Article 3624

Date: 19 Sep 2008


*Terrorism without end 
Government forced to act 
by Inder Malhotra* 

*A*S this newspaper wrote editorially the other day, there has been a "sickening pattern" in relation to terrorism in this country, which, next only to Iraq, is the biggest target of jihadi terrorists. After the latest outrage in the heart of the nation's Capital, the usual ploy of infuriated condemnation of the terrorists, screams that "we will catch them", and tributes to the citizens' "spirit" in not being cowed down was tried again, in the hope that anger would subside soon and everyone would go back to business as usual. 

However, this time around the crass calculations went awry. Nothing illustrates this more vividly than the sudden acceptance by the United Progressive Alliance government of the need for a stringent anti-terror law, a federal agency to combat the scourge and for reforming the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and other bumbling institutions expected to fight terrorism. 
Concrete decisions have yet to be taken, and, as usual, policy makers are confused. 

For instance, the idea of having a Minister of State for Internal Security in the Home Ministry is neither here nor there. When, in the Rajiv Gandhi years Arun Nehru held that position, he ruled the roost and the then Home Minister, Buta Singh, had to defer to him. The late Jagdish Pilot's appointment to the same post subsequently was the wily P.V. Narasimha Rao's way of bypassing Shankerrao Chavan. However, the U-turn government is making, under compulsion of the roused public opinion, is clear enough. This did not happen without cause. 

There was first a storm over Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil's performance or lack of it both within the Congress party and among UPA allies. However, it seems that Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh haven't yet realised that the position at the Home Ministry today of this minister of immaculate attire and inane pronouncements is as untenable 
as Krishna Menon's was at the Ministry of Defence in 1962. Then Delhi's Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, Congress-ruled Maharashtra's Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil and former President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam spoke out vigorously in favour of a stronger anti-terror law. It was senior Congress leader and chairman of the Administrative Reforms Commission Veerappa Moily 
who delivered the coup de grace. He released the commission's report recommending exactly such a comprehensive and stringent law. 

No less important was the big change in the public mood that became manifest in numerous television talk shows. Several speakers in these discussions blamed not only the Congress and the UPA but also the BJP and indeed the entire political class for playing politics even with terror. They had a point. The implacable hatred between the core of the ruling coalition and 
the principal opposition party has become an enemy of national interest. 
Over the last four and a half years the BJP has been taunting the Congress for being "soft" on terrorism because of its "vote bank politics". The Congress has been hitting back that POTA was in full force and L. K. Advani, the saffron party's prime ministerial candidate, was Union Home Minister when terrorists attacked Akshardham, the Red Fort and even Parliament. This 
arid exchange is now out of date. The threat to the country is too serious for cheap gibes. In any case, the Congress is on the back foot though the saffron party continues to be carping in its criticism. 

The most indefensible act of the Central government is not to allow BJP-ruled Gujarat and Rajasthan to have laws identical to the one Maharashtra already has. In a federal parliamentary democracy, states should have the right to legislate on subjects within their province. The provision for President's assent to such laws is sound in principle. Given Gujarat's reprehensible record in matters of communal killings, there need be no 
surprise that the Muslim minority, which is complaining that it is under siege, feels suspicious about the objective of the Gujarat law. If the UPA government shares this apprehension let it refuse Narendra Modi the presidential assent. But the present dog-in-the-manger policy of sitting on the Gujarat Bill for two years without saying aye or nay is unacceptable. 

When the Constitution was framed no one had anticipated the current sway of terrorism. Isn't it time to amend it and put terrorism in the Concurrent List? This would ensure that where a state law is in conflict with the Central one, the latter would prevail. 

Nothing is more scandalous than that India is the only country so heavily menaced by terrorism that has no federal agency to counter it. Chief ministers of BJP-run states (who say that a federal agency would be of no use without a stringent federal law) are not the only ones opposed to the proposed agency. So are such Congress allies as the DMK in Tamil Nadu. The Left Front was still part of the UPA when Chief Ministers of West Bengal and 
Kerala said no to a federal anti-terror agency. 

It also says something about the UPA brand of secularism that two prominent UPA ministers, Laloo Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan, during the 2004 elections, travelled along with an Osama bin Laden look-alike, without inviting a word of remonstrance from Congress leaders. If they were presenting a role model to the minority community they seem to have succeeded though to a limited 
extent only. For, it does seem that the outfit that calls itself the Indian Mujahideen, in vituperative, abusive and sarcastic e-mails, has claimed responsibility for all the recent outrages, draws its recruits from elements in the proscribed Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Some activists of this IM have been arrested in Ahmedabad and Jaipur but no case has yet 
been concluded and some of the arrests made after the Delhi bombings were unnecessary, as the persons detained had to be released hastily. 

Typically, perhaps the most ominous revelation by the Indian Mujahideen has gone largely unnoticed. All through the last six decades Muslims in the rest of India have remained aloof from the activities of Kashmiri separatists and secessionists. The IM has now served notice that it would make the "Kashmiri cause" the cause of "all Muslims". This reminds me that some years ago a retired Director-General of the ISI told the then Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad: "Safeer Sahib, hum Kashmir ko Bharati Musalmano kay liye deen ka masla bana den gae (Mr Ambassador, we will make Kashmir an issue of faith for Indian Muslims)". 

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