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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 40

Eyeless in Meeting the Challenge of Terror


Tuesday 23 September 2008, by SC


While the Wall Street faces a turmoil that impacts on the whole world including India as the media sarcastically dubs the US Administration’s $ 85 billion takeover of the American Insurance Group as the most eloquent manifestation of the transformation of that citadel of capitalism, Washington, into the United States Socialist Republic (USSR), India continues to be shell-shocked by the terror strikes in the Capital last Saturday (September 13), and the principal Opposition party bays for the blood of the main constituent of the ruling coalition at the Centre projecting the demand for the Union Home Minister’s resignation. On the face of it there is full justification behind the call for Shivraj Patil’s exit: after all, someone must take the blame for the complacency in dealing with terrorism that has taken a heavy toll over a length of time with the innocent forced to bear the brunt of the attacks. And undoubtedly Patil has much to explain which he has not just failed to do but goes on blandly saying that he had full knowledge that the terrorists were to strike in the heart of the Capital with a series of bomb blasts “but what we did not know was the timing and the place”. What he forgot to mention was the date of the strikes. A person capable of making such pronouncements must necessarily be given the order of the boot and shown the door. The same treatment should have been meted out to the National Security Adviser who has on more than one occasion put his foot in his mouth (apart from being indiscreet) causing considerable embarrassment to the government he serves. Indeed such personalities would have been sacked under any other dispensation. But in both cases ‘loyalty’ was given priority to merit and competence. Hence we have to go on suffering both these gentlemen regardless of the consequences.

There is doubtless a lack of leadership to deal with the menace of terrorism. Neither the PM nor any of his colleagues, and they also include the seniormost member of the Indian Political Service, that is, the External Affairs Minister, commands the respect that their predecessors did. But that is natural. They are definitely much short-statured than the real leaders of yester-years—Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Indira Gandhi. What is more, they lack vision. Hence their inability to effectively respond to the terror blows on 9/13.

However, the call for ‘tough’ measures, including a ‘tough’ terror law like the POTA, given by the Iron Man mark II now leading the Opposition and waiting in the wings to be anointed the PM after the next Lok Sabha polls in a few months time, sounds hollow since the person concerned had exposed himself fully as the Union Home Minister in the NDA Government. It was under L.K. Advani’s nose that the terrorists attacked Parliament in December 2001 and during his tenure in the same post the country witnessed a series of terror strikes no less serious than the ones that took place in the Capital on September 13. So his tall talk to fight terrorism while in Opposition is devoid of substance as most his other utterances are. Yet the Opposition’s reference to the government’s directionlessness in tackling this serious threat to internal security cannot be dismissed lightly for the charge is not without basis.

Nevertheless, if one draws a lesson from the 9/11 attacks that took place in the US seven years ago, it is necessary for the Opposition to join hands with the government in jointly meeting the terrorist threat. The political establishment in Washington unitedly came out not just to express the resolve to root out the scourge but to also back up the words with deeds. That should have been the spirit of our political class as well. Instead we are painfully observing the sad spectacle of our politicians openly displaying disunity in their ranks much to the glee of the perpetrators of terror.

The Opposition, primarily the BJP, must also be held responsible for its vicious anti-minority propaganda both against Muslims in general in the context of the terror strikes in the Capital and elsewhere and against Christians in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka. It is no use taking shelter behind the alibi that BJP members were not directly involved in the onslaught on Christians, since we all know from where the Bajrang Dal draws its sustenance. As has been pointed out by a perceptive young journalist in one of the national dailies,

Whether it is ball-bearings planted by the criminal Indian Mujahideen that kills, or murderous Bajrang Dal crowds, must not both be unequivocally and simply denounced and gone after?
— (Seema Chisthti, “Silenced by Terror”, The Indian Express, September 18, 2008)

This is where the dangerous politics of the BJP comes out in bold relief. While there should be no laxity in fighting terrorism as witnessed in the streets and markets of Delhi the other day, there can be no pretexts for the kid-glove treatment given to the Bajrang Dal activists in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka—in fact the Karnataka Police is guilty of mercilessly beating up Christians in the State thereby providing a measure of the problem’s magnitude. But on both counts the Centre’s deafening silence is not only most unfortunate, it needs to be unequivocally decried. From all available indications it is as transparent as daylight that the Union Government is unable to get its act together and is once again relying on purely administrative measures (like introducing a POTA-like anti-terror law to tackle the problem knowing fully well that POTA failed to deter the terrorists from launching the Parliament attack) when a political response is the need of the hour (without, of course, discarding executive steps to strengthen the security apparatus like the setting up of a federal investigating agency).

In the midst of the dismal scenario following the terror blasts, Nepalese PM Prachanda’s visit offered an encouraging sign of forging close ties with a neighbour that has lately adopted the path of constitutional democracy abolishing the monarchy. Prachanda’s talks in the Capital and his public statements testified to his goodwill towards India and its people who had stood by him in his struggle against the monarchy. His cooperative approach in combating the flood fury was most timely and well received in Indian political circles. The government needs to build on this positive development to further reinforce the traditional ties of friendship and understanding between the two neighbouring states.

September 18 S.C.

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