved, in a publicly transparent manner, to reflect the complex challenge facing the country, detail its thresholds, interests that would be protected at any cost and response calibration vis-à-vis armed aggression. The doctrine must be accompanied by a national security strategy that spells out the command and control structures for meeting eventualities such as terror strikes, so that last-minute goof-ups such as those that have been evident at the Pathankot airbase are not repeated. In the absence of such a clearly articulated consensus, India’s response is qualitatively linked to the government of the day, its key leaders and their personal ability, or inability, to understand and appreciate security challenges.
The proposed security doctrine must be anchored in the foundational values of the Constitution. India enjoys Westphalian sovereignty, which grants it exclusive right to its domestic affairs and security but also comes with a huge bundle of responsibilities. India still has no written national security doctrine, and whatever is practised as the doctrine, and strategy, is vastly inadequate. The political class across the spectrum needs to come together to define India’s permanent interests. It is time to move on from the unwritten grand strategy of working only towards the political unity and preservation of India to a written doctrine that defines India’s role in the world and its commitment to protecting the life, liberty and interests of its people. After every terrorist attack, there are shallow attempts by the establishment to fit episodic responses into academic frameworks and proposals for security establishment reforms, but in no time things go back to default mode, until the next terrorist attack. The recurring terrorist attacks are not just a humiliation for the country but also a nightmare that is repeatedly disrupting daily routines and taking away precious lives. The very foundations of India’s security establishment need to be reformed if a robust national security doctrine is to be implemented. The intelligence agencies are cloaked in mystery, and with no credible external audit. Given the opacity of these agencies, intelligence alerts often emerge that have no credibility. In the process, credible intelligence inputs, such as the one about Pathankot, are not treated with enough seriousness. The agencies that are to provide security cover and neutralise terrorist threats do not have a cohesive command and control structure. It varies according to who is in control in New Delhi. It is time to finally show that India can be more than a functional anarchy.
Dress code by judicial diktat
Seeking to preserve the ‘spiritual ambience’ in temples by prescribing a dress code for worshippers may appear to be a laudable objective. However, courts of law should be cautious about framing their own rules in the guise of passing judicial orders. A fiat from the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court prescribing the sort of clothing that devotees should wear while visiting temples has come into effect in Tamil Nadu from January 1. A single judge decided on November 26, 2015 that to curb the wearing of “improper clothing” by temple-goers, a dress code was “inevitable”. Even though what was before him was only a petition for permitting a folk cultural performance on the premises of a village temple, he impleaded the State Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department as a respondent and proceeded to prescribe an interim dress code straightaway. The code, that sets down dhotis or pyjamas with upper cloth, or formal trousers and shirts, for men, and saree or half-saree with blouse, or churidars with upper cloth, for women, and any fully covered dress for children, will be in force until the State government decides on implementing a code on the lines given in the court order. The department has now decided to appeal to a Division Bench against the single judge’s order. It has rightly taken the position that the order was not in consonance with the Tamil Nadu Temple Entry Authorisation Act, 1947, which permits individual temples to frame rules relating to attire based on their own customs and traditions.
It is true that many places of worship belonging to all religions do have and enforce some sort of attire for worshippers and visitors. There are temples that insist that male devotees should be bare-bodied above the waist while inside their precincts, and many that allow only dhotis and bar trousers. However, these restrictions are framed by temple authorities based on local tradition and customs. The acceptability of the worshippers’ clothing is decided by local circumstances and ought not to be based on external decree, much less through a judicial diktat. In Tamil Nadu, tens of thousands of temples do come under the State government through the HR & CE Department, but that does not automatically mean that a writ of mandamus can be issued by the court to the authorities without sufficient cause or any public law principle. There is nothing to show that public authorities had failed to do their duty of protecting the ambience of temples all over the State. The judge’s code may not be unduly restrictive, but it raises the question whether there is any religious rule linking dress with devotion. It is not clear why the prescription is gender-based, when some kinds of apparel — shirts and trousers, for instance — are worn by both men and women. Judicial activism undoubtedly furthers public interest, but it is equally important that it is not used to impose a particular world view on the public.