Two crucial states, Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Punjab, are scheduled to go for the Assembly elections early next year. Political heat on both states is peaking and will reach its crescendo as the election dates draw to a close.
This calls for a pre-poll security audit so that the agencies concerned are able to address them timely and adequately.
Let's take UP first. Political fragility, as an ongoing baggage, principally due to infighting in the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP), has battered governance which was already reeling under poor administration, possibly due to too much of political interference by the likes of minister Azam Khan.
Compounding the malgovernance, cases of corruption and casteist politics have cast their spell rather glaringly with profound adverse effects. It's ironical that India's biggest state has such a bad record in the recent past, despite giving India Prime Ministers and consistently playing a crucial and decisive role at the Centre.
The downslide has already taken its toll. CM Akhilesh Yadav, after extricating himself from the family imbroglio, does seem to be attempting to salvage the party and governance but time at his disposal is very limited and he has miles to go before he can salvage the lost ground.
The biggest security challenge before UP is the ugly head of communalism . In the 2014 parliamentary elections, Muzaffarnagar (communal riots of 2013) was a spoiler and it did polarise Hindu and Muslim votes. It also set off a communal trend, specially in the entire western belt of UP.
The state has had a history of communal violence. Districts notorious have been Aligarh, Meerut , Moradabad , Sambhal, Amroha, etc. Sadly, in addition to the above districts, some hitherto unknown western UP regions have started developing communal undertones, calling for maximum attention.
The majority in the Jat belt has developed a Hindutva flavour. Bagpat has an MP who is from the BJP and an ex-police commissioner from Mumbai. This possibly gives a psychological boost to Hindu communal elements.
Closer to the elections, we may expect to see communal sparks ignited by forces inimical to progress and growth. Muzaffarnagar MP Sanjeev Balyan, accused in the riot cases of 2013, and Sangeet Singh Som, MLA from Sardhana, are firebrand speakers whose words can lead to serious problems.
Due caution therefore needs to be exercised during canvassing by these speakers as well as by the custodians of law.
In a similar vein, Hindu Vahini and Yogi Adityanath are forces to reckon with. On the other hand, Azam Khan of SP is a loose canon, often making irresponsible statements that can trigger a serious law and order problem.
|Hindu Vahini and Yogi Adityanath are forces to reckon with. (Photo: India Today)|
Similarly, Abu Asim Azmi and his ilk may, during the course of electioneering, vitiate the atmosphere. After all, it's a "do-or-die" scenario. And if outsiders like Asaduddin Owaisi, who is expanding his political base in UP, participate in campaigning, passions may run high.
The west of the state apart, the regions needing extreme caution to prevent communal flashes are parts of eastern UP.
The last few years we saw communal problems in the far eastern districts of Deoria, Kushinagar, Shrawasti and even a sleepy town like Pratapgarh. These places were hardly affected by communal violence in the past.
Lamentably, this year UP witnessed communal tensions on the slightest of pretexts when Durga Puja/Dussehra coincided with Muharram, causing problems . There were stone-throwing incidents on processions. This trend needs 24X7 vigil in view of the upcoming elections. Under any circumstances, such incidents have to be curbed.
Presuming that the Congress will enter into a coalition with the SP for electoral gain ahead of the elections, the traditional Muslim vote is likely to go into this alliance. This will further polarise the two communities.
As regards Punjab, law and order problems are already at the nadir. The drug menace has seeped into the system with no obvious signs of any curbs. This is likely to aggravate in the thick of election canvassing, when campaigners would need money to mobilise and influence voters. Afflicted with a cash crunch, following demonetisation, perpetrators may resort to drugs lending material strength to the campaign trail.
A more worrisome factor looming ahead of the Punjab Assembly polls is the attempt by the Pakistani agency ISI to revive the Khalistani movement. Thanks to the alertness of our agencies, their plans may not take shape but it's very mention in election speeches by some may revive the concept of separatism.
The ISI, under a new head, and the Pakistani army under a hawkish chief, will surely try to inject Khalistani thought in good measure to exploit the election scene in Punjab.
We also recently saw the Nabha jailbreak in Punjab to free the dreaded Khalistani terrorist Harminder Singh Mintoo. This daring bid proved the complicity of insiders, in either supporting the Khalistani cause or releasing Mintoo for monetary gain.
|In Punjab, the drug menace has seeped into the system. (Photo: India Today)|
Either way, the ISI is active. There are several Sikh separatists still harboured in Pakistan. Living in virtual isolation after the Uri and Nagrota attacks, Pakistan is renewing its covert operations to destabilise Punjab by flooding the state with drugs, counterfeit money (hopefully they are yet to master the new currency) and other subversive activities.
All said and done, however, the biggest forte of the people of Punjab is the complete negation of Khalistan. That's the real impediment to any ISI design. But a frustrated and desperate Pakistan may resort to all methods of tradecraft to create problems in and around the elections.
The ISI is known to have made headway in these two states by trying to penetrate into the polity, especially in UP.
SP Rajya Sabha MP M Saleem's PA Farhat was arrested as he was passing UP-related information to Pakistani High Commission staffer Mehmood Akhtar. We do not know how many UP moles are on the ISI payroll. By implicating and targeting members of a minority community, it would imply that fomenting communal trouble is the easiest option to derail an important state poll.
By inference, therefore, we see ISI a common factor in both states which needs to be tackled effectively. Against this backdrop, it would be worthwhile to put a robust counter-intelligence apparatus in place with close monitoring of separatist elements in Punjab and communal forces in UP to ensure elections are held without any problem.
Both states remain vulnerable. A task force under a central security agency should have an oversight on the points flagged to foil attempts by divisive forces to cause problems before and during the elections.