September 27, 2002


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Admiral (retired) J G Nadkarni

This battle will be won

The attack on the Swaminarayan temple in Gandhinagar brings to mind the terrorist attack on many places in Mumbai on March 12, 1993. On that occasion the terrorists' design to disrupt the activities in the commercial capital of India was totally frustrated by the brave and pragmatic people of Mumbai, who not only took the tragedy in their stride but also did not allow the incidents to disrupt their lives or business in Mumbai.

Coming nearly ten years later, the events in Gandhinagar gave the people in Gujarat a chance to prove that they are no less brave and pragmatic when it comes to dealing with terrorists.

The motive of the terrorists was clear. Despite the Herculean efforts of the general in Pakistan, his henchmen in the ISI and umpteen terrorist organisations in Pakistan, the elections in Jammu and Kashmir were being conducted successfully. An overall turnout of around 40 per cent is very creditable. Even in the US presidential elections -- with no threats -- the vote percentage is barely 50 per cent. No amount of clucking and pooh-poohing by the general can take away the Indian achievement in J&K. Most observers from foreign missions and journalists from the international press have vouched that by and large the elections were free and fair.

The timing of the attack on the temple clearly indicated that it was an idea born in frustration. Hence the attack on a soft target, far away from J&K. Inter alia the attackers might have also expected to the reignite the dead embers of the communal clashes which occurred in that state earlier in the year. Unfortunately, far from achieving their aims the attack has given a chance to all concerned in India to show their mettle.

Strange as it may seem, the entire Indian side from the political leadership to the police, from the commandos to the state government, the media and finally the people, has come out on tops in the way the attack was handled.

Let's start with the temple administrators. Instead of panicking at the sight of terrorists the Swamiji at the gate had the presence of mind to inform his colleagues in the inner precincts who then closed the doors and prevented far greater damage. Every action taken by those concerned was cool, correct and without panic. In less than two hours after the terrorists attacked the temple, the elite commandos of the National Security Guards were flown to Gandhinagar and deployed at the temple.

They went about their jobs systematically, familiarising themselves with the layout and then taking action to flush out the attackers. They had to ensure that they caused no further casualties or damage to the temple. Their mission was a success and by morning everything was over. Unfortunately, the brave commandos lost one of their colleagues in the action, an indication of how dangerous their mission is on each occasion.

Meanwhile, the political leadership rose to the occasion. The prime minister was out of the country but Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani took charge of the situation swiftly and efficiently. He eschewed his usual strident rhetoric and was all reason and compassion. In fact he set the tone for the generally cool reaction to the entire incident.

The prime minister, on his part, correctly decided to cut short his visit and return home but it was not a panic return. He took his time over it, leaving it to the leaders on the spot to manage affairs in their proper manner.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi appeared to be a different man from the leader we saw only a few months ago. Here he was appealing for communal peace and unity amongst the people of Gujarat. Above all it were the people who, like the citizens of Mumbai ten years earlier, reacted calmly and defeated the aims of the terrorists.

If Gandhinagar proved one thing it is that the Indian nation has now come of age. The country has shown that it is made of far sterner stuff than one suspected. It is indeed tragic that so many innocent lives were lost in the attack. But the crisis also helped to restore the confidence of the people in the nation's leaders, its security and armed forces and their ability to tackle terrorism.

Above all, it established the character of the Indian people, as tolerant but not soft, as reasonable but tough -- a people who are capable of dealing with any eventuality that the ISI or the terrorists throw at them.

But as it can happen even in the best of circumstances there were a few sour notes to spoil things in India's moment of glory. The usual bunch of players and parties who took this as good opportunity to score points. Modi's opponent in Gujarat, Congress leader Shankarsinh Vaghela, instead of coming forward for any assistance to the government in maintaining communal harmony, used the occasion to score points for the forthcoming elections in the state.

In the usual knee jerk reaction, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad called for a nationwide bandh. Thus we very nearly achieved for Pakistan what the terrorists intended to do in the first place -- disrupt the Indian economy. Without any effort we handed over on a platter one day of Indian industrial production, estimated to be worth over Rs 1,000 crore.

By and large the media handled the situation competently. They were on the spot within minutes and kept the public informed continuously. But then they very nearly spoilt the whole thing by overkill and giving free airtime and publicity to all and sundry. Why does the media broadcast, for example, the VHP's call for a nationwide bandh?

As days go by the attack on the temple and the massacre of 30 people in Gandhinagar may well turn out to be a watershed in India's war against terrorism. Many years from today people may cite the Indian action on September 24 as the first instance when Indian people and their leaders acted swiftly, efficiently and correctly in dealing with terrorism. That reaction may prove to be the beginning of the end of cross border terrorism in India.

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Admiral (retired) J G Nadkarni

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