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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 1, December 20, 2008

Defending Democracy and Peace Process against Terrorism

Sunday 21 December 2008, by Manoranjan Mohanty

The terrorist attacks in Mumbai have hurt every Indian and there is a growing debate on how best we should confront this situation of vulnerability. At this critical juncture the Indian people must evolve a response that is consistent with the values for which they have fought a freedom struggle from colonialism and have been engaged in building a meaningful democratic society for the last sixty years. The Mumbaikars’ suffering of November 26 will have to be remem-bered together with Mumbai’s great historical legacy of August 9, 1942 when the ‘Quit India’ resolution was passed on the same soil.

What is most distressing today is the way the Indian. Government and a section of the media are succumbing to the line advocated by the BJP in India and the neo-cons in the US. The main features of that strategy of the militaristic response are:

1. A strong law that curbs the civil liberties of citizens and empowers the police and military to detain people at will and have surveillance over the people, that is, revive POTA and have a law like the US law, the PATRIOT Act.

2. Supercede international law and the UN Charter and strike at territories anywhere in the world including undertaking pre-emptive strikes as the US did in Afghanistan, Iraq.

3. Dismiss any suggestion to have an understanding of the causes of alienation of groups which produce young men and women who turn terrorists to carry on their ‘missions’ even if their attacks take the lives of hundreds of innocent people.

4. Promote such publicity and take such action that vilifies the Muslim community as the source of terrorism.

Unfortunately, it should be pointed out, this strategy has failed to curb terrorism in the world. Compared to 9/11 in 2001 the world of today is even more insecure. The incoming Obama Adminstration in the US inherits a situation wherein the US and its citizens are in a more precarious condition than before.

INDIA has to face the current crisis with its own genius. It has to formulate a political strategy that builds up its organisational efficiency on the one hand and strengthens its capacity as a democracy that uses people’s support as its main source to cope with the challenge of terrorism. The principal components of such a strategy should be the following:

1. Terrorist violence is not confined to any one community: Emphasise the fact that the phenomenon of terrorism—acts of violence causing widespread harm—has appeared among people of all religions where groups have emerged to blindly follow certain views about the prevailing situation. No one community should be singled out for blame. Ironically, the ATS chief in Mumbai, Hemant Karkare, who was killed by the terrorists, was leading the investigation in the Malegaon blasts case where some Hindutva extremists have been charged with having engineered terror. In the past, there have been Christian, Buddhist and Sikh extremists who have caused terrorist acts in different parts of the world. In spite of the fact that it has been refuted widely as being ahistorical and illogical, the constructed view on the clash of civilisations involving a confrontation between the Christian West and the Islamic East has turned out be the basis of much of the US-led counter-terrorism campaign. It is important to reject that fully and de-link terrorism from any particular religion.

2. Address roots of alienation and people’s grievances: Since terrorism often has a political character utilising some grievance of a section of people with which the terrorists succeed in getting some support among the aggrieved population, there must be a sincere effort to address those grievances. Once the people are convinced that their problems are being attended to seriously by the state and society in general, then the capacity of the terrorists to get shelter among people is reduced. This was the main reason why the Sikh terrorists were isolated from the common people in Punjab. The Sikh masses felt that their claims to power in the Indian state was recognised and the Indian democratic rights movement fully stood by them exposing the crimes of the perpetrators of the 1984 massacres. The Indian state has to do more to respond to the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Elections and development initiatives have to be accompanied by a dialogue with the people of J&K on the question of autonomy and forms of self-determination. That would take away the main cause of alienation of the people. The Sachar Committee Report, which is a historic documentation of the economic and social plight of the Muslims in India, has to be the basis for taking concrete measures to ameliorate their conditions. The trial and prosecution of the criminals involved in various riots and other attacks—the Delhi riots of 1984, Mumbai 1993, Gujarat 2002 to name a few of the past two decades, and the ones in 2008—must be pursued. The way the Orissa Government and its police turned a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the Bajrang Dal and VHP activists against the Christians in Kandhamal in the aftermath of the killing of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati causes the kind of alienation that creates fertile grounds for some disgruntled Christian youth to turn to a violent path. The state agencies must perform their constitutional duty to protect the life and liberty of all citizens, especially the minorities and the other vulnerable sections. Delhi in 1984, Gujarat in 2000 and Orissa in 2008 showed the failure of the democratic state which acted on communal lines.

