November 23, 2002


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Admiral (retired) J G Nadkarni

Towards a brutal nation

In about three months time the finance minister will rise in Parliament to present his Budget. As usual, a large part of next year's appropriations will be devoted to defence. India today spends close to Rs 70,000 crore to maintain a large and modern armed force, which requires about 2.5 per cent of the nation's GDP. On the other side of the border, Pakistan spends even a larger percentage of her GDP to maintain an equally large army. Yet, both sides in the last head to head confrontations in 1965 and 1971 on the Western front, have fought each other to a standstill, gaining only a few miles here and there during the two weeks of war.

Gaining territory in war is becoming an old concept in the 21st century. Today's adversary seeks much more. He wants to change the way of life, the values and the form of government. He wants to destabilise the country, destroy the economy and above all the culture of the people.

Pakistan's proxy war against India started more than 12 years ago. By all estimates not more than about 5,000 terrorists have been involved in this exercise to wrest Kashmir from India. Over these years Pakistan may not have spent even a fraction of its defence budget in training and maintaining this small irregular but dedicated force. They may have failed in their primary aim of plucking the Kashmir valley or even drawing the world's attention to their cause. But in some other ways their gains have been beyond their wildest expectations. Where two of the mightiest armies in the world have been unable to achieve any major gains, a ragtag group of militants are beginning to achieve much more, albeit slowly and imperceptibly.

Consider the following:

A large portion of India's armed force today is deployed in Kashmir and elsewhere in combating terrorism. A group of a few thousand terrorists has required more than 50 times that number in perpetual deployment. The counter terrorist effort has not only involved the army but a growing number of paramilitary organisations such as the Border Security Forces, the Rashtriya Rifles, the police and the commandos of various types.

India's defence budget has tripled over the last ten years. Combating terrorism may not be the only cause but is certainly responsible for a major portion of the increase. The major spending on defence has no doubt resulted in straining India's tenuous economy.

Terrorists have already caused major changes in the once idyllic state of Kashmir. The Kashmiri Pandits have been driven out. The once prosperous tourism industry has been ruined, reduced from about 4 million per year at one time to a few thousand today. The government and the people are perpetually under a state of siege.

The once peaceful and progressive state of Gujarat has been divided along communal lines. One attack on a train in Godhra and another on a temple has been enough to destroy communal harmony and probably bring about India's first Hindu state after the assembly election in December. It may possibly be the first step in India being declared a Hindu republic within the next 20 years.

Of course, it is an exaggeration to give credit for all this transformation to a bunch of terrorists. But one cannot deny that they have proved to be the catalysts in this slow revolution.

Fifty years ago India emerged as the world's most populous independent republic. We were proud of our 5,000 years of uninterrupted civilisation and our respect for the rule of law. Having inherited a multi-lingual, multi-religious and multiethnic society, we opted for the only course open to us to hold the country together, tolerant secularism. India's civil society was just that, civil. Yet today, in just a few years, a minuscule force of terrorists, aided and abetted by an intolerant and rabid bunch of fundamentalists within the country are succeeding in rending apart that tolerant and secular society.

If there is one thing the terrorists have succeeded in bringing about, it is the gradual transformation of India from a civilised, law abiding society into a brutal, violent population. In their war against terrorism the army, paramilitary forces and the police consider adherence to human rights as a nuisance. Even the prime minister went on to aver the other day that human rights do not have a place in the fight against terrorists. Encounters, staged or otherwise, between the police and militants has become the method of the day. The Delhi police shoot down a couple of men in a crowded shopping plaza alleging that they were terrorists. In the ensuing public debate on television the law minister defends the action and denies any wrongdoing. Ninety percent of the audience feel that where the fight against terrorism is concerned human rights can be shelved.

Scores of Senas, Dals and mini armies are beginning to mushroom across the country, taking the law into their own hands and enforcing their agenda, foibles and will on the people most often by coercion and threat of violence. Governments and law enforcing agencies, mostly sympathetic to the cause of these private armies, offer quiet assistance or at best look the other way. The feeling is now firmly entrenched in the minds of the people that violence is the only answer to the violence unleashed by terrorism.

Shiv Sena leader Balasaheb Thackeray calls for the creation of suicide squads and justifies it in the interest of self defence. In a farcical take off, a retired army officer starts training a group of misguided youngsters in military arts, incidentally charging them Rs 1,500 apiece for his expertise. After more than ten years of militancy it is obvious that the a large portion of the population has lost its faith in the law enforcing agencies to tackle the menace. Most of them would like nothing better than to teach the terrorists a lesson in their own way and with their own hands. And the hell with human rights and the rule of law while they are doing it.

For over centuries, in face to face confrontations, armies have fought each other by using conventional weapons and methods. Many casualties have occurred both in the battlefield and elsewhere. One side has normally won and the other lost. Territories have been captured and sometimes occupied for years on end. But through all this, with all their might, armies have rarely been able to change the entire character and nature of a nation. In fact most of the noble facets of human beings have managed to emerge unscathed out of these conflicts.

Terrorism is for the first time becoming successful in undermining the very human qualities and the national character of an entire people. In this it is succeeding out of all proportion to its investment and size. Eventually terrorism may even be brought to book or eliminated. But it will take a long time to restore the great values to the people of this country for which they were well known.

Admiral (retired) J G Nadkarni

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