Concerns of internal security are paramount for any sovereign country to protect its unity and integrity and maintain social harmony. Hence, the current debate, in Parliament as well as outside it, is welcome insofar that it aims to strengthen our security. However, given its own track record in government, the BJP’s shrillness on this score does not betray any genuine concern. On the contrary, the objective seems more to sharpen communal polarisation for political gains. As we shall see later, this only contributes to worsening the situation of our internal security.
Let us consider the facts. During the six years of the BJP-led NDA rule, from 1998 to 2003, a total of 26,007 lives were lost to terrorist violence. This figure does not include Naxalite violence. An average of 4,335 lives were lost per annum. In the years 2004 till date, after the UPA government took office, 7,037 lives have been lost — an average of 2,346 per annum. These are figures provided by the Institute of Conflict Management headed by KPS Gill.
However, fatalities due to Naxalite violence have increased since the UPA government assumed office. Compared to 1,465 incidents in 2002, there were 1,608 in 2005. The number of deaths during this period grew from 482 to 669. This has mainly happened due to militant outbursts in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, both with BJP-led state governments. Sixty per cent of the total casualties in the current year have occurred in Chhattisgarh alone. Hence, the BJP’s disinformation campaign that the UPA government is allegedly being held to ransom by the Left parties and is responsible for the sharp deterioration in internal security, is patently false.
On other counts as well, such a campaign cannot stand the glare of scrutiny. Let us take the current provocation for such a campaign: the hype being created over the clemency petition of Afzal Guru, which is currently pending with the President of India. Afzal Guru was convicted in the case of the attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001. All those who cherish India’s secular democracy would want the law of the land to take its course without any interference. Afzal was given the punishment of death by the courts for his involvement in the attack on Parliament. The law of the land gives any convicted person the right to appeal to the President of India for mercy. This is currently pending. The matter is simple: let the law take its course.
In this context, it must be noted that 22 mercy petitions involving 44 convicted persons, excluding Afzal’s petition, are currently pending before the President of India. Interestingly, the mercy petitions of Murugan, Santhan and Arivu, convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, were sent by the Tamil Nadu government to the Home Ministry on May 4, 2000. The then Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, LK Advani, mysteriously sat on these petitions till the end of the NDA government’s tenure. These petitions were forwarded to the President only in June 2005, after the UPA government assumed office.
The BJP’s charge today is a classic case of the kettle calling the pot black. On December 31, 1999, the Foreign Minister of the BJP-led NDA government personally escorted three terrorists and handed them over to the Taliban’s foreign minister in Kandahar. Till date, the country does not know why the hijacked plane which landed in Amritsar for refuelling was allowed to leave Indian territory. Internal security, then, was directly under Advani’s charge.
There were other grievous lapses as well during the NDA rule. The failures of both intelligence and internal security agencies during the Kargil war have come to light. A former intelligence bureau chief has gone on record to state that the government agencies were alerted a good nine months before hostilities broke out.
For nearly eight months after the attack on Parliament, the Vajpayee government kept the army on alert on the border. This was probably the largest peace-time army mobilisation in history. Notwithstanding jingoistic extortions, this armed alert was withdrawn unnoticed by the nation.
Regarding Afzal Guru’s case itself, it has now come to light that he was picked up in June 2000, having been seen as a conduit for the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Ghazi Baba. After being questioned by the Special Task Force, he was mysteriously released. What is worse is that security agencies now admit that nobody kept a track on him. All this happened when the administration was being led and controlled by the very people who, today, are raising a hue and cry. Worse still are the exposures that have now come to light on the penetration of foreign agencies, particularly the CIA, in vital military intelligence apparatus of our country.
Recounting all these, however, cannot be justification for any lowering of our guard. The internal security of our country is non-negotiable. All required measures to strengthen this must be undertaken.
It is in this context that we return to our earlier apprehensions about the BJP mounting a campaign against the government for being ‘soft’ on terror as part of a Muslim appeasement policy. The absurdity of such a charge would imply that the terrorist attacks on the Red Fort, the Indian Parliament, Akshardham temple in Gujarat and the twice-hit Raghunath temple in Jammu and Kashmir, etc. under the BJP-led NDA rule occurred because of the Vajpayee government’s policies of appeasement of Muslims.
Such a campaign is clearly aimed at sharpening communal polarisation which, in itself, is a major contributor to weakening the situation of internal security.
The State-sponsored communal carnage in Gujarat continues to torment the modern secular, democratic Indian republic. The politics of sharpening communal polarisation for electoral benefit is the biggest assault on the unity and integrity of our country and its social harmony. For the sake of strengthening India’s internal security, it is such politics that must be democratically isolated.
Finally, concerns of internal security cannot remain confined only to terrorist and militant attacks. Important as they are and imperative as it is to control and incapacitate such forces, the country can least afford to ignore the socio-economic conditions which continuously feed such insecurity. Take, for instance, the food insecurity that haunts our country and the continuing suicides by farmers. In the last few years, close to 20,000 farmers have committed suicide annually.
The unacceptably high malnutrition levels is reflected in the fact that 37 per cent of men and 39 per cent of women suffer from chronic energy deficiencies. Studies have shown that 51 per cent of our children are stunted, 20 per cent wasted and 75 per cent are anaemic. In a country with the world’s largest youth population, we have a decline in employment opportunities in both the organised and unorganised sectors.
Internal security concerns, surely, must include and address these issues. In the final analysis, internal security is crucially dependent on the livelihood security of our people. Alas, the vote-bank politics of seeking to consolidate electoral support of the religious majority is derailing the country’s attention from these important concerns.
Sitaram Yechury is a Rajya Sabha MP and Member, CPI(M) Politburo