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Home > India > News > Columnists > L K Advani

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Don't communalise the fight against terror

October 08, 2008

Over-familiarity with a problem sometimes lulls one's awareness about its seriousness. Therefore, it may surprise many to know that the problem of terrorism has persisted for nearly half the period of the life of independent India.

Since the closing years of the 1970s, India has been in the vortex of foreign-sponsored terrorism, which has claimed nearly 80,000 lives, both civilian and of security forces -- in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir [Images], north-eastern states, and in the rest of India. There is no country in the world which has been a victim of terrorist onslaught for so long, and which has suffered such enormous loss. 

If a menace has continued for so long, it means that its perpetrators have a definite purpose, a definite goal. We in the Bharatiya Janata Party had correctly assessed right in the beginning that the goal of terrorists and their patrons abroad was not only to threaten the common man and the civil society, not just to create ordinary law and order disturbances , but to endanger the very unity and security of the nation. What is happening in India today has vindicated our assessment.

History will not pardon us if we fail

In the history of nations, it is important to know what challenges they face. But it is far more important to know how they respond to these challenges. Nations oblivious to the threats that eat into their vitals run an imminent danger of losing their ability to protect themselves. The warning bells are loud and clear that, even though the nation's internal security today stands seriously threatened, our response lacks political will. India does not have a seamlessly integrated counter-terrorism strategy backed by resolute operational capabilities.

There is one more thing to be said about internal security challenges. These do not manifest suddenly, nor do they mature overnight. The ominous signals they send over a prolonged period of time can be noticed unmistakably. However, if we choose not to notice them, or are incapable of taking self-protective action, history will not absolve us. It is our charge against the Congress party that it is keeping its eyes wide shut, choosing not to see, nor to strike, all for the fear of losing its vote-bank.

As far as the BJP is concerned, let me make it absolutely clear that we shall never conduct ourselves in such a short-sighted way that history would hold us guilty of not doing our duty at the right time and in the right manner. We are prepared to make any sacrifices for defending the unity and ensuring the security of our Motherland. Our vision is not limited by the considerations of where will our party be after the next elections. Rather, it extends to caring about whether India will be united and strong after a hundred years, after a thousand years.

In the last millennium, India suffered many a blow. In the last century, India suffered blood-soaked Partition on account of a pernicious ideology. Therefore, all political parties and all sections of our society should so conduct themselves that no evil power, external or internal, can  set its eyes on destabilizing, debilitating and dividing India.

Terrorism [Images]: Invisible enemy's low-cost, asymmetrical war

For such strong protective force to emerge, it is necessary to know that in today's world, failure to protect internal security has emerged as the most potent threat to the unity and integrity of nations, to the stability of their polity and to the protection their constitutional values. In the post-World War period, failure to deal with internal security challenges, as opposed to foreign aggressions, has been responsible for the degradation of a large number of nation-states. Most States when confronted with serious internal threats thought it to be a passing phase and allowed the drift to reach a point where retrieval was no longer possible.

Quite often, the adversarial forces won not because of their own strength but because of the weaknesses and mistakes of the regimes that were hit. Thus, history has a big lesson for us and it would be tragic if we failed to learn from past mistakes, both of our own and of others.

An important lesson that we in India should learn -- this lesson is indeed globally relevant -- is that conventional wars are becoming increasingly cost-ineffective. As instruments of achieving political and strategic objectives, their outcome is unpredictable � and, often, counter-productive. Hence, foreign aggressions today come disguised as proxy wars in the form of terrorism and other forms of violence. The enemy targets internal fault-lines for furthering his strategic and political objectives. Even less powerful nations are able to exercise this low-cost sustainable option, giving rise to the new doctrine of asymmetric warfare.

We can see this clearly from what both Pakistan and Bangladesh have been doing to us. Neither can match India's military strength. Yet, both have been threatening India with cross-border terrorism.

This warfare is waged by an invisible enemy, for whom the civil society is both a source of sustenance and the target. The enemy exploits the liberties, freedom, technological facilities and infrastructure to his advantage, making even the more powerful, better equipped security agencies feel helpless.

