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Sunday, July 19, 2009

#1154, 20 September 2003
Widening the Discourse on Terror Firdaus AhmedFreelance Security Analyst
Concentration on violence and its distressing outcome deflects reflection from terrorism in its wider dimension. There is also a perspective that seeking the ‘roots’ of terrorism only rationalizes it, and indirectly legitimises the pernicious, though politically useful, ‘action-reaction’ theory. Furthermore, in India the dominant explanation is that all terrorism in India is ISI engineered due to Pakistan’s congenital antipathy to India and this manner of redressing the adverse power equation between the two countries continues.
This restriction has occurred by understanding ‘terrorism’ as being perpetrated by foreign elements and criminal sponsorship as in Kashmir and Mumbai. Mass terror stemming from mob action, largely with state collusion, and generally against minority communities as evident in the anti-Sikh riots and in Gujarat, has not attracted enough attention. However, given the growing incidence of terrorism in India, there appears to be a requirement to study linkages between the two forms of terrorism. The ending or containment of one may be dependent on how the other is addressed.
The internal intelligence agencies and the police have been acting with dispatch in destroying terrorist ‘cells’. The Home Minister revealed that at last count, the number of cells neutralized all over the country, was ninety-two. It would be rational to assume that if such alacrity would attend police action in cases dealing with mob violence, the rationale underlying for the mushrooming of these ‘cells’ would disappear. Therefore, while eliminating these cells, convictions like the recent one of Dara Singh for the murder of the Australian missionary Graham Staines, would address the problem more convincingly.
Chief Justice Khare’s observation that the essence of democracy is not electoral majorities but ‘rajdharma’, defined here as governance furthering constitutional freedoms, is an opportunity for widening the discourse on terrorism. The Chief Justice was commenting on the Best Bakery case.. The Chief Justice’s conflation of democracy with the rule of law is a reminder that the roots of terror also have an internal, but equally compelling, dimension. Judicial activism in this direction has been buttressed by the salutary conviction of Dara Singh.
Three instances where departure from the democratic principle has resulted in long running security problems has been the unrest in Punjab in the Eighties, the Kashmiri militancy in the Nineties and the bomb blasts in Mumbai in 1993 and 2003. There is no gainsaying the fact that a sense of grievance arising from the perceived injustice of the anti-Sikh riots and the ruthless suppression of the Kashmiri militancy has fuelled disturbed conditions leading to terrorism. The bomb blasts in Mumbai, while bearing the stamp of the ISI and D Company, could have been averted had politicization of the police not made them participants in the largely one-sided riots of 1993 and 2002. Widening the popular definition of terrorism has the downside of making it unwieldy, but this would be a practical reaction to the Indian circumstance.
Another pertinent aspect is that in the absence of an engagement between India and Pakistan, dialogue between the two states is substituted by terrorist acts conducted by their respective intelligence agencies. The Pakistani analysis of the bomb blasts and sectarianism in Karachi and elsewhere echoes India’s fixation with the ISI. In both states, votaries of a ‘tit for tat’ policy exist, and may have seized the policy agenda. Ending terrorism would thus require a political approach, along both internal and external dimensions, besides the present law and order and military approach.
Admittedly, the present approach to terrorism may be ‘political’, in that it is sanctioned by the political rulers and conditioned by a right wing world-view, that subscribes to dousing ‘fire with fire’. Demands for catering to the majority community ‘vote bank’ increase with the proximity of elections. Being seen as ‘soft’ on terrorism, or considering its ‘roots’ as against the outcome of terrorism, may not be politically attractive. However, in the more complex sociological, historical and political Indian context, a ‘political approach’ demands, the depoliticisation of governance, with professionalisation of the police being a major part of this effort. The perspective of democracy as majoritarianism, lying at the roots of institutional decomposition, requires review.
Privileging militarized policing may yield a diminishing return. There is a need to prevent the dastardly nature of terrorism limiting the debate on ending it. The criminality of the act should not be allowed to delegitimise its political context. Even as the act and its perpetrator faces the long arm of the law, that arm should not itself be selective. While it is likely that the wider contestation over the definition of nationalism between civic constitutionalism and cultural-territorial nationalism would provide long term answers, the interim could be negotiated by a securitisation of the ‘roots’ of terrorism.

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