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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 24

Meaning of Bombay Bomb Blasts

Monday 2 June 2008, by Nikhil Chakravartty

With March 12 there has arrived a new dimension in Indian politics—qualitatively diffe-rent from what we have so far witnessed since independence.

Sometimes mainstream parliamentary politics was interrupted by outbursts of violence in some areas, and at some phase, there has been armed militancy as could be seen in the Communist campaign in Telengana in the first years after independence and the Naxalite struggle in the Andhra villages or the Naga and the ULFA movements in the North-East. In all these cases, the adversary could be identified and dealt with accordingly.

The rash of bomb blasts planted by invisible operators in Bombay no doubt marks a new stage of technology in political activity which has devastating effect not only because of the cowardly cold-bloodedness involved, but also because it spreads a sense of insecurity and erosion of confidence in administrative and political authority in the country. If the government’s image was shattered on December 6 with the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, which it had promised to protect, it tried to recoup its position by the elaborate display of its police force to enforce the ban on the BJP rally in the Capital on February 25.

What took place in Bombay on March 12 is a matter of concern not only for the government but for the entire public life in this country. The Opposition in Parliament was within its rights to question the efficacy of the government’s intelligence agencies, pointing to their failure to forewarn about such a development, but one has to concede that such Beirut-style terrorist operations are something which could never be anticipated in any country before. In other words, political unrest in our country is reaching out to international dimensions.

Whatever the government’s critics might say, it would be unfair and irresponsible to blame it for its inability to instantly identify the culprit in the bomb blasts in Bombay. It may be easy for the BJP leader, Advani, to rush to the facile conclusion that the guilty must be from Pakistan—that is what is least unexpected from anybody from his party. However, the case needs more serious probings though it is but natural that the needle of suspicion for such an outrage should point to our traditional adversary, namely, Pakistan, in which the ISI acts as a virtually autonomous outfit.

The bomb blasts on March 12 have to be seen in the context of the unfolding scenario of all-round assault on normal political functioning in many parts of the world. In our country, the communal upheaval, which has come like a great wave since the outrage at Ayodhya on December 6, has spread over many parts of the country a sense of demoralisation that after four decades since the blood-soaked partition of the country, there should be a relapse into such barbaric violence unfolding the gloomy perspective of continued fratricidal conflict in our country.

It is not just an accident that this new type of terrorist violence that was witnessed in Bombay on March 12 should come in the wake of the ghastly communal pogrom in that very same city in which the Shiv Sena could go on a rampage without any intervention by the executive authority—a city which has long been in the grip of magnum size smugglers and mafia dons enjoying for long the patronage of political leaders of different parties. The phenomenon of car-bomb terrorism arrives when the morale of the nation is badly shattered as large-scale communal violence goes on unchecked.

The Prime Minister, during his visit to Bombay on the day following the outrage of March 12, has stated that the bomb blasts appeared to have been aimed at bringing about economic disloction in the country. If one goes by the targets chosen by the assailants—the stock exchange, banks, hotels, airlines offices and all these in the country’s commercial and finance capital—one does of course get the impression that the miscreants wanted to dislocate the country’s economic life. At the same time, one has to take note of the fact that the repercussions of the new type of terrorism would be seriously felt in the entire spectrum of public life in the country.

For one thing, it was aimed at paralysing normal life in one of our metropolitan centres—and this involves a wide range of public activity—political, social and cultural, apart from economic. Secondly, this type of terrorist violence by invisible agencies, taking the authorities by total surprise, has a serious impact on the public confidence in any government. Which appears to be what the perpetrators have been aiming at. Any government facing similar assault has to be well aware of the fact that such sudden violence, calculatedly executed, is essentially aimed at destroying public confidence in the executive. Perhaps this is the most serious political fall-out of such a terrorist action.

The target, however, is not just the government. In fact, the entire political life in India today is in jeopardy because such bombing can destroy all open political functioning in the country, the very basis of our democratic order. By instilling the fear of violent distruption, our traditional political functioning in the open is threatened. It is precisely this aspect of the new phenomenon of evil in our political life that has to be combated by all political parties together if our democracy is to be saved from the onslaught of such inimical forces. No doubt, the government machinery has to be geared up to not only hunt down the guilty but to destroy their line of operation. At the same time, the leadership of all political parties have to put their heads together to ensure normalcy in political functioning so that such forces inimical to our democracy do not get an opening.

This does not mean, as some circles tend to do, that all parties must join hands with the ruling establishment. Such a coalition is both unncessary and harmful to our democracy. Divergence in outlook and policy are not only legitimate but are proof of the enduring quality of our democracy. In fact, the thrashing out of such differences through the process of discussion and interaction is the very hallmark of our system of pluralism. While preserving it, one has to resolve certain norms of functioning which will provide no room for heinous violence as manifested in the bomb blast terrorism of March 12.

In this context, it is imperative that leaders of all political parties impose certain self-denying discipline that their respective political parties would keep away from certain types of activity and propaganda which hits at the very fabric of our democracy.

In this regard, one has to take note of the Prime Minister’s welcome announcement during his intervention in the debate on the President’s address to Parliament that the government would soon bring measures to keep election politics quarantined from religious propaganda. Although the announcement was made before the Bombay bomb blasts, its urgency is enhanced by the outrage on March 12. It is only to be expected that the government as also the Opposition will join hands to take up this long overdue reform in right earnest as the first step towards restoration of normalcy in the functioning of our pluralist democracy. There is no time to lose after the horrendous experience of March 12.

(Mainstream, March 20, 1993)

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