Maligning of security forces: A dangerous new trend

Maligning the security forces is often a deliberate ploy employed by the civil society supporters of terrorist outfits. Unfortunately, it sometimes influences the thinking of even well-meaning human rights activists. However, it should not be forgotten that our security forces work under extremely difficult circumstances. The rest of society can sleep peacefully only because of the diligent service rendered by our police, paramilitary and armed forces. I fully agree that innocent persons should not be harassed and penalised. But let us spare a thought for this question: What will happen to our society, to our nation, if the morale of our security forces is allowed to be weakened?

Sadly, this is precisely what has happened in recent times. What is sadder is that leaders of the Congress party and the UPA government have allowed this denigration of our security forces to take place in the mistaken belief that those who are targeting our uniformed forces are defenders of "secularism". Their thinking about secularism has become so warped that anybody who targets the BJP becomes their friend.

For example, there is this book, Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India by Omar Khalidi, an Indian scholar based in America, which provided the inspiration for the Sachar Committee to seek a communal census in the armed forces.

Another example is a book by Arundhati Roy, a well-known author, on the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001. The book argues, quite nonsensically, that the attack was not carried out by terrorists but orchestrated by the security forces themselves with prior knowledge of the leadership of the NDA government. Her recent statement that "India needs azadi from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs azadi from India" is seditious. The intellectual and literary community should strongly condemn such anti-national pronouncements, which are being given legitimacy by pseudo-secularists.

Minorityism has gripped the Congress mindset

Here is yet another example of how the UPA government has chosen to be influenced by the sinister and sustained campaign launched by such people. In spite of a Supreme Court verdict, it has not carried out the death sentence on Afzal Guru, who has been convicted for his role in the terrorist attack on Parliament. His was no ordinary crime. It was an offence of hitting at the country's legislature, the highest seat of India's constitutional authority, which symbolises its sovereignty and democratic polity.  Not even the national outrage on this issue has dented the UPA government's apathy. Not even the extraordinary decision of the families of the martyred security personnel to return the gallantry awards has made it act. Such indeed is the grip of minorityism on the Congress mindset today.

The same mindset has dictated the Congress party's anti-national  response to the issue of unchecked infiltration of Bangladeshis into Assam and other parts of the country.  I was in Guwahati last week where, among others, I met Jaideep Saikia, an eminent Assamese scholar who has written a widely acclaimed book Terror Sans Frontiers: Islamist Militancy in North East India. The book is indeed an eye-opener, a strong warning against a problem which the Supreme Court itself, while striking down the IMDT Act as unconstitutional, has described as "external aggression". The UPA government's response to this external aggression is simply to turn a blind eye.

Once again, the same mindset has dictated the UPA government's decision not to give approval to the anti-terror laws passed by the assemblies of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh [Images] and Rajasthan, on the lines of an identical Act that exists in Maharashtra.

I can understand a government not succeeding despite making its best efforts. But I cannot but strongly indict that government which does not take even a single positive step at the legislative, political, administrative or operational levels to counter a threat which is so profusely bleeding the nation.

Stigmatising any faith in the fight against terror is wrong

Friends, no campaign of terrorism that has continued for so long can be without an ideological motive. Recognising the anti-India ideological driving force behind terrorism, and evolving a proper nationalist ideological response to it, is critical to achieving long-term success. Here I would like to state two things emphatically. Firstly, no religion and no religious community can and should be blamed for the criminal acts of some individuals belonging to that community. Stigmatising any community in the fight against terrorism is wrong, counter-productive, and must be condemned.

At the same time, it is equally important to recognise that religious extremism of a certain kind provides the ideological fervour and outward justification for terrorism and separatism. After all, religion was indeed misinterpreted and misused to construct the two-nation theory, which had disastrous consequences for India, for both Hindus and Muslims. The ideology behind the ongoing war of terrorism against India is a continuation of the separatist ideology that created Pakistan. Which is why, the anti-India forces in Pakistan have sponsored cross-border terrorism as a deliberate policy to achieve Kashmir's secession from India, and also to weaken India in many different ways.

