If the winter session of Parliament, coming soon after the Mumbai terrorist attacks, had given a hope to the emergence of non-partisan approach to dealing with terrorism, it was short lived.
Union minority affairs minister A.R. Antulay spoiled any emerging consensus by his comments that there may be a conspiracy by Hindu organizations to get Anti-Terrorist Squad chief Hemant Karkare and others involved in Malegaon blast investigations killed in Mumbai during the early hours of the terrorist attacks.
While the Congress party has publicly disapproved of the insinuations made by Antulay, some senior party leaders, such as Digvijay Singh, have rallied to his support. While, Antulay may have scored points with some Muslims, he has also undermined a key Indian government claim that elements in Pakistan were solely responsible for those attacks.
With such internal dissonance, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government doesn’t seem to have a coherent strategy so far in dealing with cross-border terror exports.
In a September 2006 meeting with then Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf in Havana, Cuba, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh absolved Pakistan of its complicity in promoting terrorism by agreeing that Pakistan, much like India, was also a victim of terrorism. India’s recent request —turned down by Pakistan—that Pakistan’s ISI provide help, is also in a similar vein.
Until the Mumbai attacks, India faced a series of bomb blasts in several cities perpetrated by misguided, local youth. The role of non-Indians in those attacks was, at best, limited to training, planning and financing the terror acts.
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Meanwhile, the involvement of a few Indian Muslims in repeated terror acts has put a lot of pressure on the larger Muslim community, reopening the Hindu-Muslim divide. The high point was Batla House encounter during which a police inspector and some Muslim youths were killed.
Until now, this act of home-grown terrorism has got caught in domestic politics with some parties, eyeing minority votes, demanding a judicial probe into the encounter without any obvious red flags that suggested something was amiss in that incident.
Meanwhile, some Hindu organizations protested vehemently when several Hindu spiritual leaders were arrested after investigations into the Malegaon blasts case and some critics of the government seeing it as an attempt to placate Muslims. If that was indeed the intent, it had the right effect in showing Muslims that India’s laws will apply to everyone irrespective of their religion.
The Mumbai attacks have no clear domestic connection as far as current evidence shows. A large number of people killed in the attacks were Muslims and to somehow assume Indian Muslims would in any way approve of these attacks is totally misplaced.
The stereotype that many Indian Muslims have a strong emotional attachment to Pakistan is also somewhat obsolete. India has emerged as a major economic powerhouse with a robust polity while Pakistan continues to remain mired in political and economic chaos. Increasingly, many Indian Muslims don’t see Pakistan as a reference point and the enthusiastic participation of Kashmiri Muslims in assembly elections so far is more evidence of this shift.
But India’s political parties have used terrorism as an electoral issue even though the most recent state assembly elections showed that voters don’t want this issue politicized and generally believe combating terrorism is a national problem and not something a single party can manage on its own.
Handling home-grown terrorism may have been a problem for the Congress and its UPA partners who vie for the Muslim vote with the Left parties as well as the motley crowd of so-called Third Front parties, even as they try and keep their Hindu vote intact.
Having seen the Bharatiya Janata Party fail at turning terrorism into votes, especially in the Delhi state elections, the UPA shouldn’t try to keep electoral considerations in mind in dealing with cross-border terrorism. Voters will easily rebuff cynical attempts by the likes of Antulay and now Digvijay Singh.
If it wants to prove that the Congress party is sincere and non-partisan in dealing with terrorism, the UPA must force its leaders to stop their cheap gimmicks. And, as a first step in that direction, Antulay should be sacked.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of a Delhi-based research consulting firm. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org