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January 4, 2000

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Who will avenge Rupin Katyal?

In the nation's first major brush with international Islamic terrorism -- the Bombay blasts of 1993, the Coimbatore blasts a couple of years later, and the slew of violent incidents across south India are but local variants of the theme -- India has come off poorly.

The denouement, as it was, was inevitable, given the situation surrounding Flight 814. There could have been no other outcome, given the Taleban's refusal to play ball with India over using force to rescue the passengers. The testosterone brigade may not be entirely happy at the way the government was seen to kowtow before the hijackers, and since it is this bunch that got it off the most when the nation went nuclear it must be doubly difficult to reconcile the macho image the mushroom clouds from Pokhran engendered with this docile genuflection.

What this brigade does not see is that once the plane was allowed to leave India, there was little India could do, especially considering that its neighbours do not share its views vis--vis terrorism. Pakistan's eagerness to see the Airbus out of its territory was natural, otherwise international convention demands that it disarm the hijackers, or at least extend all cooperation to India in mounting an armed operation. This, clearly, Pakistan cannot be seen to do, not when its role as the benefactor of Islamic terrorism in the region is wellknown.

Still, two points stand out through the crisis. One, that the world has no single, coordinated response to the scourge of the present, the export of terrorism in the name of Islam. Two, India has allowed the killers of Rupin Katyal go unpunished.

Second point first. The underlying rationale to the nation's response to the hijackers' demand was that the passengers should not be harmed at any cost, which is how it should have been. But having achieved this end, India cannot allow the killers of Rupin Katyal go scot-free. Apprehending them and trying them under law is also out of the question, for even assuming they are handed over by Pakistan to India in a goodwill gesture there is no point in applying norms of civilisation to those who have chosen to go beyond the pale of such norms.

In short, terrorists have no human rights to speak of, and India should make that the cornerstone of its policy, activists who think otherwise be damned. If indeed such a policy had been in existence before the hijack, the terrorists who were bartered away in exchange for the passengers would have not spent such lengthy periods in Indian jails on Indian tax-payers' money. Summary execution for those who wage war against the Indian State is the only way this scourge can be tackled.

The Indian State has been made soft over the years, and the price was paid in Kandahar in terms of national pride and honour; the question is, do we wait for another crisis to show up our soft underbelly yet again?

Given the world's rather global lukewarm response to the Indian predicament on the eight days, it is clear that the world has not woken up to the serious threat the Mullahs pose to civilisation as we know it. Obviously, the recognition has not dawned on the international community about the seriousness of the threat militant Islam poses to nation-states. Today, the discomfiture is India's, yesterday it was the United States's, tomorrow's it could be the world's...

The biggest sufferers, incidentally, from the whole sorry episode are the ordinary Muslims of India, in whose name the terrorists conduct their warfare against India. The cumulative effect of what they have done, is to render Muslims suspect in the eyes of their compatriots. It is a double-whammy for the locals - the non-Muslims will trust them even less than they did before, and a majority of Muslims cannot identify either with the faith or the philosophy of the men who wage war on their behalf.

None of all this, anyway, helps Rupin Katyal's family. It is true that Katyal was killed by the hijackers, and a lot of reasons are trotted out over why. The most popular one seems to be that Katyal was killed for violating the hijackers' code of conduct by looking them in the eye. However, the real reason why he was killed, seems to be because of the bungling at Amritsar. Following the knee-jerk reactions, the hijackers killed Katyal to send the message that they were serious about taking off for safer climes.

To me, then, it seems that those responsible for this gauche, yet deadly, game are the ones who caused Katyal's death, and since the government has more or less admitted that it lacks the wherewithal to bring the hijackers to book, the least it can do is pinpoint responsibility for the failure at various levels of the administration.

Historically, India was laid low because of collusion between quislings and the invader. Centuries later, the hijack drama has showed that the real threat India faces is from within.

Saisuresh Sivaswamy

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