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Home > India > News > Columnists > Saisuresh Sivaswamy

The one billion+ cannon-fodder

May 15, 2008

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I marvel at how, despite its global unpopularity -- barring in India, of course -- the United States has not had a single terrorist attack on its soil since September 11, 2001.

But I don't marvel at how India, which courts global affection like a pretty teenager, keeps repeatedly getting hit by the terror brigade. Blink your eye, wham. Open your eye, bang.

The terrorist is a school bully, see, and a bully only knows to respect superior strength. Like it or hate it, the US of A has strength in abundance and, crucially, it doesn't hesitate to use its brute force in pursuit of its security. It has no hesitation in walking into a country if it feels -- proof can come later, or not at all -- that nation is inimical to its interests.

In contrast, India is the eternal Arjuna caught in a moral dilemma on the battlefield. Alas, no number of Krishnas can give it clarity of thought and purpose.

No, this is not an attack-the-United-Progressive-Alliance, support-the-National-Democratic-Alliance kind of argument. Both groupings have failed miserably to tackle the biggest threat facing the Indian nation, which is natural if you consider they are really cut from the same cloth.

Right now, I imagine India to not be the favourite choice at terrorist offsites, presumably being held in the hospitable terrain of FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan), for there is no daring required to hit her.

The bids must be going on even as I write this, and I don't expect any major adrenaline flow at India's mention at this fellowship of the fidayeen or hectic bidding at the prospect. Now, a bid on Uncle Sam may be worth their while, earning them brownie points in the virgin-filled hereafter, but not pusillanimous India. Maybe trainee-terrorists will be given the job of bombing us out of our complacency, generated no doubt by the thought that we are a nuclear power and hence invincible.

Heck, just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so is a nation as invincible as its Achilles Heel. Truth is, we are a nation eternally in risk of the terrorist who makes no distinction between masjid and mandir. If attacks on mandir don't evoke outrage he will attack the masjids, hoping for a bloody reaction. And he will keep doing it till the communal flare-up he orgasmically yearns for is achieved.

Unless. And that is a big unless.

Unless the Indian State shows some steel and gets tough with the perpetrators of terrorism. But when the government chooses to scrap the only anti-terrorist legislation in its armoury, when court cases against terrorists saunter along unhurriedly, when administrations court the very men they should put away for ever, you know the towel has virtually been thrown in. We are not serious about battling this scourge.

I can understand if we go the other extreme and follow M K Gandhi's precept of Ahimsa and Satyagraha in toto. But no, we are in the middle ground, where we are easy prey like sitting ducks. Or, one billion plus cannon-fodder. Wow.

I am not sure how much of the Internet-savvy generation knows anything about the Sikh insurgency that almost sundered India in the 1980s. Punjab was more or less out of India's grasp, newspapers daily told horror tales of Hindus being singled out and shot dead, and the name of a putative sant struck terror all around, ably fanned by his cross-border friends in Pakistan. (Aside: Plus ca change, Plus c'est la meme chose [the more things change, the more they remain the same]) New Delhi then was a city under siege, with roadside bunkers being the most common scenery.

Today one wonders if it is the same Punjab with its mustard fields that one sees digitally colourised in Bollywood films. How did it happen? How was the battle that was so nearly lost, won?

The glib assessment puts it down to a battle fatigue, but I am not sure Julio Ribeiro and K P S Gill -- yes, the latter is the same name that adorned news bulletins just a few days ago (Aside: Oh, how the mighty've fallen!) -- who are very much around, will agree with it.

Because peace in Punjab was won through waging war. And Ribeiro and Gill were the men sent in to clean up the mess created by politicians. Twenty years later, why are these men still provided security? Because, the men they fought have very long memories. And more than a few guns.

You can lay all kinds of charges at the door of Indira Gandhi [Images], including that she was the Frankenstein who created the monster, and not be terribly of the mark. But to her eternal credit, when push came to shove she delivered even if it meant paying with her own life.

You can debate till kingdom come her decision to send the army into the Golden Temple. But she knew a State cannot exist within a State, and that is what the shrine had become. It cannot have been an easy decision, to go against the shrine of a people who have spilt their blood in India's defence like none other. Yet, she did it, and today we once again look at Punjab as the nation's granary, not armoury.

The point I am driving at, have always driven at, is that you cannot fight terror through peace. As the citizen of a land from whose womb have sprung forth Mahatma Gandhi [Images], Gautama and innumerable saints advocating ahimsa and before who I unhesitatingly bow, I wish we can wage peace against the purveyors of terror and mayhem.

What will happen when you wage peace? Gandhiji says, First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. This was Gandhiji's tactic against the British, who I think were inherently decent (I use the term with great reservation) folk only after our wealth, nothing else, and it worked. Would he have used the same tactic, say, against the Nazis? Would it have worked?

The enemy we face today is very different. He is out to destroy our plurality and all the freedoms we cherish. He is not open to reason or logic, and he knows only to spread fear. How do you fight him?

You can only fight terror through terror. Let the warlords planning the next move and their associates and their sleeper cells and who else, know what fate awaits them. Counter fear with greater fear, terror with super-terror, and the perpetrators will think twice before carrying out their evil deeds.

But to do that calls for steel in the soul. Does India have it?


Saisuresh Sivaswamy




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