Internal Security

via Shekar Gupte - The Indian Express published on September 16, 2008

For nearly five years now
the world media had been celebrating India’s rise. From the state of its
stock market to its demographic advantage,
from the strength and depth of its democracy to the vast reservoir of talent
that flourished in its diversity, it
was as if the world could see nothing wrong with India. There are now signs that
some of that is changing.

And no, it is not just because of those thousand-rupee
bundles displayed in the Lok Sabha. It is because of something much more
serious, in fact a failure so
serious it could, by itself, lose the UPA the next election. These four and
half years are the worst in India’s
history of fighting terrorism. Surely somebody in the UPA will bring out
statistics to show that overall deaths were more in some other regime’s five
years.
But this is not just about numbers. It is a
spectacular four and a half years of mayhem when not one terrorist has been
caught, not one major case solved.
Even by the modest standards that Shivraj Patil‘s home ministry may have set
for itself, this is a spectacularly
disastrous record.

The world press, if anything,
has been late in catching this. Last week,
Somini Sengupta of The New York Times quoted a stunning fact from a report of
the Washington-based National Counter-Terrorism Centre.It said, between January 2004 and March 2007, India
had lost 3,674 lives to terrorism, second only to Iraq.
And we can’t even claim that this is happening
because some imperialist occupation army is running amok here. In fact that
number, by now,
must have crossed 5,000. If this notion
spreads globally, it would do more
to damage India’s
image as an oasis of democratic stability,
pacifism and economic growth than any twists in its politics, or even a half-decade reform holiday.

So far the UPA government
has had one standard response: compare this with the record under the NDA: Kandahar hijack, Parliament attack,
Akshardham. But there is a short use-by date on these arguments. You cannot
take them into your next election campaign. Soon enough,
the memory of those incidents would have faded,
been replaced by new ones: Ahmedabad,
Jaipur, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kabul, Mumbai trains,
Samjhauta Express and so on. And then the unchecked Naxalite attacks.

Most amazing is the sense
of cool with which this government,
particularly its home ministry, has
responded to these losses. While they can pretend that Naxalite strikes are
some sinister happenings in places that are out of sight,
out of mind, somebody — most likely
the voter — will soon remind them that,
while those managing internal security may not care for the lives of policemen
in faraway states, never in the
history of insurgencies have we suffered casualties like these. In fact, if you go over our five-decade history of
insurgencies, the 38 lives lost in
the Naxalite attack on the police boat were perhaps the second-largest loss of
life by security forces in a day in internal security operations
after only the
army’s casualties on the night of Operation Bluestar. It is rare for
security
forces to suffer double-digit casualties in insurgencies. Even during
the 
conflict it was a rare day’s fighting on which the army lost so many
lives, against an entrenched foreign army. The two most
striking things here have been the equanimity — frankly,
cynical and sometimes sanctimonious indifference — with which this
security
establishment has treated
it.                                                                                                                                                             


The
talk
of Naxalism in a week when two of our most important cities saw
serial-bombings and a third had 23 unexploded bombs recovered, is not a
digression. It underlines the unmoving, thick-skinned,
incompetent and pusillanimous response to terror from this government.
What is
worse, it is even politically
loaded. And while, ultimately, the UPA may be made to pay for it
electorally, too many lives are being lost meanwhile, and too much
damage is being done to India’s image.
The government cannot ride out an entire five years claiming that their
predecessors’
record was worse.

Soon enough people will
also start reminding them that the NDA’s six years coincided with a state of
near-war with Pakistan, when ISI support to terror in India was unabashed and comprehensive and when
an active proxy war was on in Kashmir. It is
the four years of relative peace with Pakistan that make the UPA’s
failure even more striking.

Over the past year or so
we have all got focussed on what we saw as the communalisation of our foreign
policy: don’t vote against Iran at the IAEA because our own Shias would get
upset, don’t sign the nuclear deal
with Bush as that will irritate all our own Muslims,
conduct your relations with Israel by stealth for the same reason, even stop the two missile development projects
with them, no matter how badly your
armies may need them. Last week we saw the prime minister fight back on this, and successfully too. But can he do the same with
internal security?

The odds are steeper
because that issue was communalised first. It began with the last election
campaign and the composition of this alliance. There may have been a sound case
against POTA because it was misused,
but both in public discourse and political action its repeal was made to look
like a favour to the Muslims. Then,
the same “communalised” politics interfered in police investigations
following the serial blasts in Mumbai trains and Hyderabad. Ask senior police officers there — even Congress chief
ministers
if they’d dare to speak the truth — and they will tell you how they
pulled away in fright, under
pressure from the Centre for targeting and upsetting Muslims (voters) in their
investigations
. This
proceeded neatly alongside the utterly communalised discourse on the Afzal Guru
hanging issue.

Each time this government
and its intellectual storm-troopers proffered the minority argument in support
of this soft policy, it emboldened
the terrorists. They figured they were dealing with a political leadership
which had already committed a self-goal by equating counter-terror with Muslim alienation
and which had, in the process,
totally demoralised its intelligence agencies and police forces.


And
if it is not guilty of communalising our internal security policy, how does it explain sitting on special anti-terror
laws in all BJP-run states when exactly similar ones have been passed for the
Congress states?



Now you can say special laws are good or bad,
but they must be equally so for all citizens in all states. If these laws are
good, or necessary, then citizens in BJP-run states have as much need
— and right — to get their protection as those in the Congress states.



Unless
the message is: you want protection,
you better vote for us. You vote for others,
you are on your own.


It is not going to work. It is morally wrongand politically suicidal.
Protecting the citizens’ life is the first responsibility of any government.
Surely no government can ensure no terror attack would ever happen. But it has
to be seen to be trying, fighting, and being even-handed. This government fails on all three counts
so far, no matter how nicely ironed
its chief-spokesman’s bandh-galas,
how neatly combed his hair
.  If the prime minister does not fix this in time, his party will be asked really tough questions in
the next election.
   



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