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Blood, Sweat and Anger

What stands out most in the aftermath of the July 11 serial bomb attacks in Mumbai has been the people’s response, their capacity for autonomous action, for cooperation, their great resilience, but also their rising anger against terrorists and against the political incapacity to frame a coherent response to this excrescence.

We have heard, over the past days, much said about the “cowardly attacks” by terrorists. The truth is, India’s political leaders, hiding behind their improvised phrases, are no less cowardly than terrorists who hide behind their improvised explosive devices.

Other civilised countries and communities have made the fight against terror an article of faith, where the political establishment has risen above petty and partisan politics, giving priority to the fate of the innocent and vulnerable. The intelligentsia and the administration in these societies, while committed to fundamental values of democracy, have recognised the grave threat to civilisation that terrorism constitutes, and have adequately empowered the executive, intelligence and enforcement agencies to deal with the challenge.

There is little evidence that the ruling and ‘intellectual’ classes in India will do this in the foreseeable future. The Indian political perspective and agenda on terrorism remain unalterably muddled. For those who are hoping that the sheer enormity of the Mumbai attacks will shake the establishment out of its complacence, it is sobering to reflect that an even larger attack occurred in Mumbai as far back as in 1993; that there have been thousands of other attacks across the country; that more than 40,000 people have been killed in J&K alone; and that this is yet to secure even a minimal political consensus on counter-terrorism legislation and policy.

There is evidence, however, that the people’s response to terrorism in India has become far more emphatic in its rejection than was the case a few years ago despite the ambivalence and sophistry of the intellectual community, the ‘vote bank’ opportunism of political parties, and the interminable paralysis of the criminal justice system.

There is a new confidence and resolve exhibited by common people today, whether it is in Mumbai, in J&K, in the Northeast, or in areas afflicted by the thuggery of Maoism. Exasperated by the succession of grenade attacks in Srinagar over the past two months, an angry crowd chased and apprehended a man running away after executing such an attack on July 11.

This passion needs to be harnessed, mobilised, channelled. In the latter phases of the counter-terrorism campaign in Punjab, extraordinary efforts by the enforcement agencies, particularly the Punjab Police, helped motivate people to resist and eventually utterly defeat the terrorists.

This power of public sentiment and mobilisation is a great force, and in a democracy it should have found immediate and natural expression in the policies and practices of the state and of its political leadership. That this has failed to happen in India is evidence to the utter corruption, immorality and isolation of the country’s ruling classes, as collusion with terrorist and extremist groups, apologetics for terrorism, political protection to terrorists and their front organisations, and electoral alliances with terrorists and extremists, remain quotidian facts of the national political culture.

On rare occasions, political leaderships in some states have risen above partisan politics and opportunism to forge the necessary consensus to act firmly against terrorism. This happened — briefly, but for a sufficient duration to defeat the Khalistani terror — in Punjab. All political parties — the Congress, the BJP, and the Communists; the Akalis striken to silence by their fear — came together to stand up against terrorism. Something comparable is now happening in Chhattisgarh. People are coming together to support action against the Naxalites. Initial signs of such movements are also visible in communities in Northeast and J&K as well.

India has a centuries-old tradition of cowardice and betrayal in its ruling classes, and it is futile to invest hope in their sudden enlightenment and determination. It is in the people of India that hope for the nation’s future resides, and these people must now evolve the mechanisms that will force a craven political leadership to translate their will and their mandate against terrorism into policy, and to punish, at every possible electoral opportunity, the parties that jeopardise the security of citizens and the nation’s future through their acts of collusion, of opportunism, of prevarication, and of mendacity on the consuming scourge of terrorism.

(Published inDaily News and Analysis, Mumbai, July 13, 2006)





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