Don't let social media fan communal flames: PM

Last Updated : 08 September 2012, 08:21 IST
Last Updated : 08 September 2012, 08:21 IST

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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday flagged the use of social media and bulk SMSs to aggravate social tensions as the new challenge before the government and security forces, even as he expressed concern over the increase in communal violence and ethnic strife.

On the last day of a three-day national conference of chiefs of police forces here, Manmohan Singh also warned that the nation's vulnerability to cyber crime is escalating.

He was addressing the directors general and inspectors generals of state and central police forces at the meet hosted by the Intelligence Bureau. Ministers of state V. Narayanasamy, Mullapally Ramachandran and Jitendra Singh were also present.

"The increase in communal incidents in the country in the past few months and the revival of ethnic tensions in the Northeast in recent weeks have been particular causes of concern for all of us," Manmohan Singh said.

"The ethnic disturbances of the northeast assumed a national dimension with the flight of people belonging to the northeast from various towns of South and Western India. This further strained the the communal situation in the country, which was already showing some signs of deterioration, particularly in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala," he said, listing the challenges before the security forces.

In the audience as the prime minister spoke were National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, the prime minister's principal secretary Pulok Chatterjee and Cabinet Secretary Ajith Seth.

The prime minister's remarks come in the wake of ethnic clashes in Assam that left nearly 100 dead and another two lakh displaced, which also had a spin-off effect when rumours spread in the social media triggered an exodus of people of northeastern origin from Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai and other cities.

"The use of bulk SMSes and social media to aggravate the communal situation is a new challenge that the recent disturbances have thrown before us. We need to fully understand how these new media are used by miscreants," he said.

"We also need to devise strategies to counter the propaganda that is carried out by these new means. Any measure to control the use of such media must be carefully weighed against the need for freedom to express and communicate," he said, expressing the confidence that police forces would be able to work out effective strategies in coming months.

"Our country's vulnerability to cyber crime is escalating as our economy and critical infrastructure become increasingly reliant on interdependent computer networks and the internet," Manmohan Singh said.

"Large-scale computer attacks on our critical infrastructure and economy can have potentially devastating results," he warned the police chiefs, in the presence of ministers of state V. Narayanasamy, Mullapally Ramachandran and Jitendra Singh.

The prime minister said the government is working on a robust cyber security structure that addresses "threat management and mitigation, assurance and certification, capacity building and research."

"To this end, we need to build partnerships between government, academia and private sector," he added.

Cyber security breaches were reported in recent months from the Visakhapatnam-based Eastern Naval Command. Regular attacks on key defence and criticial networks by hackers are also reported.

Returning to the issue communal tensions, the prime minister said, "the erosion of inter-community relations is something that should worry us all."

"The capacity of the administrative set-up to check such deterioration seems to have weakened," he said, adding that this would be true of the police administration too.
There is, therefore, a case for re-orienting the police forces to effectively track the sentiments of the people and inter-community tensions as they rise, he said.

"Advance identification of potential troublemakers, timely use of preventive sections of the law, alongside seeking cooperation of the community for maintaining peace should be the first instrument to be deployed, well before the situation deteriorates," he added.

Batting for obtaining the assistance of saner elements of society to marginalise those who are overly intolerant and aggressive, Manmohan Singh called for training the police to develop soft skills.

The prime minister also underlined the need for ordinary patrolling to gather intelligence. "The grassroots information and intelligence collection systems that have traditionally been a part of policing have languished in some places. The role of the vigilant and effective beat constable can be vital in detecting communal tensions," he said.

Published 08 September 2012, 08:21 IST

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