In recent years, an important new experiment has been introduced into this policy of cross-border terrorism. A section of Indian youth, misguided and exploited by their mentors abroad and radicalised by an interpretation of Islam that is propagated by Al Qaeda [Images], have been inveigled into the vortex of terrorism. SIMI [Images] and Indian Mujahideen [Images] have emerged as the face of indigenised terror. Their literature speaks volumes about their aversion for the very idea of a secular, plural and democratic India, and also about their resolve to destroy India as we know it.

Contrast between NDA and UPA governments

How did the NDA government deal with SIMI? And how has the UPA government dealt with it? I shall not go into all the well-known details, except to say that the contrast is stark. The contrast is between one alliance that cares for India and the other that cares only for its vote-bank. So much so that two Cabinet ministers in the UPA government had the audacity to publicly defend SIMI, which is banned as a terrorist organisation, and the prime minister did not even upbraid them!

This contrast is also evident in the manner in which the two alliances have dealt with the issue of a strong anti-terrorism law. In a country that has suffered so much due to terrorism with international operational and financial linkages, the need for an effective anti-terrorism law ought to be so self-evident as to preclude any divisive debate over it. After all, the BJP supported the TADA Bill when Rajiv Gandhi's government introduced it in Parliament. Without TADA, some of the culprits in Rajiv Gandhi's murder case could not have been chargesheeted. When the NDA government assumed office, TADA had already ceased to exist. Therefore, we legislated POTA.

One of the first acts of the UPA government in 2004 was to repeal POTA. As a matter of fact, the war against terror figured very low in UPA's Common Minimum Programme. The CMP did not mention a single step to check trans-border infiltration, choking terror's sources of funding, and smuggling of weapons and explosives, etc. The government's weak-kneed approach, as was inevitable, proved fatal in course of time. It not only emboldened the extremists groups, but also brought down the efficacy of country's security apparatus. The momentum generated by the series of initiatives taken by the NDA government to strengthen national security, particularly the internal security, was lost within a year.

During the first year in office, the UPA government enjoyed the fruits of the efforts of the previous government and, as a result, not a single incident of terrorism occurred outside J&K.  But in the last three years the country has been brought to a pass where the terrorists are bleeding it with the frequency, place and time of their choice. There is mushrooming of sleeper cells and subversive modules of terrorists, both indigenous and foreign, in different parts of the country. As a result, every citizen of the country from Kashmir to Kanyakumari today feels insecure about his safety.

POTA remained in existence from September 2001 till December 2004. During this period, only eight incidents of terrorist violence, including the attack on Parliament and on Akshardham temple [Images] in Gandhingar, took place in India's hinterland, leading to 119 deaths. Contrast it with what happened after POTA was repealed: The footprint of terrorism has grown alarmingly larger in the past four years. Jammu, Ayodhya, Varanasi, Samjhauta Express in Haryana, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Malegaon,  Jaipur [Images], Bangalore, Ahmedabad [Images], Delhi [Images] �and, in the latest attack, serial blasts rocked Agartala in Tripura just two days ago. During this period, 625 persons have been killed and 2,011 injured, depicting a five-fold increase in those killed and injured. It is the same country, same people, same police and same intelligence agencies; what then explains this unprecedented increase? The answer is very simple: Weak laws have emboldened the terrorists and appeasement has failed to change their intentions.

Congress cacophony about anti-terror law

Since the serial bomb blasts in New Delhi on September 13, 2008, people's pressure on the government to enact a strong anti-terror law has greatly intensified. But the manner in which senior leaders of the UPA government and the Congress party have responded to this demand is pathetic.

On September 17, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh [Images], while addressing the governor's conference, said: "We are actively considering legislation to further strengthen the substantive anti-terrorism law in line with the global consensus on the fight against terrorism."

Earlier, The Hindu reported on September 13: "In what is seen as the UPA government speaking with different voices over the need for states enacting tough anti-terror laws, the Union home ministry has not taken kindly to the suggestion of the National Security Adviser M K Narayanan favouring the Gujarat government's proposal to have its own law to deal with terrorist activities and organised crime. The NSA's suggestion was contained in a letter which he recently wrote to the home ministry. He reportedly saw no reason to turn down the request of the Gujarat government to have an anti-terror law. He also reportedly cited demands by a number of senior police officers both at the central and state levels for enacting a comprehensive, tough anti-terror law. Mr Narayanan did not see anything wrong in supporting such a demand."

