The frontpage headline in Hindustan Times (July 30, 2008)—“5 days/55 Bombs/ 3 Cities/ 53 Dead: When will it stop?”—pithily brings out the gravity of the problem. Terror has struck again. If the bombs employed in Bangalore were of low intensity, the ones used in Ahmedabad were definitely of higher intensity and their effects were also deadlier resulting in deaths of more than 50 while figure of the injured exceeded 150. However, the materials used in the Bangalore bombs were no less lethal: explosive devices based on ammonium nitrate (the same as used in Ahmedabad and earlier in Jaipur, Hyderabad, Varanasi and Luknow), the decision to make them low intensity appearing to be deliberate, the objective being probably to intimidate the public in general as also the authorities or, if one takes a slightly different view, to let those act as harbingers of what would follow. Ahmedabad has borne the brunt of the terror strikes, with Surat narrowly escaping a catastrophe because the 21 live bombs discovered in the city did not explode (and were eventually defused) presumably due to the faulty design of the circuit in the bombs, as has been explained by forensic experts.
A new and diabolic feature of the latest terror attacks is the terrorists’ choice of hospitals, where the dead and the injured are brought after the blasts, as targets and this has claimed several valuable lives in Ahmedabad: of the 10 killed in the high-intensity explosion at the Trauma Centre in Shahibaug’s Meghaninagar Civil Hospital was a doctor couple whereas four more died in the blast near the LG Hospital, about seven km away.
The responses to the latest terror attacks have been on expected lines with the BJP once again seeking to castigate the Centre for its “soft approach” to the problem and demanding reserrection of the POTA. However, what one of its senior leaders said was not merely wild accusation but the most cynical and dangerous loose talk betraying total irresponsibility as well as infantilism; by insisting that hers was a considered opinion (even if it was, according to her, a ‘personal’ view and not of the party) and not an of-the-cuff remark, Sushma Swaraj has only reinforced the charge of being thoroughly irresponsible, if not utterly childish. With all one’s opposition to and criticism of the government at the Centre, one could never think that the blasts were engineered (obviously by the powers-that-be) to divert attention from the cash-for-votes scam lately exposed in the Lok Sabha and garner Muslim votes, as she has alleged. This also exposes a sick mentality. Thankfully the BJP has belatedly dissociated itself from her “personal” pronouncements and Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani has underlined that the basic purpose behind the terror assaults was to hurt India and undermine its unity.
No doubt one of the principal aims of the Ahmedabad terror strikes was to foment communal riots a la 2002 after the Godhra massacre. Whatever the reasons, the State CM and his administration this time actively prevented such a recurrence of the Gujarat carnage which took place more than six years ago. This is doubtless noteworthy, for in times of such crisis when India is under siege, the display of national unity becomes imperative and for this very reason petty political considerations should never be allowed to take centre-stage. That is precisely why the contrast between the approach of the Gujarat BJP leaders and Sushma Swaraj’s subjective outbursts has become all the more glaring.
As for tackling the terrorist menace, a multipronged strategy needs to be adopted well beyond knee-jerk reactions (like reviving the POTA). At the same time it is no use blaming the external forces and playing up the foreign hand alone. The realisation that has dawned today, after Ahmedabad and Surat in particular, is that terrorism in this country could have drawn inspiration from outside, but it is primarily homegrown in the present setting. In this context CPM leader Sitaram Yechury’s observations in a recent article assume significance:
... However abhorrent and inhuman terrorism as a methodology is, it can never be combated or eliminated by ignoring the fundamental causes that have led to the invention of the ‘human bomb’.
For us in India, such terrorism needs to be combated and eliminated by intensifying all efforts, both at the administrative level by urgently beefing up our intelligence and security apparatus, and the political level by seeking a solution to the real or perceived ‘injustice’ done to some sections.
This doubtless projects the correct perspective based as it is on a holistic comprehension of the problem. And that is all the more reason to reiterate what was written in these columns two years ago after the Mumbai serial train blasts of July 11, 2006:
We cannot possibly move away from the need of the hour: developing a political response to 7/11.
While reaffirming this point one is also constrained to note that in these two years practically no worthwhile and concrete steps have been taken to effectively combat terrorism with the aforementioned holistic view—yet another serious lacuna in our functioning that must be removed at the earliest.
July 31 S.C.