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18 September, 2008

The other side of terror strikes

Another serial blast. Thirty more lives sacrificed, some 100 people in hospitals. Predictable reactions from different quarters. Discussions on the TV channels. All told, enough material to pass 24 hours. At the most, 48 hours. After that, it is business as usual.

Since parliamentary elections are at hand, political parties may not allow us to forget the latest serial blast in a hurry. Especially so, since the Bharatiya Janta Party has decided to make terrorism an election issue. The party’s national leadership was meeting to work out election strategy when terrorists presented them with the serial blast.

The Delhi blasts were similar to those that occurred earlier in the capitals of BJP-ruled Rajasthan, Karnataka and Gujarat. Comparatively low intensity bombs were used in all these places. Earlier, terrorists had used a powerful explosive like RDX at Delhi and other places. The switch to ammonium nitrate could not have been motivated by a desire to reduce the damage. The reason must be that they were unable to get more powerful stuff. Earlier, terrorists had targeted famous locations like the Stock Exchange in Mumbai and the Akshardham temple in Ahmedabad. Now they place bomb at shopping centres. That, too, during peak hours. This indicates that their primary goal is to create fear in the people’s minds.

The terrorists are showing that they have the ability to strike at will anywhere in the country. The governments are not able to show that they have the ability to move against them single-mindedly. Like any other crime, it is for the state police to investigate an act of terror. The police’s record in tackling such cases has not been good so far. Although stringent legal provisions were invoked, more than a decade and a half was needed to mete out punishment in the cases registered after the first Mumbai serial blast. In many states, cases are pending since long without even reaching the trial stage. It was when the BJP, which accuses the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government of being soft on terrorism, was in power at the Centre that the country’s External Affairs Minister safely escorted to Kabul hard-core terrorists who were freed from jail to secure the release of the passengers of a hijacked aircraft.

Like George Bush, the BJP leaders view terrorism as an Islamic phenomenon. After terrorists had destroyed the World Trade Center in New York, the Bush administration enacted an inland security law. Since then there has been no terrorist strike there. The BJP points to this fact when it demands a tough anti-terror law. The BJP leaders were admirers of the anti-terror law, known as POTA. More than 20,000 people were held all over the country under that law. Normally, under the law, the prosecution has the responsibility to prove the charge against the accused. When POTA is used, the accused has to prove that the charge is false. Even though the law thus favours the prosecution, only in a few cases were the accused punished. The BJP has declared that if it comes to power it will bring back this ‘lawless law’, which was abandoned by the UPA government taking into account public opinion.Only conspicuous exception
The BJP is proclaiming its intellectual bankruptcy when it makes the USA the model for anti-terrorist activity. It is true that there has been no terrorist strike in that country after the inland security law was enacted. But outside the US mainland, Americans are still under attack from terrorists. The challenge before the US comes from outside forces. Those involved in terrorist activity in India are mostly from within. Only, they –rather, some of them – receive assistance from outside. A conspicuous exception is the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.

Terrorism is not new to India. Although we claim that our freedom struggle was non-violent, it had a powerful extremist stream. Although after the hanging of Bhagat Singh and his associates, that stream almost disappeared, there were acts of terrorism during the Quit India agitation launched by Gandhiji in 1942. What the Communist Party of India did in the name of the Calcutta Thesis after Independence and what the Naxalites did later under Mao’s inspiration were also acts of terrorism. The most active terrorists in the early days of Independence were Hindu communalists. They targeted not the state, but an individual. One Madanlal exploded a bomb in January 1948 to kill Gandhiji. The plot failed. Within two weeks, Nathuram Godse accomplished the mission.

Most people view the current wave of terrorism in the country as part of Islamic terrorism going on all over the world. But neither our investigative agencies nor the US spy organization, which is hunting Islamic extremists worldwide, has been able to produce enough evidence to establish a link between the two so far. When fairy tales manufactured by politicized state police machineries and publicized by professionally weak media institutions gain currency terrorists must be laughing to themselves in their hideouts. A correspondent of The Hindu, which is still endeavouring to uphold professional values, has been serving a daily fare of material cooked in the kitchens of the intelligence agencies. Intelligence officials need only please their political masters. They don’t need evidence that will carry conviction with a court. The cases of Mariam Rasheeda (Mali woman accused in the ISRO espionage case) and Abdul Naser Maudany (Kerala politician acquitted after being held without bail or parole for nine and a half years as an accused in the Coimbatore blast case) show how dangerous it is to place excessive reliance on police and intelligence agencies which are under political influence. There have been complaints about the media manipulating the society. Now the reverse also happens. If an e-mail is sent to a news channel under a Muslim name saying a bomb will go off in the Secretariat at 6 o’ clock the chances are it will come as Breaking News within an hour. The police threw in prison three persons who came to Kollam from Afghanistan to buy cashew nuts. Suspecting that a rail passenger was the terrorist whose photograph had appeared in a newspaper, fellow passengers called in the police. Do not these events suggest that the terrorists and the media have together made Malayalees neurotic?

When we try to trace the origin of the current wave of terrorism we reach that day in 1992 when Hindu terrorists destroyed the mosque in Ayodhya. The impact of the demolition of Babri Masjid on the Muslim mind was similar to that of the destruction of Akal Takht in the Golden Temple by the army on the Sikh mind. The army could justify its Akal Takht action by pointing out that Bhindranwala, a terrorist, was hiding there. There is no such extenuating circumstance to justify what the Sangh Parivar did. In which Ganga will BJP’s Prime Minister-in-waiting L. K. Advani wash off the sin of the act of terrorism committed by karsevaks in his presence – and when?

The recommendation of the administrative reforms commission headed by Veerappa Moily endorses the BJP’s demand for a tough anti-terror law. However, there are more serious issues than the absence of a law. Our political parties are still not free from the influence of their past terrorist influence. The attack on Christian institutions from Khandalmal in Orissa to Kasergode in Kerala by Hindu terrorists is an example. The partiality evident in the reactions to violent incidents makes it clear that each one is led by its own political interests, not national interests.
It can be said with certainty that there is organized activity behind every serial blast. Lack of advance information about it indicates failure of intelligence agencies. The resignation of the Union Home Minister is no solution to this problem. At the same time, if he resigns it will convey to the people the message that someone high up is answerable for a major failure.

The police machinery needs to be strengthened urgently. What sustains terrorist activity is discontent in the people’s minds. Often the cause of discontent is injustice of one kind or another. A permanent solution to the problem lies in removing the cause of discontent.
Based on article contributed for “Nerkkazhcha” column in Kerala Kaumudi

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