Hairsplitting on terror

The increased frequency of terror attacks has exposed the vulnerability of the Indian state. The terrorists can strike at will, kill at will, and choose the time and venue of their attack. The Indian people feel helpless, insecure and angry. And yet my good friend Kapil Sibal has the audacity to argue that statistics show this government is not 'soft' in responding to terror. His argument is that stiff bail provisions and admissibility of confessions with requisite safeguards will violate the rule of law and be unreasonable.

The truth is that harsh bail provisions and admissibility of confessions exist in laws against 'organised crime' and drug peddlers. The UPA is comfortable with these laws but wants an easier regime for insurgents. Why should there be easy bail provisions against terrorists? If the provisions are misused, judicial review is always available. Terrorist crimes are not planned in public gaze. The fidayeen either get killed on the spot or manage to escape. The identity of the conspirators, the role played by each of them, will normally have no eyewitnesses. It is only insiders who can depose to these facts.

An argument is frequently made that an anti-terror law did not stop attacks on Parliament or Akshardham. An anti-terror law is not a substitute for preventive intelligence or effective policing. It only provides for effective investigation and trial. It enables the state to punish a terrorist. It is for this reason that the guilty in the Parliament attack case or the Akshardham case were punished.

The nation expects to government to assess the enormity of the menace that terrorism today is. We do not expect the government to plead technicalities to shrug off any responsibilities. Pretexts are not a substitute for action. There are several fundamental changes which have taken place in the nature of terrorism in India and the approach of the Indian society towards terror.

First, those involved in acts of terror are no longer the socially oppressed and victims of injustice where frustration has misled them into crimes of terror. They are educated young men from comparatively affluent backgrounds. The involvement of medical professionals, technology-savvy and educated, is a cause of concern.

Second, we are no longer in the age where terrorism in India is exclusively prompted by cross-border forces. A large number of terrorists are homegrown, indoctrinated by religion into acts of terror.

Third, an attempt by a section of the media particularly television channels to find faults with the investigation create a halo of martyrdom about those who commit these crimes against the society. The day the Gujarat police picked up Abu Bashir from Azamgarh, media reports indicated an 'aura of martyrdom'. After the Delhi blasts, Azamgarh became the 'nerve centre of terror'.

Fourth, every terrorist organisation carries with it its own edition of a human rights organisation. Human rights have a valuable place in a Republican constitution. Even in times of terrorism, human rights have their place. But a section of these organisations have become the over-ground face of the under-ground, bringing a bad name to the human rights. Some of these are admittedly funded from outside the country and are donor-driven.

Fifth, a special effort is made to discredit the army, security forces, and local investigations in an attempt to project the terrorists as victims of police misadventures.

Sixth, an aura of victimhood is sought to be built up around the terrorist. If he is either arrested or killed in an encounter, grieving women relatives will vouch for his innocence even though there exists overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Seventh, arguments are rendered to develop a perceptional equality between the terrorist and persons belonging to other religions and communities. The separatists in Kashmir were equated with the Amarnath Shrine Sangharsh Samiti, an organisation which held the national flag close to its heart and chanted 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' during the protests. Similarly, it is said that if you ban the subversive SIMI, you must also ban RSS and allied organisations. There can be no moral or political equivalence between a subversive and a nationalist.

Eighth, the response of the state has been weak and timid. The government has sought to link the battle against terror not with security considerations but entirely with vote bank considerations. The repeal of POTA, the refusal to give Central assent to state laws, the withholding of the death sentence to the man guilty of attacking Parliament, the encouragement of illegal infiltration from Bangladesh are only illustrative examples.

Ninth, national discomfort is the highest because of an ideological shift in the Congress Party's position. The Muslim League and the Communists traditionally took an extreme position which did not privilege national interest. The Jana Sangh/BJP propounded the cause of aggressive nationalism. Historically, the Congress occupied the centre-stage where it tried to correlate its own brand of secularism with nationalism. In the last two decades, India has witnessed a series of mainstream politicians such as V.P. Singh, Mulayam, Lalu Prasad, and even Arjun Singh who attempted to redefine secularism as a euphemism for majority bashing. Historically, this was never the Congress position. In fact, Indira Gandhi at times overtook the Jana Sangh/BJP in her aggressive nationalism. But the Congress under Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh is primarily concerned with continuity in power and an alliance with those whose political compulsions are decided by vote banks. As such the alliance can comprise of those who are SIMI friendly. The Congress today finds itself in a chakravyuh. If it continues its soft-on-terror 'policy' it loses national support, if it is hard on terror it loses out on the vote bank it has tried to create in the past few years. Either way it is a no-win situation.

Tenth, the only silver lining appears to be that the world today is no longer willing to accept any excuses 9/11 has altered the global vision on terrorism and any terrorist attempt to internationalise any issue with the support of terror will fail. Faced with these obvious contradictions, the Congress and the government are only contributing to the confusion. Each spokesperson says something different. Rahul Gandhi has now said that POTA is a failed law, but India must have a strong anti-terror law. Will he educate the nation with regards to the changes that he has in mind?

The writer is the BJP general secretary

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