Tarun Reflex

September 21, 2008

How not to go soft on terror | Meghnad Desai

India is weak on fighting terror. That much has been obvious, not just during the week or the month, but for 10 years and more. The reason for this is neither the nature of the legislation—POTA or not—nor the administrative set-up, nor yet the personnel, though having had two incompetent Home Ministers, Advani and now Patil, cannot have helped.

India cannot fight Terror because it does not know what is under attack and what needs defending. Terrorists attack the fundamentals of a nation, but the leaders are disagreed on what the nation is. Like the blind men and the elephant, each side takes one piece and ignores the rest. Partisan bitterness about SIMI or the Bajrang Dal is really about who is an Indian who needs the protection of the State.

For the Secular Fundamentalist, Muslims can do no wrong and any crime that implicates any Muslim has to be due to the bias on the part of the security services. Thus the two Yadavs and Paswan oppose any ban on SIMI. When a terror attack happens, the media throttle their voices rather than say ‘Muslims’. It is always ‘the minority’, as if India has only one. This is the guilt complex dating back to the Partition, which the  Congress signed up to, and has been in denial about it since. So Muslims get patronised and neglected at the same time. The Sachar Report indicts 60 years of maltreatment of Muslims by secular governments and non-secular ones. Rather than do anything about the needs of Muslims, all we get is iftar parties.

A first step towards an effective anti-terror policy is to admit that while not all Muslims are terrorists, some are and they have to be treated as criminals by all parties, secular or not.

The Sanatanist Fundamentalist is in denial about the right of non-Hindus to be equal citizens of India. The much-paraded Hindu tolerance means, for them, the elimination of all non-Hindu citizens. The BJP lacks the courage to denounce and disown its parivar. The shameful haste with which the new BJP government in Karnataka unleashed ethnic cleansing on Christians is a scandal with not a murmur of protest from the lauh purush. There would be a ban on the Bajrang Dal if the BJP were a truly national party.

A second step towards an effective anti-terror policy is for the BJP to say openly that Hindus have to live with all other minorities on the basis of equality and legality and mean it.

But there is also the Class Fundamentalist. The Naxalite attacks on many districts of India are being dealt with in a weak fashion because the Left within the Congress and outside, which overlaps a lot with the secular fundamentalists, believes that the Naxal attack is justified—something about semi-feudal/semi-bourgeois, imperialist India which they want overthrown. They wish bourgeois democracy were not there so they could have a utopia. Thus the Left will not denounce Naxal violence with half the passion they denounce 123 with.

A third step towards an effective anti-terror policy is for the Left to say openly that it is against all extra-judicial killing and guerrilla warfare regardless of the colour of the gangsters’ flag.

India needs to affirm the Rule of Law without fear or favour to any minority or majority. It needs to deal with the crimes of terrorists, whether Islamist, Sanatanist or Maoist. Criminals have to be brought to book without regard to religion, region, gender or age. India needs an all-party consensus on what is being defended against terrorist attack.

But there also needs to be a keen awareness to rights, yes, even of terrorists. There is too much presumption of guilt in police statements and media harangues. As much as one side refuses to attribute guilt to a Muslim or a Hindu, the other side rushes to cast the first stone. India allows drugging of suspects—narco-testing—violating fundamental rights. Even after 40 years of terrorism, if Britain can have human rights awareness in Parliament and outside, India can and should have it too.

Column By Meghnad Desai

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