A week, they say, is a long time in politics. A week, it seems, is also a long time in this age of terror. One Saturday the nation’s capital was subjected to a number of bomb blasts; the ensuing sense of helplessness was as total as was the anger at the seeming inability and indifference of those, including the Union Home Minister, who had the constitutional responsibility to protect the citizen’s life. Within the same week, a handful of brave men of the Delhi Police were able to gun down at least two alleged terrorists; and, the encounter even produced a hero, who momentarily answered our prayers for a saviour against a faceless, marauding enemy. As if by way of a rite of collective catharsis, our mass media spent considerable time in saluting and remembering Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, the slain hero in the face-off at Batla House in Jamia Nagar. The “encounter” itself has been designated, by a section of the media, as avenging the previous Saturday’s perfidy, perhaps with a hint of a suggestion that the scores are even between the Indian State and the driven merchants of death.
Before the Batla House encounter the UPA government was widely seen and criticised as effete; after the shoot-out, there is a macho smirk on the establishment’s face. Mr. Shivraj Patil even chose to attend Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma’s funeral, as if to signal the whole world that the old diffidence and indecision are things of the past. The mood has changed.
But the same country of one billion people that swings widely from despondency to elation can easily relapse into a mood of vulnerability when the terrorists strike next. And, they will. And when they do, they will have the collusive support of the mass media in instilling a sense of insecurity, fear and anger in the citizens. And, once again, the Narendra Modis and the L.K.Advanis will feel vindicated in their poisonous catechism and will gleefully look forward to commandeering a scared electorate into voting them to power.
The BJP and its leaders are entitled to their chosen politics, but the saner elements in the polity also have an obligation to help the citizen cope with the terrorist’s designs and its political fall-out. So far only the politicians have benefited out of the terrorists’ handy-work, while the common, unsuspecting and uninvolved citizen (as also the policeman and soldier) has paid with his life. While it suited the communalists’ agenda to import, after September 9, 2001, the American-designed categories of patriot and the traitor, the progressive and the liberal forces have been negligent in helping evolve a coherent doctrine of internal security.
Though the electorate decisively rejected in May 2004 the L.K.Advani-Narendra Modi diagnosis and prescriptions, the United Progressive Alliance has been singularly amiss in creating a national consensus on what constitutes terror, who is to be designated as a terrorist, and how is he to be defanged. The Manmohan Singh-led government can take considerable pride in calming the country’s collective nerves; but it needed to do much more than merely resisting the temptation to use the jehadi terror for narrow partisan purposes. The UPA government has wisely refused to give in to the logic of the Indian Mujaheedin’s argument — or to the Sangh parivar’s demands and solutions.
Yet in the absence of the liberal voices’ ability to initiate a debate on this subject, each act of violence becomes an occasion for display of mass hysteria and prejudices. Slogans are proposed as a substitute for policy – bring back POTA, ban SIMI, outlaw the Bajrang Dal. Presumed sternness of this or that leader is seen as an answer to the larger institutional infirmities. Earlier when Mr. Advani had not yet made it to North Block, he used to regularly demand a White Paper on ISI; very many citizens chose to believe that the very thought of a White Paper would so dishearten the potential terrorist that India would be the safest place if Mr. Advani and his party were voted to power. Once in office, the Iron Man realised that it was a mere slogan and was no substitute for effective instruments or for a coherent, well-thought out strategy. Curiously enough, a whole lot of retired bureaucrats and police officers (including ex-Intelligence Bureau chiefs) who should know better but have nevertheless chosen to believe as if slogans and prejudices are potent answers to those who have chosen to be enemies of our collective well-being.
What needs to be understood very clearly is that the fight against the terrorist cannot be won without producing a politics that enlists the support and enthusiasm of all sections of our society, including the minorities. A politics that countenances large-scale attacks on the hapless Christians in Orissa and Karnataka is not going to help us mobilise our collective energies against the terrorists. In particular, any political leader or party that thinks that the terrorist can only be contained by isolating, taming and terrorising the Muslim community ought to be laughed out of town. Inversely, any political leader or party who thinks that the Muslim identity provides immunity against any honest police investigation ought to be simply sidelined. The A.R. Antulays and the Ram Vilas Paswans cannot be the answer to the Narendra Modis and the L.K. Advanis.
Absence of a coherent doctrine of internal security means that every localised dispute or grievance tends to be projected — as well as perceived — in larger, even global terms, especially in this era of a wired global community. Nor can we prevent outsiders from expressing views on what we do to ourselves and among ourselves, which again is seen as proof of a lack of sufficient patriotism and deshbhakti on the part of the minorities.
It should be obvious to every sane voice that in the last ten years or so we have produced a politics so divisive that we have hurt our own larger national interests. A country that is poised to cross the nuclear threshold has to begin to subscribe to a new politics that will help it meet the challenge of the global terrorist and his home-grown accomplices.
Fight against terror cannot be a campaign devoid of a sense of justice and fairness. Societies that choose to organise themselves on unjust principles can only beget resistance and violence. Our fight against terror can succeed only when we are able to devise rules of collective engagement, based, to paraphrase great philosopher John Rawls, on “the willingness… to act in relation to others on terms they also can publicly endorse.”
In this larger context of fairness and rule of law, it is possible to try once again to evolve a national consensus on what it will take to defeat the terrorist’s design. A doctrine of internal security ought to include a few basic tenets. First, the state is supreme and it can and will make equal demands on all citizens, irrespective of their religious affiliations; and, all citizens are obliged to respect and honour the state, irrespective of their religion’s particularistic notions of loyalty, authority, justice or solidarity.
Second, no individual or group has a claim higher than the nation’s security. That means no group is entitled to claim a right to redress through violent means perceived grievances or injustices; no group has a right to engage in violent activities, whatever its religious pretensions.
Third, no community or citizen would be deprived of its right to equality before the law. No community is to be valued higher in terms of loyalty or deshbhakti by the state institutions. At the same time, just because a group or individual belongs to a particular religion does not entitle it to engage in unlawful activities. That means, for example, the Bajrang Dal activists who engage in bomb-making activities are not to be treated differently than those who plant bomb in the name of jehad.
And, fourth the Centre and the State governments have an obligation to produce constitutional innovation in order to cooperate honestly in all professional anti-terror security endeavours, irrespective of their political predilections. The Centre can expect the States’ cooperation only if its leadership is able to justify itself in terms of competence and performance.
Once a consensus is forged on the elements of fight against terror, the citizens, across communities and faiths, will learn to see through the politician’s designs, and only then will we be able to discover ways and means of escaping the small politician’s smallness and the terrorist’s mendacity. Without a national agreement on the larger framework, we shall continue to advance inadvertently the terrorist agenda.
6 months ago