The Administrative Reforms Commission, appointed by the government under the chairmanship of senior Congress leader Veerappa Moily, strongly supported the need for stringent anti-terrorist law. Speaking to the media on September 17, he said "a strong anti-terror law with equally strong safeguards to prevent its misuse is needed."

On September 24, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi [Images] said, "There should be a strong law to deal with terror. A powerful law, not a failed law. POTA is a failed law."

In spite of these pronouncements, what is the net result? "No, no, we do not need a new law. Existing laws, if strengthened, are enough to fight terror."

How can India be safe under a government that has no mind of its own, that speaks in so many voices, and that is led by a prime minister who has an office but no authority? It is difficult to find out who runs this government and who takes the decisions.

Our commitment: To make India terror-free

Friends, there is no point any longer in demanding anything from this spineless and visionless government. As they say in Hindi, the ulti ginati of this government (reverse counting of its days in office) has begun. The people of India will dethrone the UPA rulers whenever the next parliamentary elections are held.

However, let me present some of our concrete promises, commitments and ideas to make India safe from terror.

If voted to power, the NDA will re-enact POTA. The critics of POTA have so far been unable to show a single shortcoming in it. Therefore, the least we expect from our friends in the Congress party is that, now that many of its senior functionaries have spoken in favour of a strong anti-terror law, they should support re-enactment of POTA in the 15th Lok Sabha.

I am saying this because the time has come to treat the fight against terrorism as a national issue requiring broad national consensus. It is in this spirit that I recently I wrote to former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam [Images], wholeheartedly supporting his suggestion for a bipartisan approach to combat terrorism.

The BJP favours setting up a federal anti-terror agency, which has become absolutely necessary for evolving effective coordination between the Centre and the states -- and also among states themselves -- in intelligence-gathering, intelligence exchange, action, investigation, prosecution and planning and execution of preventive operations.

The Vajpayee government, for the first time since Independence, had formulated an integrated policy for national security.  A group of ministers, supported by experts' taskforces (I had the privilege of heading this GoM), had made nearly 300 comprehensive recommendations for completely overhauling India's security apparatus and management in the areas of defence, intelligence, internal security and border management. The UPA government has shown callous neglect towards implementation of these recommendations. The next NDA government will take up this task with the highest priority.

Implementation of the recommendations of the Malimath Committee on overhauling the criminal justice system will be done in a time-bound manner.

The chain of India's anti-terrorism apparatus can be only as strong as its weakest link. Today one of its weakest links is the local police station and its intelligence gathering capabilities. Therefore, modernisation of the police force with adequate central assistance, which had been started by the NDA government, will be rapidly intensified.

Finally, I wish to make a fervent appeal to all sections of our society and polity: Let us not communalise the fight against terrorism. Terrorists have no religion. They are enemies of the nation and of humanity as a whole. Let us not imperil the security of India -- and, going further, the very unity of India -- by going soft in the war against these enemies. This is not a war that any a single party or any single community can win. It is a battle for the survival of India, in which all communities and all political parties are equal stake-holders.

We wanted to extend our whole-hearted support to the incumbent government for any positive action that it is prepared to take to combat terrorism. Unfortunately, it has not taken even a single initiative in this direction to which we could extend our support. 

While enemies of the nation are uniting and coordinating their actions, it is sad that narrow electoral considerations are standing in the way of political parties and governments giving a concerted fight to the menace of terrorism. I do hope that the public opinion in this country will create required pressure for political parties and their leaders to think beyond electoral considerations and fight terrorism with single-minded determination.

One last point. The Navratri festival has begun. It will conclude on Vijayadashami, which symbolises the victory of Good over Evil. I suggest that, in addition to Ravan Dahan (burning of the effigy of Ravan), let Navratri pandals all over the country also do Atankvaad Dahan (burning the effigy of the Demon of Terrorism). Let it symbolise our collective resolve to make India terror-free.

Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the NDA's prime ministerial candidate L K Advani [Images] delivered this speech while inaugurating a national seminar on terrorism organised by the Rambhau Mhalgi Prabhodini in New Delhi on October 4


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