Sunday, July 16, 2006

Foreign hand or domestic? (July 17, 2006)

By Swapan Dasgupta

A week after the outrage, no one can be certain why 200 innocent people had to die horrible deaths on Mumbai’s commuter trains. Initially, some over-zealous (but not entirely dispassionate) reporters posited the theory that last Tuesday’s serial blasts were an act of retribution against the killing of Muslims in the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat four years ago. One newspaper even chose to gleefully broadcast the names of the Gujarati diamond merchants who were killed—as if such a partial list justified the carnage. What a shame no one thought it appropriate to describe the July 11 grenade attacks on tourists in Srinagar as an ant-Bengali act. After all, six of the seven who died were hapless middle-class Bengalis from a Kolkata suburb.

When it comes to suggesting reasons why a clutch of Muslims—I say Muslims because the investigations have short listed the proverbial members of only one community—chose to commit mass murder, no one is entirely sure. Unlike the London Underground bombings last year, where the ringleader helpfully left behind video recordings of his bizarre tirade against the country and society that had nurtured and sustained him, no individual or organisation has tried use the Mumbai killings to broadcast a political message. Is this why some of the ultra-secularists in the Union Cabinet believe the bombings were the handiwork of Hindu extremists in Islamist clothing?

Of course the silence of the jihadis has come in extremely handy for a Congress Party which is understandably nervous of the political fallout. Mumbai, mercifully, did not experience the revenge killings that followed the death of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and the Godhra killings in 2002. However, this exemplary restraint does not imply there will be no political backlash. The UPA Government has quite rightly been accused on nurturing a soft state and creating a lax security environment for armed militants. Under a new but unwritten security doctrine, the energies and resources of the intelligence agencies have been diverted from the war on terrorism to political surveillance. Senior intelligence officers have reported with dismay that under the new Narayanan Doctrine, named, presumably after the National Security Adviser, it is more important to know what political intrigues are being hatched than gauge what jihadis are up to.

The results are there for us to see. The Maoists have successfully overrun Nepal—only the proclamation of victory remains to be issued—while Indian diplomats settled their scores with the King. From being a bunch of beleaguered outlaws, our local Maoists have, in just two years, spread their insurgency over an area where 17 per cent of the population live. More important, the Maoists are understood to have accumulated a war kitty of some Rs 250 crore—which makes them one of the richest “political” organisations in the country. In Assam, the Congress entered into a covert understanding with the ULFA during the Assembly elections. For its political cooperation the ULFA is being rewarded with peace talks.

In an environment where national security is viewed through the prism of electoral politics, it is convenient for the Government to revive the bogey of the “foreign hand”, a euphemism for blaming Pakistan for all acts of terrorism.

Don’t get me wrong. There is undoubtedly a Pakistani connection to almost every act of Islamist terrorism directed at either the West or India. Pakistan remains the conduit for the movement of large sums of money, originating in West Asia, which is funnelled into terrorism. It is also more than likely that the military expertise of the ISI is often put to use in planning terrorist strikes in India.

However, there is a crucial difference between Pakistani facilitation and a direct Pakistani role. The Government is in a state of denial over the fact that the recent acts of terrorism in India—the unsuccessful attacks on Ayodhya and the RSS headquarters and the successful blasts in Varanasi and Mumbai—appear to be the handiwork of home-grown terrorists. We can rightly blame Pakistan for not doing enough to down the facilitation centres in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad but we have to recognise that the attacks would not have been possible unless a section of Indian Muslims were ready unfurl the banner of jihad. It is this treachery that the Government is squeamish about confronting. Blaming everything on Pakistan is a convenient diversion from our own failure to lock up a bunch of crazies and dangerous weirdos and throw the keys into the Arabian Sea.

(Published in DNA, July 17, 2006)

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