UPA bungles on security, BJP fails to capitalize

UPA bungles on security, BJP fails to capitalize
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First Published: Sun, Aug 10 2008. 11 43 PM IST

Updated: Sun, Aug 10 2008. 11 43 PM IST
India has witnessed a series of terror attacks in the past three weeks. Even as security has been “beefed up” all over the country, we continue to live in constant fear of terrorist attacks.
In Delhi, where intelligence agencies have reported that schools could become terror targets, panic prevails all over with schools receiving threatening calls, mobile phone messages and emails, forcing many parents to make frantic enquiries and even stop sending their wards to school till 15 August.
At a time when the nation is living in fear, you have the ugly spectacle of the country’s home minister telling the Times Now channel that a few thousand terrorists in a country of one billion people is no big deal. Does he deserve to be the home minister of a country that has been subject to terror attacks with such unfailing regularity? Judge for yourself.
As a nation, we seem to have become so immune and inert that we have begun even enjoying jokes on terrorism and bomb blasts. Noted TV comedian Raju Srivastav has a routine on how we have begun to lose respect for low-intensity bomb blasts that kill and injure only a few people. We as a nation seem to value human life very little, and such repeated, gruesome attacks have not aroused the country’s collective consciousness. No wonder, our governments can get away with failures on the national security front as we tend to forget these attacks in just a few weeks and carry on with whatever we have been doing.
Never in independent India has a government failed on as many counts on internal security as the present United Progressive Alliance regime. This is not to absolve the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance government of its serious failures on the internal security front during its reign at the centre, but a distinction is in order.
First, notwithstanding its failures, the intentions of the Vajpayee government in tackling terrorism were never suspect. I am afraid the same cannot be said of the UPA government, going by its intent and actions. Secondly, the global awareness and coordinated mechanisms that exist today in tackling terrorism did not prevail during Vajpayee government’s initial years, until the daring 9/11 attacks happened on the World Trade Centre in the US in 2001. Till then, India was waging a lone battle against terrorism, while the rest of the world saw it as a problem of our own making and enjoyed looking at our plight.
Unlike in the past, the recent terror attacks appear to be the handiwork of local, national terror elements. At such a time, when the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) is seen to be a key suspect in numerous bomb blasts in the country, the UPA government has allowed the ban on SIMI to be lifted by a Delhi high court tribunal, presenting a poor case for its continuation, ostensibly under pressure from its new alliance partner, the Samajwadi Party, whose soft corner for SIMI is well known.
The UPA government has repeatedly pandered to demands from coalition partners on matters concerning internal security and issues concerning religious faiths such as the Ram Sethu issue, the Amarnath land transfer revocation and the lifting of a ban on outfits such as SIMI.
Take the case of the Amarnath land transfer. Under pressure from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and separatist groups, the UPA government, through the state’s Governor, revoked allotment of 100 acres of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board for constructing temporary shelters for pilgrims. One has to stretch one’s imagination to believe the allegation — by the PDP and separatist groups — that such a small area of land can be used to resettle non-Muslims in the Kashmir valley to change its demographic make-up. The government’s capitulation to this demand has sparked an ongoing agitation in Jammu which has claimed many lives and threatens to have long-term adverse consequences for the fragile peace in the trouble-torn state.
Failure of the BJP
More than the UPA government’s failures on internal security, the failure of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to raise such issues that gave it a unique identity is surprising.
Even as the UPA fails in curbing terrorism and bungles on its Ram Sethu (or Adam’s Bridge) affidavit and now, the Amarnath land transfer issue, the BJP has largely been a bystander making feeble protests, raising incomprehensible concepts such as “cultural nationalism” and failing to articulate real issues.
The L. K. Advani of the 1980s would have torn the UPA to pieces on such glaring failures and the nation, and, particularly, the middle classes would have swung to the party’s tunes but the BJP leader has now cultivated a “Vajpayee-like” liberal persona. And there is no one to step into Advani’s shoes as every leader in the party wants to become “Vajpayee-like” in search of that elusive prime ministerial office.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of a Delhi-based research consulting firm. Your comments are welcome at thebottomline@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, Aug 10 2008. 11 43 PM IST