They were not only preening on their ability to rain death and destruction at places and timings of their choosing, but even dared the Indian State to stop them if it could. And it couldn't. It does not even know any more than you and me about the Indian Mujahideen!
By their precisely planned deadly series of attacks beginning in Uttar Pradesh last November (for which also the Indian Mujahideen had claimed responsibility by e-mail), Jaipur in May and two months later in Bengaluru and Ahmedabad, the Islamist desperadoes have not only exposed the helplessness of the Indian State, but also made clear their determination and capabilities to strike at will in future as well.
The emergence of the Indian Mujahideen as a new terrorist menace on the scene can be said to be the gravest development yet insofar as India is concerned. It means that the incubus of jihadi terrorism has established itself right in our midst. Which means intelligence-gathering and security precautions will have to be intensified in as many as 240 (out of 593) districts which have a significant Muslim population of at least 10 per cent and above.
Saying this is not to imply that all Muslims are going to be infected by the new incubus but to give an idea of the scale and magnitude of the potential breeding ground of elements which could exploit any real or fancied discontent for expanding their nefarious influence. Against this background, the question whether the so-called Indian Mujahideen is home-grown or is composed of traitorous groups inspired, instigated and funded by the Inter-Services Intelligence, Jaish e Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Tayiba, Al Qaeda, or any other terrorist organisation becomes largely academic.
Without doubt, the intelligence, security, investigation and law and order dimensions of the problem fall squarely within the sphere of responsibility of the central and state governments. Indeed, they would be betraying the trust people have reposed in them if they are slack in taking preventive or punitive action and get swayed by any considerations other than that of national security.
In particular, the central government should not be content, every time such carnage occurs (and it threatens to occur with increasing frequency and intensity), with merely issuing identically phrased statements of condemnation on the one side and on the other, hortatory homilies to the states to be on the alert and to tighten security measures against any recurrence. Nor should it think it sufficient to forward to state governments warnings from the intelligence agencies couched in vague generalities, with no specifics as regards time, place, mode and origin.
In popular mind, the Centre has been remiss in not addressing certain core issues which have a vital bearing on the fight against terrorism in the Indian context. The first is in respect of buttressing the legal and institutional framework, before the jihadis within get away with a catastrophic strike of horrendous proportions. In a country of India's diversity, the government should proceed on the assumption that anything is possible and take absolutely no chances.
Unfortunately, the Centre continues to resist sound advice for enacting a law similar to the ones that the mother of democracies (the UK) and the most open society (the US) have already put on their statute books. Even Jawaharlal Nehru, whose libertarian credentials cannot be questioned, got Parliament to enact the Preventive Detention Act in 1950 and justified its extension, whenever the motion came up in Parliament in his lifetime, on the ground of fissiparous tendencies prevailing in the country. Can anyone deny that the nation is facing a far graver danger today than in the halcyon days of Nehru?
The government, therefore, owes it to the people of the country to shed its squeamishness and bring forward legislation made up of the most stringent parts of the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act and, if necessary, going beyond them to make them water-tight. The government will find that the psychological effect of its opting for such a law will in itself work wonders and result in a marked decline in terrorist activities.
The votaries of human rights in civil society and the intellectual and academic fraternity should ponder whether it is proper to knowingly imperil the survival of the nation for the sake of protecting the rights of a treacherous few. True, nobody can guarantee there will be no misuse. But a committee of eminent and independent persons can be set up to look into complaints and grievances on this score and give its advice.
Despite the endorsement it has had from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself, the government is yet to act on the profoundly sensible suggestion to establish, analogous to the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Intelligence Bureau, a new central Counter-Terrorism Bureau, vesting it with the entire range of duties and functions to extirpate terrorism, and with power and authority to override state jurisdiction in its best judgement. In order to make it strong and effective, it should be made totally independent of, and fully immune from, political meddling. Any further delay in implementing this proposal will mean reckless jeopardising of national interest.
In addition, the Union home ministry should make known by means of an open circular in explicit and unambiguous language to all the police and security agencies serving under the jurisdiction of both the Centre and the states that they need have no hesitation or inhibition in exercising their powers and authority under the law and coming down heavily against those they reasonably suspect of involvement in terrorist acts.
In the matter of conducting searches, effecting arrests, interrogating suspects, making thorough and rigorous investigations and taking them to their logical conclusion, and pursuing the cases vigorously in courts, and generally in discharging their duties, police and security personnel should feel free to act in their own best judgement under the law, without having to wait for instructions from higher channels, unless so enjoined by law.
Rooting out Islamic terrorism, whether indigenous or imported, from the Indian soil is not the duty of central and state governments alone, although it is incumbent on them to create the kind of environment -- political, social, administrative, legal and judicial -- that will deny it sustenance. The Indian Muslims and their organisations too, as an earnest of their concern for the good of the country, bear an equal, if not primary, responsibility.
A salutary example in this direction is the large conference of more than 10,000 Muslims convened by Darul Ulum Deoband in February which proclaimed in clear-cut terms: 'Islam has given so much importance to human beings that it regards the killing of a single person (as) the killing of the entire humanity, without differentiation based on creed and caste... Islam sternly condemns all kinds of oppression, violence and terrorism. It has regarded oppression, mischief, rioting and murdering among severest sins and crimes.'
The conference appealed to all Muslims 'to continue, as they always did in the past, their loyalty towards the dear motherland and love and respect towards humanity... and to fully understand the present alarming situation, the gravity and intensity of the time, and feel the pulse of the present world so that they might not be employed as tools of evils by anti-Islamic or anti-national forces'.
The conference also took out a resolution to hold state-wise conferences to urge upon the Muslim community to adhere to the path of peace and harmony and eschew violence, ill-will and hatred against any community. The follow-up action on this is long overdue.
The Muslim community's duty does not stop with passing resolutions. It is evident that such meticulously carried out blasts in such a large number in so many localities in so many states at such short intervals could not have taken place without the complicity and collusion of some members of the community.
Preparations must have gone on for many days, if not weeks, for procuring the explosive material with devices like timers, choosing locations, laying down the modalities and so on. The awareness of all these activities must surely have extended to persons beyond the actual perpetrators.
In this light, the Muslim community cannot shirk the responsibility of maintaining a constant vigil against any sign of suspicious activities and movements coming to its attention and promptly intimating the authorities.