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Our terrorising political failure

It’s not intelligence failure that makes us sitting ducks. It’s not the lack of legal deterrence either. Essentially, it’s always one thing that comes in the way of our ability to fight terrorism: politics, writes Pratik Kanjilal.

india Updated: Nov 29, 2008 01:53 IST

Terror (n.)

Intense, abject fear or dread. High-value political coin used for playing the blame game.

It took a clustered shoot-’em-up attack to put a stop to the ongoing season of terror politics — for almost 24 hours. The terrorists who took over South Mumbai on Wednesday night were as well-trained, well-equipped and logistically supported as any commando raiding party. The murderous audacity of the assault and the magnitude of the toll were so shocking that we were very happy to let the specialists in uniform deal with the situation without political interference. But it couldn’t last. Because in India, terror has been devalued and shorn of its dreadful enormity by the political class. Now, it’s just politics by other means.

Through Thursday, the President, the Prime Minister and Opposition leader L.K. Advani issued politically neutral statements. But late in the evening, Advani and Jaswant Singh found themselves drawn to the TV lights at Nariman Point like moths to a flame. And amidst the pious talk about how we should all pull together as a team, setting aside communal sentiment, they popped the f-word: intelligence failure — implying government failure. Any leader out of power can hammer the government with it while clamouring for tough terror laws, though neither really pre-empts attacks. The term has become so trite by overuse that we should look beyond it to see why terror continues unabated. It’s not because of intelligence failure or the lack of legal deterrence, but because of political failure.

Terror prospers because the security agencies are constantly distracted by political diversions. In Mumbai, for instance, they have been grappling with Marathi manoos-hood intent on breaking the heads of migrant Biharis. The precious person of the politician is itself a diversion — the appearance of Advani and Jaswant Singh at Nariman Point distracted the attention of securitymen from an ongoing operation. Even when the agencies are allowed to do their job, they are trammelled by political interference. The insurgency in Assam was never completely extinguished because Army operations were repeatedly pulled back when they were on the brink of success. Today, Advani’s offer to join hands with the government would have carried some weight, were it not for the fact that he has made terror suspect Pragya Singh Thakur the BJP mascot in the Madhya Pradesh elections.

Terror sells in the electoral marketplace. It is valuable coin for any political formation which benefits from public insecurity, whose electoral promise is to make your life safer. Which is why we should take policymaking on terror out of the absolute control of the political puppet masters and allow a meaningful say to the specialists — the men in uniform who put their lives on the line in Mumbai this week.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine

First Published: Nov 28, 2008 22:01 IST