The United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, government has shown belated seriousness in tackling terror. In the wake of the public outrage after 26/11, there was perhaps a realization that if it did not respond adequately and give the impression of being tough on terrorism, the coalition’s chances of being returned to power would be minimal.
And so, the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act were made more stringent. The government also set up in a hurry the National Investigating Agency, or NIA. Unfortunately, a well-conceived plan was badly designed and NIA would be a non-starter for at least three years. Nevertheless, for the non-discerning public, an essential measure was carried out. Meanwhile, external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee has been sustaining diplomatic pressure on Pakistan.
P. Chidambaram, who replaced Shivraj Patil as home minister, has made the right moves. But the fact remains that terrorists had a free run during the major part of the UPA regime and a phenomenon that was largely limited to Jammu and Kashmir assumed a pan-India dimension.
Unfortunately, even after the traumatic experience of 26/11, the required overhaul of the police and intelligence machinery is not taking place. Police reforms remain in limbo. The Rand Corporation has, in its analysis entitled The Lessons of Mumbai, underscored “India’s dire need to redress its numerous deficiencies in its internal security arrangements”.
This is, however, not to say that the record of the previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in tackling terror was glorious. The shame of capitulation at Kandahar is difficult to forget (Indian Airlines flight IC-814 was hijacked from Kathmandu to Kandahar in 1999; the hijackers secured the release of three terrorists, including Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Azhar Masood, from Indian jails in return for setting the hostages free).
What is worse, the party leader who was at the centre stage during the hijack refuses to acknowledge it was a blunder and says that under similar circumstances, he would again behave the same way. It is shocking, to say the least!
On the Maoist, or Naxalite, front too, the UPA’s performance has been lacklustre. Whenever there were major incidents, we heard the trite explanation that law and order was a state subject and it was for states to formulate a proper response. The Maoist movement was affecting more districts every year, and yet the government remained in denial mode.
At a conference of chief ministers held to discuss the menace, some wanted a national policy to be defined on the subject. Strangely, the Union government declined on the grounds that such a policy would imply intrusion into their turf. Eventually, under public pressure, the government did come out with a 14-point policy document, but it was too little and too late. There was no proper appreciation of the socio-economic dimensions of the problem.
Whatever may have been the public pronouncements, the fact of the matter is that at the ground level, the Naxalite problem was treated essentially as a law and order issue. No wonder it continued to make its presence felt in larger territorial areas. Regional issues were unfortunately allowed to get out of hand and there was deplorable lack of firmness in dealing with some eruptions.
Maharashtra Navnirman Samiti leader Raj Thackeray was given a long rope and allowed to get away with his Marathi chauvinism. In the Darjeeling hills, extremist Gorkhas held the region to ransom. In Punjab, radical Sikhs and in Rajasthan, the Gujjars were allowed to disrupt public life without any intervention by the Centre.
The overall impression one got was that of a weak government at the Centre drifting in the turbulent waters of Indian polity without being able to chart a definite course and inspire confidence among the people.
The author is former director general, Border Security Force.
Respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org