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New Delhi’s ostrich act is helping terrorists and Naxalites to gain in strength. But the Indian Govt is in a state of denial, writes Prem Shankar Jha.

india Updated: Sep 10, 2007 23:33 IST
Prem Shankar Jha
Prem Shankar Jha
Hindustan Times

The bomb blasts at Hyderabad were another reminder that the Indian State, indeed India’s future, is becoming steadily more endangered. The threat is coming from both within and outside the country, and is becoming more cohesive. But the Indian establishment is in a state of denial, which has taken several forms. One is loud assertions that there is nothing wrong, India’s progress is unstoppable and that all is (more or less) for the best. This is what India Inc has been telling the world for the last five years. Another is to play ostrich and ignore warning signals in the hope that they will go away. The method is simple: don’t report incidents, and if they are too gory to ignore, then treat them as isolated cases and minimise their significance. Do not, above all, join the dots, for if you do, a pattern might appear that you do not wish to see and do not want others to notice.

The terrorist attack in Hyderabad is the latest of more than a dozen lethal bomb blasts in the last two years, which have claimed more than 500 lives. Unlike in Kashmir, civilians have been the only targets of the terrorists and their purpose has evolved from attacking symbols of the Indian State, such as Red Fort, Parliament House and the Mumbai stock exchange, to destroying communal harmony and ripping apart the country’s social fabric. Thus, in Delhi, the targets were Diwali-eve shoppers, who would be mostly Hindus. In Varanasi, the bombs were placed in and around temples, and the Mumbai bombs last year were placed in first-class compartments where, given the economic stratification of the city, the vast majority of travellers were certain to be non-Muslims. <b1>

When these failed to provoke attacks by Hindus on Muslims, the terrorists began to target Muslims, in the hope that they would be easier to provoke. The planting of bombs adjacent to a mosque in Malegaon, on the Samjhauta Express and in Mecca Masjid at Hyderabad, fall into this category. The change of tactics seems to be working, but for an unexpected reason. The intense police investigation, detentions and interrogation of Muslim youth in both cities has fed a sense of outrage that is being skillfully fuelled by grievance-mongers in the Muslim community.

Disclosures by intelligence agencies to trusted journalists have revealed increasing local recruitment, growing logistical support in pockets of the Muslim community, increased sophistication in the manufacture of bombs and detonators and, most disturbing of all, a growing internationalisation of the movement.

The Mumbai bomb blasts were a joint operation of India- and Pakistan-based cadres of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. The Hyderabad blasts were apparently planned and organised by Indian recruits of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HuJI), which is increasingly operating out of Bangladesh. Both organisations are supported to the hilt by a well-developed network of local cells. But Indian spokesmen continue to maintain, at least in public, that Indian Muslims have stayed out of the jehadi movement that is sweeping the Muslim world.

The second threat comes from the growing strength of the Maoist/Naxalite movement in central India. It is even more serious than the jehadi threat because it has the capacity to stop the Indian growth story cold in its tracks. But the state of denial here is even more pronounced.

The Maoists first demonstrated their muscle more than two years ago when a thousand or more of their cadres, backed by tribals, invaded the town of Jehanabad in south Bihar, drove out the police, captured the armoury and opened the jail to free their comrades. In the months that followed, their attacks grew bolder.

According to a database maintained by Satporg, a thinktank that specialises in tracking terrorism in South Asia, in the first four months of 2006, the number of Naxalite attacks increased by 12.7 per cent, but the number of policemen killed rose by a third. In May, Home Minister Shivraj Patil conceded that nine states — Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Orissa — were severely affected by Maoist violence. Chhattisgarh is the worst affected. Two-fifth of all the incidents in the first four months of 2006 occurred there. These accounted for two-thirds of all the policemen killed.

Virtually, none of this has been reported by the national media. But what has come out suggests that there is a covert war going on between the police and the Maoists and that the police are losing it hands down. In two sensational encounters in Chhattisgarh this year, the Maoists led police parties into traps, killed 25 and 12 of them respectively, and vanished with their arms. It is the arms they captured that betray the seriousness of the situation. For these have included not only AK-47s but the new ultra-light INSAS rifles that have become the standard weapon of the army.

But so far, no news analysis in the print media has looked for the connections between these seemingly widely dispersed events. The only demand of the states has been for more armed police and more weapons. Patil’s only offer of a dialogue has been preceded by a demand that the Maoists first lay down their arms.

There are solid economic and social reasons for the resurgence of Naxalism, just as there are solid reasons for the growing alienation of a particular stratum of educated, but poor, Muslim youth. But if you refuse to acknowledge a problem, or insist on minimising it, you are not likely to look for solutions.

Not long after Jehanabad, a journalist from the

Hindustan Times

interviewed Indian Maoist leaders in Nepal. They told him categorically that their struggle was against the continuing alienation of land and traditional forest and other rights of the mostly adivasi population of the central belt. They vowed to stop roads, dams and power plants from being built. But New Delhi has deliberately chosen to ignore the threat. It carefully limited the scope of its revised guidelines on land acquisition to the Special Economic Zones even though these will occupy less than a twentieth of the land that it is contemplating taking over for its 399 hydel plants, its 35,000 km of modern roads and its mining concessions. These will continue to be acquired for a song under an Act that was framed in 1894 by the British!

The most obvious repercussions of the refusal to acknowledge the growing alienation of some segments of Indian Muslims are visible in Kashmir, where New Delhi is blind to the need to achieve closure with the Kashmiris on the deaths of between 40,000 and 90,000 Kashmiris, as a precondition to lasting peace. Nelson Mandela understood the need for truth and reconciliation in South Africa, even though he was among the victims. But there are no Mandelas in the Indian government.

This denial has also become the main stumbling block to appreciating the threat from Muslim alienation in the rest of India. Admittedly, only a handful have become jehadis, and have been trained by ideologues based in Pakistan. But these ideologues are no longer controlled by the Pakistan army or the ISI. The military regime there is locked in a life and death struggle with the jehadis, of which the showdown at Lal Masjid in Islamabad was only the visible tip.

According to official data, in north Waziristan, the Pakistan army lost 96 soldiers this year. Of them, 52 were killed after July 15, when the Taliban repudiated the truce brokered at Miranshahr in the wake of the Lal Masjid showdown. The Lashkar and the HuJI are, therefore, increasingly becoming part of the international jehad. India is only their first and proximate target. This globalisation of terror mandates that Pakistan and India bury their mutual suspicions and work together. But that realisation is limited to a very few in India and fewer still in Pakistan.

First Published: Sep 10, 2007 23:13 IST