3. Maintain democratic norms while improving organisational efficiency: Democratic practice involves people not only in building channels of accountability, but also addressing the roots of violence. It cannot be denied that we need an effective law and order machinery equipped with legitimate power and modern weapons. The intelligence system must be developed using modern methods. The Mumbai attacks exposed many lacunae in India’s coast guard arrangement which must be addressed. But every time there is a terrorist incident there is a clamour for restricting civil liberties. That defeats the purpose because you lose the support of the common people who are the best source of not just intelligence but also strong defence against terrorist penetration. The talk of another POTA-like law is extremely dangerous. We have seen that POTA and before that TADA were used against minorities and innocent tribals and others. The existing criminal laws provide adequate powers to the police and paramilitary forces to capture the culprits and prevent crimes. The philosophy which has acquired much currency during the past two decades in India is that terrorism and militancy everywhere, ranging from the North-East and Kashmir to Naxalite areas, must be ‘eliminated’ by force. In practice this approach has failed to curb the phenomenon. We need to have a political understanding of this phenomenon. Force has to be used as per law and at the same time a whole set of social, economic and political measures have to be undertaken to address the roots of violence. The ‘politician bashing’ and emotive slogans such as ‘enough is enough’ widely carried by the electronic media in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks virtually undermined our commitment to democracy in India and tilted the focus towards a militaristic response. While we can understand the sentiments aroused by the gruesome tragedy, we must respond to this crisis with maturity and defend our hard-earned and yet imperfect democracy.

4. Persist with the peace process and movement for a democratic world order: The nature of India-Pakistan relations is crucial to the conditions of peace and social harmony in the subcontinent. After many confrontations a peace process had taken shape and a composite dialogue on a range of issues, from trade and visa relaxation to J&K, was going on. In fact, the Indian Home Secretary was in Pakistan and the Pakistan Foreign Minister in India at the time of the Mumbai attacks. Better facilities at the Wagah border, opening of more border trade points on the LoC, relaxation of visa requirements, joint water management, increasing the frequency of the bus and train services, nuclear confidence-building and many other things were already agreed upon by the two sides. President Zardai’s ‘no-first-use of nuclear weapons’ statement was greeted widely in India. All this came to caught in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks. It has to be recognised that Pakistan has been as much a victim of terrorism as India has been and there was a need for a coordinated effort to investigate and tackle the terrorists. India has the legitimate right to ask Pakistan to arrest those responsible for the Mumbai attacks. That the international community, especially the UN, is mobilised to accomplish this is very much justified. But to escalate this process to the level of talking in terms of air strikes into the terrorist bases in Pakistan was not only irresponsible but also unnecessarily provocative. This did not take into sufficient consideration the fact that the elected civilian government was battling with the Pakistan Army and ISI to establish its authority. India must recognise that a democratic Pakistan will be a source of peace and common welfare for the people of the subcontinent as a democratic India is. In this context, the US line is fraught with dangers that we must avoid. Their main interest is to have both India and Pakistan as their allies in their world strategy and focus on countering the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The way they are operating that strategy has caused numerous civilian casualties in that region and produced mass protest against the US in Pakistan and given a new lease of life to the Taliban. India has to pursue its own strategy of resuming the peace process with Pakistan, develop its trade and political relations so that the people of Pakistan join the people of India in not only tackling the phenomenon of terrorism, but also pursuing their common goal of peace, democracy and prosperity in South Asia.

THE recent Assembly elections proved that the hype on fighting terrorism in emotional terms did not work. People are more concerned with issues of price rise, unemployment, farmers’ distress and the new problems arising out of the global economic crisis. So the danger that a competitive mobilisation poses at a time of national elections in the next few months must be avoided. The Indian political parties, media, intelligentsia and social movements have enough voices of sanity and democratic vision to defend the people’s struggle for democracy, peace and development.

The author is the Durgabai Deshmukh Professor, Council for Social Development, New Delhi. He can be contacted at e-mail: dr_mohanty@yahoo.com

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