The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s advisory to the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), L.K. Advani, delivered by national security adviser M.K. Narayanan last Monday, asking him to scale back his public appearances for about a month in the wake of credible intelligence inputs about a possible terrorist attack, has brought to the fore security concerns of the nation and the manner in which terrorists have struck at will in the recent past.
During the UPA rule, a series of terrorist attacks have taken place in the last four years. Among the most dastardly terror acts were the Mumbai twin blasts in July 2006, Delhi’s Diwali-eve terror strikes in October 2005, the Hyderabad bomb blasts in August 2007 and the Bangalore bomb blast at the Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc) in December 2005.
That all these terrorist attacks have also occurred in then Congress-ruled states of Maharashtra, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have led to the allegation that the Congress party is “soft on terror” and lacks the political will to curb terrorism.
Signalling the party’s resolve to raise the issue of terrorism in next year’s general elections, Advani attacked the UPA government last week at Jabalpur, where he began his Vijay Sankalp Yatra, saying that the terrorists feel that it is their government and are having a free run. Advani has also tried to link the spread of terror with the UPA’s alleged vote-bank politics.
Given Advani’s image as a hardliner and a strong leader, his prime ministerial bid will get a boost if terrorism and internal security become key issues in next year’s Lok Sabha elections.
Advani’s allegations are indeed serious and if they stick in the public mind, the Congress-led UPA will pay a heavy price in the next general elections.
Consequently, the Congress party hit back at the BJP, alleging that the party was trying to spread insecurity among the people and that BJP’s own record in dealing with terror during its rule at the Centre was dismal.
Has terrorism really increased in the last four years, as alleged by the BJP? Perhaps statistics alone cannot answer this question. While, earlier, the attacks were largely concentrated in the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir, in recent years the terrorists have struck at will all over the country and particularly in the metropolitan cities.
The charge that the UPA government is soft on terror cannot be wished away, at least on two accounts. First, the government has made very little headway in investigations relating to any of the high-profile terror attacks, nor have the culprits been brought to justice. Secondly, the spread of terror infrastructure in the southern states—which otherwise have had a better law and order situation—points to a major security failure.
Meanwhile, living with terror has become a way of life for urban India, particularly metropolitan cities.
For instance, in New Delhi, after the 2005 bomb blasts, many people I know avoid shopping on the eve of festivals in crowded markets, as such places and occasions are the favourite terror targets. I am sure many of you living in New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad or Bangalore, cities that have been terror targets, have not just become conscious of the threat of terrorism but have learnt to live with some latent fear.
With the ever-increasing income levels and the exposure among the urban middle classes as to how the world is dealing with the threat of terrorism, there is a growing consciousness about the need to deal firmly with terror. Increasing exposure to media and in particular to television has also contributed to increased consciousness.
Livelihood concerns and other bread-and-butter issues affect large sections of the urban populace and terrorism is not a dominant electoral issue among them as of now. But, given the latent fear that grips them and BJP’s efforts in focusing on the issue, it has the potential to become a salient issue for the urban middle classes.
With the Ayodhya movement having petered out, BJP realizes that the Ayodhya temple issue is no longer giving it electoral dividends. On the contrary, every time the BJP raises the Ram temple issue, it loses a few thousand votes as the core supporters of the party feel that the party failed in keeping its promise of constructing a Ram temple at Ayodhya.
BJP, however, cannot hope to come to power at the Centre without invigorating these core supporters and needs to highlight issues that will appeal to the party’s cadres and such core voters. This is one reason why the party is now gambling on raising Islamic terrorism as a surrogate to keep its cadres and core voters happy.