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Don't rejoice, tackle terror

Don't rejoice, tackle terror

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: August 20, 2006

For the past week, the Government and intelligentsia of India have been wallowing in an unseemly bout of self-congratulation. The much-feared terrorist attacks on Independence Day and Janmasthami did not materialise; the US and British advisory to its citizens in India turned out to be misplaced; and there was no visible backlash after the terrible Mumbai blasts of July 11. The results of an exhaustive opinion poll, suggesting that the support for the UPA is at an all-time high, also bolstered this enhanced comfort level. Internationally too, India wallowed in the praise lavished on its people by The Times (London) for being "majestic in their moderation."

At a time when security in Western airports remain edgy over what has been quaintly described as "travelling whilst Asian", it is great to be singled out for restraint and moderation. Ruing the possible end of duty-free shopping, a friend still managed to look on the bright side of life. At least, he announced loftily, pointing to a land mass west of Amritsar, "We are not like them."

That's a truism that hardly warrants reiteration. In 59 years, India has evolved and the others have regressed. While our neighbours are increasingly enthralled by the certitudes of medievalism, India has engaged with the modernity. There is an Indian identity and an Indian way of doing things which, despite their monumental imperfections, distinguish us from the people next door. Our avowed commitment to universalism is quite decisively national.

For the moment we have successfully resisted the temptation of being blown off our feet by the tsunami of hatred that has been unleashed from the West. Despite the arrests of real and potential subversives committed to waging jihad against the tenets of our nationhood, there is no widespread feeling that Indian Muslims have somehow gone over to the side of the fanatics. The belief that problems can be resolved within the parameters of competitive democratic politics is still not entirely discredited.

Yet, there are underlying tensions which have been wilfully skirted by the political class and the opinion-makers. We can ignore these early warnings at our own peril.

First, the opinion polls reveal that there is a monumental pent-up anger, in urban India at least, at our collective inability to thrash the terrorists - whether they happen to be foreign paratroopers or home grown deviants. That this has not manifested itself immediately in voting preferences has more to do with the waning credibility of the Opposition than confidence in the Government.

Second, there has been a complete erosion of faith in the ability of the State to mete out justice to those who kill and maim innocent Indians. Those who heard the comments of ordinary Mumbaikars after the TADA court delayed the 1993 Mumbai blasts judgment would have been struck by the popular exasperation with the niceties of law. The panic-stricken response to Raj Thackeray's warning to lawyers to stay away from defending those involved in the July 11 blasts is very revealing.

Finally, the leadership of the Muslim community hasn't exactly endeared itself to the rest of the country by its persistent policy of denial. By glossing over the increasing radicalisation of young Muslims, indeed justifying the drift with pan-Islamic and anti-American invocations, it is conveying the impression of being soft on terrorism. What, people are beginning to ask, have the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon got to do with us? Why, they ask, hasn't the Government shut down madarsas that serve as the antechambers of Islamism? The belligerent protests against police interrogations, which have resulted in some Muslim ghettos becoming no-go areas for the authorities, are helping establish new sectarian faultlines which may end up nullifying India's much-acclaimed majestic moderation.

The entire focus of the Government is on preventing Muslim "alienation", a position that ignores the ideological dimensions of Islamist terrorism. It is time to spare a thought to the mounting anger of those who have neither panicked nor yielded to terror: The Indian who is first and foremost an Indian.

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