7/19/06

The onus is on the secularist

. 7/19/06

The terrorist can be isolated only if the community is mobilised. That can happen only when our political leaders give up their habits and strategies of dividing communities.

It is unwise to want to set our house on fire for the sake of Iraq or the United States or China or Iran or any other country. We trust the elected leaders to take decisions in our national interests; it would be a sad day for this country if a section of political opinion will prefer the word of a foreign leader over that of the Prime Minister of India.

THE COUNTRY is very much ill at ease. To be precise, there is Hindu anger and Muslim apprehension. The Hindu anger is predicated on a perception that the fractured polity and our self-absorbed leaders will never permit a cohesive and effective response to professional terror-mongers; the Muslim apprehension stems from a fear that the entire community would be made to pay for the polity's failure to move decisively against those who traffic in violence and mayhem. The average citizen has suddenly come to doubt the political system's competence or capacity to make India secure against determined death merchants. The onus is clearly on the secular leadership to understand and respond to the post-Mumbai-blasts mood in the country.

It must be understood that the communal forces thrived — and ultimately captured the Indian state during the National Democratic Alliance regime — because throughout the 1980s and the 1990s anti-social elements and practices were allowed to go unnoticed and unpunished, all in the name of some esoteric notion of secular correctness. The Bharatiya Janata Party began wooing the middle classes by promising that if voted to power it would bring into play the requisite competence, imagination, and steely will to cleanse the body polity of those practices and pretensions that allow anti-national forces to cynically use religion to claim an immunity and then use this immunity for disruptive purposes, mostly at the behest of this or that inimical foreign power. The middle classes twice — in 1998 and 1999 — gave the BJP the benefit of the doubt, but alas the party had neither the calibre nor the wisdom to use the vast resources of the Indian state to make the country a safe place. On the contrary, after "9/11" and starting with Gujarat 2002, it began introducing the grammar of a civil war, further compounding the Indian society's divisiveness, rendering it far more vulnerable to manipulation from unhelpful elements, at home and abroad.

In May 2004, the people of India voted the NDA out of office because they did not approve of the way the BJP was going about making India a secure place to live. Perhaps the people thought that the non-BJP leaders and forces knew how to make the country impregnable to the terrorists' inroads. However, if the official word is to be believed the terror networks have now managed to secure considerable local support. The problem is no longer confined to Jammu and Kashmir; it has spread to the "mainland." The burden, then, is on the United Progressive Alliance and the rest of the secular leadership to prove to the country that they have a different, more effective, and more morally acceptable approach in dealing with those who create conditions for terror vendors to practise their deadly craft.

Post-Mumbai India is unlikely to appreciate any talk of victimhood. Instead, the country wants to be reassured that there is a government in New Delhi that will go after all those who plan and execute terrorist violence. Nor is the country in a mood to countenance those "secular" leaders and political parties which remain indifferent to the active presence of the anti-social and anti-national forces. The challenge before the democratic and the progressive elements in our polity is to ensure that such calculations do not gain the stamp of secular respectability.

It is a matter of gratification that any number of sober and sensible voices within the Muslim community have spoken up unambiguously against the terrorists and their trade. Like all other sections of our society, the Muslims too have a stake in a peaceful and secure India, and want to be partners in the new national prosperity. The Muslims no longer have any use for those "secular" politicians and formations that thrive by instilling a sense of insecurity or those who forever are inventing excuses for the perfidies of the fundamentalist elements, thereby slowing down genuine reconciliation.

While the country needs to remain ever alert and alive to the cynical designs of the Sangh Parivar in wanting to exploit the Mumbai blasts tragedy for political purposes and for generating communal enmities, the answer to the BJP stratagem can only be to re-devise our internal political competition so as to eliminate the scope for external manipulation of internal fault-lines. As could be predicted, the BJP has already taken to chanting the POTA hymn. Its shrill demand for the revival of the Prevention of Terrorism Act is unwise and unworkable, but the country would need to be convinced that there are more effective alternatives and that the secular crowd is not averse to putting in place a structure of efficacious deterrence, with new determination and imagination. Irrespective of the Sangh Parivar's warped priorities, we owe it to ourselves to ensure that those who provide local support, shelter, finances, and weapons for terror vendors are dealt with mercilessly. We can no longer delay pruning the administrative practices, legal procedure and political calculations that come in the way of dealing with terror's paraphernalia.

To begin with, the security forces will need to be encouraged to go about their job in a professional and an uninhibited manner, especially in the area of counter-intelligence operations. It means that while the security forces — Central and of the States — must necessarily be disabused of the notion that a trigger-happy itch to stage "encounters" ipso facto helps win the war against terror, secular practices and pretensions should not become an obstacle in genuine anti-terror police work. It needs to be recognised that there would be occasional lapses from fair and firm police work and, there may be even an occasional case of human rights violation, but such unintentional deviation would not be allowed to be exploited by the devious outsider. Well-meaning democratic protest and concern for civil liberties have to reconcile with the immensely problematic fight against terror. Above all, we need to enlist communities in the fight against terror; it is not a matter to be sorted out between the terrorist and the policeman. The terrorist can be isolated only if the community is mobilised and that can happen only when our political leaders give up their habits and strategies of dividing communities.

Pooling resources
If anything, the Mumbai tragedy could be used to build a national consensus on integrating police forces across the nation; there can be no meaningful pooling of resources, skills, information, intelligence, and experience as long as the States remain unwilling to give up some control over their policemen. During his six years at North Block, L.K. Advani tried many a time to get the States to agree to a centralised police force. The effort did not yield any result partly because there were reservations about the Union Home Minister's intentions. The time has come for the political leadership to dissolve such distrust.

Then, there has to be an "India first" approach in the debate and contention over conduct of foreign policy. Simply put, it means that the outsiders cannot be allowed the space or the opportunity to meddle in our internal disputes. It is unwise to want to set our house on fire for the sake of Iraq or the United States or China or Iran or any other country. We trust the elected leaders to take decisions in our national interests; it would be a sad day for this country if a section of political opinion will prefer the word of a foreign leader over that of the Prime Minister of India. Conduct of foreign policy cannot be sought to be manipulated by the outsider, calibrating our domestic disputes. We can and do have global concerns, sentiments, and sympathies, but as a mature nation we have to remain alive to the possibility of cold-blooded external agencies infiltrating causes, movements, and parties. The outsider, however well-meaning and however trustworthy a traditional ally, has no abiding interest in our inclusiveness or democratic resilience.

Above all, secular politics needs to ensure that we dry up emotions, arguments, and grievances that create internal fault-lines that provide the business for the terror scouts. For instance, a section of the media is going out of its way to prescribe the Narendra Modi formula for making India secure, without even wanting to understand that Mumbai had to pay for Gujarat 2002. The most immediate challenge before the secular elements is to roll back the allurement of the Narendra Modi prescription. This will be possible only if the leaders in the Congress and the Manmohan Singh Government are able to assure the nation that they know what it takes.





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