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Home > India > News > Columnists > Harsh V Pant

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A letter to the prime minister

December 04, 2008

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Dear Mr Prime Minister,

I write to you as the term terrorism takes on a whole new meaning for the Indians. In some ways, terrorism has shaped the collective consciousness of us all since as long as we can remember. But in the hurly-burly of India's emergence as a major economic power, the fact that India remains a patently insecure nation somehow got relegated to the background. The middle-classes started believing in their own invincibility as if all they needed was 8 percent rates of economic growth and the future of the country would take care of itself. Even when bombs after bombs were being exploded in city after city, we continued to live in the fantasy-world of our own making, first blaming the outside forces and then training guns at ourselves. It became a Hindu versus Muslim debate: whose terrorists were better, mine or yours?

And today when our soldiers and security personnel had to wage a war in their own homeland, we look askance, unable to comprehend how we could have been so na�ve, how we could not have realised that when we don't take the fight to the enemies, they bring the fight to us. It was Trotsky who said: "You may not be interested in war but war is interested in you." After all, India has been facing a sustained terror offensive of unprecedented lethality for some time now. And unlike the West that has the luxury of fighting the wars of choice, we are now fighting a war of national survival. And Mr Prime Minister, with due respect, you are to be blamed for this. The buck stops with you, not with your home minister, not with your party leader, but with you.

In your address to the nation, you are now suggesting that you "will go after these individuals and organisations and make sure that every perpetrator, organiser and supporter of terror, whatever his affiliation or religion may be, pays a heavy price." Where were you these past four and a half years? Where was your government when incident after incident pointed to a larger, much bigger operation to come? Now you tell us that you will "take up strongly with our neighbours that the use of their territory for launching attacks" will not be tolerated and that "there will be a cost if suitable measures are not taken by them." Why did it take you the very end of your government's tenure to come to this conclusion? Shouldn't it have been your government's first priority given that the parlous state of India's neighbourhood? Did it have to be such a nightmare in Mumbai for your government to set up a Federal Investigation Agency and strengthen the National Security Act? The way your government has operated in the last four years verges on the criminal, in so far as the neglect of the safety and security of its citizens is concerned, a task that ought to be the first priority of any government.

To be fair, the issue does go beyond you. National security issues should transcend politics but the lack of civil dialogue among political parties in India is an abomination. As a result, Indians are stuck between the grave incompetence of your government and the cynical political opportunism of the BJP.

An issue that should have united political parties across the political spectrum in a common purpose continues to divide them. But again, it was your responsibility as the prime minister to at least try to evolve a consensus. You didn't and you now seem to have landed yourself in a situation where you are now trusted neither by the minority communities nor by the majority community. The simple task of enforcing the rule of law has often seemed to be beyond the competence of your government, allowing extremists to take over the broader discourse on national security.

The nation's security forces are facing a new unconventional enemy and they are tying their best. You have rightly saluted the courage and patriotism of the police officers who are relentlessly fighting these terrorists, exemplified by the ultimate sacrifice of people like Hemant Karkare [Images]. However, your government's inability and/or unwillingness to face up to the security threat and counter it firmly might end up making such sacrifices meaningless. Throughout your tenure, it was never clear if internal security was ever a priority. Your former home minister, Shivraj Patil's [Images], incompetence is now legendary and he will surely go down in history as the worst of his kind. But your decision to firmly stand behind him for so long remains incomprehensible even to your staunch admirers. It merely reinforced a perception that you don't care about accountability, that even if ordinary Indian were getting killed in attacks after attacks what you cared was more about the politics of keeping Patil in office than about his effectiveness in providing security to your countrymen and women. It may sound a very harsh assessment but Mr Prime Minister it seemed thus from the outside.

Your anti-terror stance, for you don't seem to have a policy worth the name, has been repeatedly shown to be ineffective. Not only do the terrorists continue to attack the nation at regular intervals with impunity, not a single major terrorist case has been solved under your stewardship. At a time when India needs effective institutional capacity to fight the ever-more sophisticated terror networks, Indian police and intelligence services are demoralized to an unprecedented extent. The blatant communalising of the process under which the security forces were forced to call off searches and interrogations for fear of offending this or that community has led to a situation where the security services have become risk-averse.

The people of India need to feel that their security is in more competent hands. The trouble with your government is that not only is it not actually fighting terrorism, it is not even seen to be trying to fight. The nation needs a political environment where political parties can see beyond their immediate electoral gains and losses. True, this is easier said than done but you of all politicians were uniquely placed to usher in such an environment. The fact that you did not even try makes one wholly despondent about the future of Indian polity. Your government's inability to stand up to those who question the legitimacy of the Indian state will cost the nation dear. Today, the legitimacy of the Indian state is being questioned not merely by groups on the margins of Indian society and polity but by the mainstream political parties. Several members of your party launched a whisper campaign questioning the veracity of the police claims in the Jamia Nagar encounter with terrorists. You should have taken the lead in burying the conspiracy theories surrounding it. You didn't and when the BJP is now questioning the arrests of Sadhvi Pragya [Images] and Srikant Purohit, you have little moral capital left to take the Hindu extremists head-on.

So long as India's response to terrorism will be characterised by a shameless appeal along religious lines with political parties trying to consolidate their vote-banks as opposed to coming together to fight the menace, we will continue to be viewed as a soft target by our adversaries and we will continue to fight terrorists in our streets. You will be ending your tenure in a few months from now but the damage that your government has done to the Indian internal security will remain with us forever. The fact that your predecessor's record was equally pathetic is no excuse. One can only hope that the next government will learn right lessons from your failure. Otherwise, the very idea of India is in danger of becoming just a fond memory.

One of your constituents


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