Good Governance: An Essential Strategy for Security

By R. Swaminathan

(March 24, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) There is a relatively unrecognised security challenge and strategy that merits consideration. Conventionally, “Good Governance” would be discussed only in seminars on politics or sociology. However, my long involvement with matters related to national security has convinced me that it is also an essential security strategy.

Defining Good Governance

The absence or shortfall of any or a combination of the basic essentials of good governance inevitably leads to trouble for the state and the society. There have been many examples (over the decades) in the north-east and many tribal-populated areas of India, Pakistan, Bangla Desh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

During the colonial era, the main purpose of the administration was to be the tool for the economic exploitation of the colony. In the modern context, the state should exist for the people and good governance should be its main sustenance. Unfortunately, however, many sections of the populations of the former colonies in South Asia (including India) nurture the feeling that they have only traded the foreign exploiters for indigenous exploiters. Further, the colonial power preferred to practice large scale “benign neglect” towards difficult-to-administer border areas, difficult-to-govern tribal areas and vast areas “ruled” by “native” rulers. When independent India tried to extend the administration to such areas, the results included border disputes with neighbours, resistance from tribal populations etc. The colonial legacy has undoubtedly hampered or retarded efforts at harmonious nation-building and continues to pose a security challenge.

Different activist groups and scholars have different perspectives about what constitutes good governance, but there are some commonly accepted essentials. The most important of these can be listed as:

* Participatory, responsive and responsible, with full accountability.
* Non-discriminatory - on ethnic, religious, linguistic, ideological grounds.
* Promotion of inclusive development (education, economic and infrastructural development, employment opportunities, natural resources etc.)
* Improving the moral fibre of the population through education from the primary to the college levels – promoting concepts of religious/communal tolerance, accommodating and handling dissent, readiness to fight corruption, promotion of violence etc.
* Honest and transparent.

Types of Security Challenges

The major internal security challenge (as distinguished from challenges emanating from outside the country) is organized violence against State and Society, in many forms, the primary ones being:

* Ethnicity-based insurgency, as seen in the north-east.
* Ideology-linked extremism, like Naxalite/Maoist groups.
* Conflicts based on language, religion, caste/community etc.
* Terrorism stemming from religious fundamentalism, e.g. jihadi terrorism and the alleged “retaliatory” terrorism.

Insurgencies & Terrorism

Ethnic insurgencies most often have their beginnings in perceived legal, social and economic discrimination; denial of aspirations and demands for equality and some local autonomy (in accordance with their traditional customs); non-participatory governance and development, religious suppression etc. When such grievances are continually ignored or denied, they grow into demands for sovereignty - as it is gradually “realized” that justice would not be available under the existing dispensation. As seen in Sri Lanka, when the basic demand for non-discriminatory equality is consistently ignored, and then as the incipient insurgency also does not evoke any meaningful response, the growth of wide-spread militancy and terrorism becomes inevitable. My personal interactions with some (current and former) leaders of insurgencies have highlighted that more sympathetic and understanding approaches at the initial stages might have controlled the growth of ethnic insurgencies in north-east India.

It could be argued that meaningful land reforms (respecting traditional community property rights in tribal areas and preventing land-grab by outside interests mainly through benami transactions), protection of landless agricultural labour and inclusive infrastructural development would have made it more difficult for Naxalites/Maoists to find willing recruits to their militant movements. The left wing extremist ideology, by itself, would have had little appeal if the basic grievances and frustration did not exist.

Another major cause for the alienation of significant sections of the population is the populist, vote-bank oriented political promotion of severe ethnic/linguistic/religious divisions, often leading to disharmony and violent acts. It was painful to see a press report this morning (23 March 2009) saying that the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) Central Assembly (Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha) had passed a resolution in Nagpur yesterday protesting against the Centre adopting discriminatory policies based on religion and showering favours liberally upon Muslims and Christians, in the name of minorities. Mention was made of preferential rates of very low interests on loans to persons professing those religions. If the report is factually correct, the stand of the RSS may find a lot of supporters amongst the majority (Hindus) – even amongst those who are not normally comfortable with the extreme Hindutva platform. The feeling amongst the majority of being sidelined or marginalised could easily make minorityism a “penny-wise but pound-foolish’ policy, In due course, it may even pose a major threat to national integrity and national security.

The excessive dependence on the ”military option” to tackle incipient insurgencies and resort to violence by disgruntled or deprived groups is often counter-productive, as it leads to more disaffection and alienation resulting in the development of more “terrorists” or “insurgents” or “militants”. The pure military option would normally brutalise the state and the society.

Military suppression of legitimate aspirations of the population can create only a temporary and false peace, unless parallel political and economic measures are also undertaken. Mizoram has proved the success of a judicious mix. As George Mitchell, the US Special Envoy for the Middle East observed on 22 January 2009, “Conflicts are created, conducted and sustained by human beings. They can be ended by human beings.”


Realistically, it has to be accepted that good governance cannot by itself prevent or totally counter insurgencies, extremism and terrorism. However, poor or bad governance would increase the prospects of such developments materialising. It cannot be denied that good governance could eliminate many of the causes for disaffection and alienation; and also generate public support for actions against anti-social and anti-national elements. In the final analysis, good governance should be considered also to be an essential security strategy and needs to be studied and pursued as such.

(This note prepared by R.Swaminathan, Former Special Secretary, DG (Security), Govt of India, formed the basis for his valedictory address at the UGC National Seminar on India’s Emerging Security Challenges and Strategies, organised at Chennai on 23 March 2009, by the University of Madras, Department of Defence & Strategic Studies. The author can be contacted at
-Sri Lanka Guardian