Most terrorist organizations are loath to abjure violence and give up the power of the gun. So when the Spanish terrorist group ETA, which has been demanding an independent state, said it was renouncing violence, few believed it. Yet the ETA’s “ceasefire” and the conditions that made it possible confirm a growing trend worldwide. There are lessons for India.
ETA has for long demanded a separate homeland in the Basque region of north-eastern Spain and a part of south-western France. It has waged a long and bloody battle for its goals. It has failed. For the first time in its history, it’s ETA’s political wing, Batasuna, that is calling the shots. This put pressure on the ETA to halt its armed campaign. A similar development was seen some years ago in northern Ireland when the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), Sinn Fein, decided to conduct its politics in a non-violent manner.
In both cases, those of Batasuna and the Sinn Fein, there was widespread opposition to violence in places where these groups operate. Normal people, who had little to do with secessionist politics, were tired of decades of violence on the part of terrorists and government troops. “Intellectuals” who favoured the ETA and IRA also realized the futility and senselessness of violence.
The three factors combined to end terrorism. It is interesting to note that these ingredients against terrorist violence are missing in India. In Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and among the Maoists, the political wing is powerless and the “boys” with the guns dictate strategy.
The issue of opposition to terrorism in India is more complex. In Spain and northern Ireland, the territorial extent of terrorist operations is wide. Those are small countries where almost the entire population is affected by terrorism. In India, violence of this kind is localized: It exists in J&K, the “faraway” states such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh. In a sense, it is a localized problem and opposition to terrorism gets diffused.
Finally and crucially, terrorists continue to enjoy sympathy among Indian intellectuals. The latter go to great lengths to justify what the former do. Some call violence a “reaction against the Indian state”, others term it “a response to a war on tribals” and so on. These justifications only embolden extremists and give legitimacy to violence. The Spanish experience tells us what to do if terrorism is to abate.
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