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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 22

Fighting Terror—of Different Hues


Friday 23 May 2008, by SC


The terrorist blasts in the Pink City of Jaipur on Tuesday, May 13, 2008 have jolted the people at large not just because of the scale of the success achieved by the demented persons indulging in such inhuman criminal activities—80 killed and over 150 injured. The entry of Jaipur into the terror map of the country (it was out of that map so far) is indicative of the increasing spread of terrorism despite all the vigilance by the security and intelligence forces across the nation. The growing clout of terrorism in today’s India is revealed from the fact that the Jaipur explosions constituted the 21st terror attack outside the disturbed State of J&K in the past three years.

Following the tragedy in Jaipur the political class has behaved in characteristic style with the principal Opposition party, the BJP, lashing out at the Centre with the familiar refrain that the UPA Government’s “soft-on-terror” policy was primarily responsible for the May 13 occurrence. Such verbal assaults to score brownie points by petty politicians carry little conviction in the present scenario since major terror strikes—in Jammu, Gujarat as well as on the Parliament House—had taken place when the Iron Man Mark II was in charge of the Home portfolio and the NDA was in power with its hardline anti-terror agenda. The BJP has also raised its pitch in support of revival of the terror law POTA which was withdrawn by the UPA dispensation. The PM has promptly rebuffed the demand by exposing the inefficacy of the law during NDA rule and pointing to its misuse like the TADA. Instead he has mooted the idea of setting up a federal anti-terror bureau with powers to investigate terrorist crimes though he has not pressed this suggestion beyond a point as he is fully aware that few States would be inclined to dilute their control over “law-and-order” issues.

What the PM has proposed finds backing from leading intelligence experts. One of them, a former intelligence officer (now retired) B. Raman, has, in a recent article, averred that while it would be practically impossible to eliminate attacks on hundreds of thousands of soft targets all across the country, “we can reduce them” through “effective coordination of the police in all the States, the creation of a national data base to which the police of different States can have direct access and quick sharing of the results of enquiries and investigations”; at the same time he has opined that the “creation of a federal counter-terrorism agency modelled after the FBI of the US, with powers to investigate all terrorism related cases occurring in any part of the country, would facilitate action and prevention”.

There has been much politicking on the issue of fighting terrorism and the Rajasthan CM, Vasundhara Raje, has added her bit to it, especially when she blamed the Centre for furnishing “delightfully vague” information on the possibility of terror strikes and when she criticised Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s visit to Jaipur to convey her sympathies to the injured and the affected. Yet one must appreciate her straightforward comments in an interview a day after the Jaipur blasts on May 13. Asked if Rajasthan feared a communal backlash following the terror attack, she did not mince words to reply:

Personally, I trust my people enough to know that such a thing would not happen. It is easy to react violently and then arises a situation where one seeks justice by attacking the other, leaving no choice for people of that community to go and sit in the laps of terrorists.

This attack was done with the aim of disrupting communal harmony in the State. I am glad that the State authority and the people of Rajasthan have ruined their chance. One thing I was sure of is that Rajasthan cannot be allowed—and would not—go the Gujarat way.

Coming from a BJP CM her words carried special significance.
But terrorism of this type, as has been repeatedly underscored in these columns in the past, cannot be fought by mere counter-terrorism methods, administrative and executive action must be matched in equal measure by political initiative. Here one recalls what was written in these columns after the Mumbai serial train blasts of July 11, 2006, that is, our 7/11:
It is all very convenient for arm-chair analysts to sermonise, as has been done in a national daily, that “intelligence agencies need to be pro-active: don’t allow jihadi modules to settle down. Special focus should be put on AP, Gujarat and Karnataka so that youth recruitment is stopped in these States in the name of Gujarat, Narendra Modi and Ayodhya demolition.” But how do you prevent such eventuality? That is the moot question. And the answer does not lie in once more placing TADA and/or POTA on the statute book as has been suggested by some of those who want to resort to only administrative measures to tackle the problem completely ignoring the political means of fighting terrorism... But definitely terrorism cannot be fought and defeated by turning the Indian state into a national security state as some are thoughtlessly advocating in the wake of 7/11...
The time has come for a well-thought-out strategy to combat the menace of terrorism such as to root out the evil of terror from our body politic. We cannot possibly move away from the need of the hour: developing a political response to 7/11.

That perspective remains valid in the present case too.
While discussing terrorism in the context of the latest attack in Jaipur one cannot possibly ignore the phenomenon of state terrorism manifesting in different parts of the country. What is happening in West Bengal in the context of the ongoing panchayat elections there is one form of state terrorism with the State administration going out of its way to allow the ruling party hoodlums engage in murder and mayhem not in Nandigram alone but in other parts, notably South 24-Parganas, as well, the victims being Opposition party activists at some places and ruling Front constituents at others—for example, one Left Front partner, the RSP, has suffered severe casualties at the hands of the big brother, the CPM, in South 24-Parganas. As a consequence democracy itself is under threat in West Bengal. However, what is most reassuring is that the State’s intelligentsia and creative people have voiced their full throated opposition to such terror tactics aimed at nothing but establishing the totalitarian sway of the dominant partner of the ruling coalition.

At another level state terrorism finds expression in the use of such patently anti-democratic means like the Salwa Judum on the pretext of combating the Maoists’ armed terror in the most backward rural hinterland of the country. Here too it is democracy which is at a discount. And persons of impeccable integrity like the distinguished health activist, Dr Binayak Sen, who is being incarcerated in detention in Chhattisgarh for more than a year now, have to suffer in silence; in Dr Sen’s case, he has been targeted only because he dared to expose the same vigilante movement, Salwa Judum, to combat Maoist insurgency in the forest areas of the State. While the Left establishments (except the local CPI) are conspicuous by remaining mute on the issue, the campaign for the release of Dr Sen, the first South Asian to be selected for the prestigious Jonathan Mann award for health and human rights this year, has gathered momentum the world over with 22 Nobel laureates having come out on May 9 with a statement in his support while highlighting the value of his nomination for the aforementioned award on account of the focus of his lifework—improving the healthcare and living conditions of the poorest of the poor in the tribal areas of central India. What is more, a broad coalition of liberals is coordinating protests in 13 cities—Washington, London, Paris, Stockholm, New York, San Fracisco included—outside India as the movement in his defence mounts within the country—in Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, Bangalore, Pune, Coim-batore, Lucknow and Raipur. This movement needs to be raised to a higher pitch to ensure Dr Sen’s release from the Chhattisgarh prison; but already this movement has succeeded in bringing out the ugly face of BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh—the State Government’s total failure to launch any development activity while conducting unalloyed repression on human rights activists like Dr Sen.

All these once again exemplify the necessity of employing the political methodology of fighting terror of different hues with the very objective of reinforcing, not undermining, our democratic culture, the basic attribute that distinguishes India in the international arena.

May 15 S.C.

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