What is wrong with the title of this article? Nothing except the banality of a statement like “security is a basic need” in a country where, every year, hundreds of civilians and police personnel lose life, limb and livelihood to terrorism, Maoism and communal violence. But then, this is also a country that has a political culture that has often kept internal security at the periphery of its concerns.

According to conventional wisdom in Indian politics, all that the aam aadmi cares about is roti, kapda aur makaan. As long as these needs are taken care of, everything is fine. The aam aadmi, it is said, is too busy fulfilling these needs to bother about a middle class and largely urban obsession like internal security.

It is no surprise then that internal security rarely assumes importance as an electoral issue. Politicians are too busy promising the sky to voters – guaranteed employment, free power, food security and what not. But internal security? Nada!

One does not have access to figures showing the socioeconomic breakdown of the victims of terrorism, Maoism and communal violence in the country. However, it is easy to see that when the attacks happen, in the forests, trains, railway stations, markets, more often than not the majority of the victims are what we could call aam aadmis – tribals, shoppers, shopkeepers, commuters, pilgrims etc. The tribals who are routinely harassed and killed by Maoists are neither urban nor middle class. The Mumbaikars who were killed during 11/7 and 26/11 were not traveling First Class AC. Nor was Gokul Chat serving expensive continental fare when the bomb went off on 25th August, 2007.

The lax attitude of the political class towards internal security, premised on the flawed belief that the aam aadmi is not bothered about internal security, ends up hurting the aam aadmi the most. Poor security disrupts the fulfilment of basic needs and the enjoyment of basic rights. The recent riots in Hyderabad is a case in point. After violence erupted in the Old City area, a curfew was imposed for several days to bring the situation under control. The curfew resulted in shortage of essential commodities, and whatever was left and not rotten was overpriced with milk selling for as high as Rs. 100 per litre on some occasions. Medical emergency services were disrupted resulting in several completely preventable deaths. Shops, houses and vehicles were burnt. No one could go school, college or office. All aam aadmis.

A strong internal security system is necessary for the enjoyment of the fundamental rights of Right to Life and Right to Freedom. By adopting a negligent attitude towards internal security, the government abdicates its responsibility to ensure the secure environment necessary for individual, societal and national growth. A poor internal security system results in a lower quality of life and, in the long run, will affect India’s ability to grow as a nation and maintain its unity in the face of rapid social, economic and environmental change.

One does not need to be exceptionally gifted to understand what exactly is wrong with our internal security system and what must be done to improve it. Police reforms, outdated training and equipment, poor expenditure on infrastructure, technological and skills upgradation, corruption etc., are some of the basic problems that require only a modicum of political will to overcome. Getting the latest high speed boats and raising more NSG units is fine but unless the degradation in our internal security system is addressed, arrested and reversed as a whole by the political class, tangible, long term improvements are unlikely.

From the standpoint of the public, the only long term solution is to make internal security too costly to ignore for our politicians. The solution lies in exploiting the politician’s greatest fear – electoral failure – by projecting security as a basic need and by asserting that security is a basic right.