Politics of terrorism

Published February 19, 2010

Firefighters examine the site of a bomb blast at the German Bakery restaurant in Pune. —Reuters
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A couple of years ago when President Bush visited New Delhi he pointed towards Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to say that here was a person who had no Taliban in his country.

This was not really true even at that time. The then security advisor, M.K. Narayanan, said that he had his fingers crossed because the terrorists could strike anywhere, at any time.

Yet what was apparent was that the terrorists came from outside and that India had no sleeper cells inside. At least, that was the impression. A bomb blast in Pune a few days ago, has confirmed that Indian sleeper cells are very much there. They call themselves the Indian Mujahideen to distinguish themselves from militants in Pakistan.

I suspect that New Delhi knew about their presence even when the terrorists attacked Mumbai in November 2008. But the government considered it prudent not to mention them as all guns were trained on Pakistan. Islamabad was embarrassed over the disclosure that some of the terrorists involved in the carnage were operators from its soil. However, Islamabad pressed New Delhi for information on local sleeper cells but got no reply despite reminders.

The Pune blast has made New Delhi change its earlier policy. It has now admitted that sleeper cells are present in every big city in the country. New Delhi may be correct in its assessment that the Lashkar-i-Taiba is guiding the Indian Mujahideen from across the border. But it is quite possible that they have their own leaders to instruct them from within the country. There is also the involvement of David Headley, a US national, whom India is trying to interview but Washington is not allowing it to.

New Delhi deflects attention from terrorism when it brings in Pakistan straightaway although it was cautious at the time of the Pune blast. People get involved in anti-Pakistan rhetoric and lose all perspective.

The real problem we face is the growth of terrorism on our side. It is fundamentalism which is spreading. The youth are being brainwashed by the extremists. That Pakistan is drowned in terrorism is a cause of concern because militancy is bound to flow into India. Had the two countries joined hands to fight against it, people on both sides would have heaved a sigh of relief. But mistrust came in the way.

Most Indians are convinced that Pakistan is involved in the latest blast. But it appears that the Indian government now wants concrete evidence before blaming Pakistan.

More worrisome are the Hindu extremists rearing their head. The murder of police officer Hemant Karkare, who was probing the Malegaon blasts, was the doing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or Bajrang Dal. Such instances may tell upon our pluralistic polity. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may not be siding with the communal organisations openly. But the overall control of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) on these groups endangers our secular ethos.

After the Pune blast, I thought the consideration of peace and harmony would bring all parties together on one platform. Unfortunately, the BJP was the first one to politicise the blast. It picked on the government for not doing enough to make people feel safe. No doubt, the government should be doing more to combat terrorism. But this does not mean that the party should withhold its cooperation from the government. The danger posed is not to the Congress party alone, but to the people in general.

The BJP should have learnt a lesson from the manner in which the entire nation stood behind actor Shah Rukh Khan, a Muslim. The Shiv Sena, a Hindu outfit, had to make an ignoble retreat. And the issue was Shah Rukh Khan's criticism of the Indian Premier League for not having allowed Pakistan cricketers to participate in the T20 games.

Terrorism endangers the entire region. Talks on the subject have to be prioritised. Yet there is no bar on any party to raise any other subject. But the point here is that whenever talks between India and Pakistan are to be held, the BJP reiterates its one-agenda stance anti-Pakistan.

As coincidence has it, the terrorists struck Pune just before the talks. During the days of Atal Behari Vajpayee, the BJP hawks were reined in by his foresight to reach an understanding with Pakistan. After his electoral defeat, the RSS voiced its aggressiveness through the BJP. Its session at Indore shows that. The hostility towards Pakistan was open. If the talks are not a way to sort out things, then should India take to arms?

They have behind them the support of a widely watched television channel which talks about 'aman' but spews venom on Pakistan. This also goes for Indian and Pakistani ex-bureaucrats who have suddenly become Track II. They are the ones who are responsible for embittered India-Pakistan ties.

When I was travelling with then Prime Minister Vajpayee by bus to Lahore he called me before we reached the border. He showed me an urgent message about the killing of 11 Hindus in the Jammu region. He said some people, even in his own party, would criticise him for going ahead with the visit despite the killings. Yet he completed his mission and accepted a time-bound agreement. It was obvious to him that what happened in the Jammu region was meant to derail the talks even before they were firmly on track.

The Pune blast was a similar effort. New Delhi said rightly within an hour of the blast that it would not display a knee-jerk reaction and did not cancel the talks. The important lesson to learn from the Pune blast is to continue talking, whether the meeting of the foreign secretaries is a success or not. There is no option to a dialogue. America and the Soviet Union kept on talking throughout the Cold War. Both India and Pakistan should tear a leaf from their book.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi.

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