Collateral Damage

31 07 2008
July 30, 2008

Terror continues to stalk the nation. In five days, 55 bombs were planted (of which, mercifully, 25 did not explode) in the three cities of Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Surat, leaving at least 53 dead. Even for a country that has brazened such terrorist attacks in the past 60 years, this has come as a shock. The country lost a Mahatma to terrorist bullets, a Prime Minister to those unleashed by Sikh terrorists; and a former Prime Minister assassinated by a suicide bomber. Innumerable lives are lost in attacks mounted by various outfits in the North-east, apart from those lost to Maoist insurgencies in various parts of the country. This splurge of blood and mayhem is not just utterly condemnable but it is simply unacceptable.

Amidst the various speculations doing the rounds — including that these attacks were a retaliatory response or a ‘dry-run’ for something more horrendous in store — it was also suggested that the modus operandi was inspired by a Bollywood film. The bewildered script-writer, in turn, informed us that he was inspired by an Israeli army attack on a helpless Palestinian hospital in Nablus in January 2004, to ‘track down’ a bomber. The script-writer stated that he had merely “replaced the Israeli army with terrorists”.

Clearly, terrorism is the means to an end. It can, thus, never be fought by ignoring or obfuscating the end. September 11, 2001, we are told, was an individual terrorist response to the State terrorism unleashed by US imperialism globally. The US military occupation of Iraq, we are told, is to contain such ‘individual terrorism’. Over a million Iraqis have lost their lives and over 6 million are refugees in their own country. In order to quell the natural resistance to such occupation, the US army has moved into Afghanistan pursuing the Taliban and is now knocking at the borders of Pakistan. However abhorrent and inhuman terrorism as a methodology is, it can never be combated or eliminated by ignoring the fundamental causes that have led to the invention of the ‘human bomb’.

For us in India, such terrorism needs to be combated and eliminated by intensifying all efforts, both at the administrative level by urgently beefing up our intelligence and security apparatus, and the political level by seeking a solution to real or perceived ‘injustice’ done to some sections.

At the administrative level, in the wake of the Kargil war, the then NDA government had set up a committee headed by former R&AW chief Girish Saxena that included the present National Security Advisor, M.K. Narayanan. This proposed a Multi-Agency Centre (Mac), the heart of India’s counter-terrorism efforts, and a Joint Task Force on Intelligence. These proposals were accepted without any modification in 2003 by the NDA Group of Ministers. Unfortunately, with L.K. Advani as Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, this was not taken seriously.

Five years down the line, as against the recommended additional 3,000 Intelligence Bureau personnel, only 1,400 posts have been sanctioned — mind you, not filled. As against the UN’s minimum norm of 222 policemen for every 100,000 people, the all-India average is 126. In many states, it’s even lower.

Clearly, all these have to be rectified on a war footing. However, the advance towards a political solution becomes well-nigh impossible if terrorism becomes an important input to advance the electoral ambitions of political parties. Advani’s strident calls for the resurrection of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (Pota) is a case in point. Selective amnesia seems to prevent Mr Advani from recollecting that when he was at the helm of affairs — when Pota adorned the statute books — terrorists attacked Parliament, the Red Fort, the Akshardham temple and the Raghunath temple twice. Clearly, it is not the inadequacy of law that is encouraging terrorism. Sushma Swaraj’s outrageous remarks that the latest attacks in BJP-led states is a conspiracy against the party is also part of such an effort. No one had even remotely suggested that the attack on Parliament was a ‘distraction’ from the coffin scam that dogged the NDA government of that time. At the other end, ‘off the record’ leaks by the Establishment draw a parallel with ‘international terror attacks’ influencing national electoral results in some countries.

The terrorist attack in Spain in March 2004 cost George Bush’s staunch ally, José María Aznar, dearly in the Spanish elections. Similarly, the terrorist attacks in April 2006 in Italy led to the defeat of the incumbent government. It is also widely believed that the sudden spurt of activities by Muslim extremists in the run-up to the French presidential elections had influenced the outcome in 2007. All this is to suggest that such terror attacks in the BJP-ruled states are aimed at influencing the outcome of the forthcoming general elections.

The country can ill afford such cynical use of terror attacks to further political agendas. A combination of administrative and political approaches must be urgently undertaken by this government if it seeks to live up to the basis of its formation — strengthening secularism and protecting the social harmony of our country. The failure to do so will be judged by the people in the forthcoming general elections.

While there can be no compromise in combating terrorism and the unity and integrity of the country is non-negotiable, the proclivity to jump to conclusions in the absence of a thorough inquiry and investigation must be abandoned in the interests of the security of our people. In this context, recollect the film Fiza, which chillingly shows how terrorists are nurtured by prejudiced persecution.

Finally, while doing the utmost to combat and banish such terror and its perpetrators, the refusal to fall prey to the terrorists’ provocation is the surest way to defeat them. Terrorism fails when it is unable to provoke a backlash and foster anarchy.

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and a Rajya Sabha MP