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Standing by Surat

Standing by Surat

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: August 2, 2008

Homegrown jihad cannot be wished away

As an old Chinese proverb goes, "When the finger points to the moon, the idiot points to the finger." The response of sections of the media and the army of so-called civil society leaders to the declaration of war by terrorists against the citizens of Surat has been reminiscent of the old Chinese injunction. More than two dozen bombs were planted at strategic and yet innocuous locations to kill people and, more important, to spread widespread panic and severely destabilise Surat's diamond and textile industries. The fortuitous capture of a car in which the timers and controls of the bombs lay saved the city. It also provided important clues as to why the bombs didn't go off: Incorrect wire connections made by ham-handed bomb technicians and faulty chips. Over two manic days, doughty and vigilant people in Surat helped identify bombs, calling the police and in one case physically carrying the incendiary device to the police station. It was courage at its most raw or even at its most foolhardy. To see in this some sinister pattern of a political group 'planting' dud bombs to heighten social tensions is ridiculous. It is to trivialise the enormity of the test Surat is undergoing. Indeed, it is clear that - even if the masterminds are outsiders, from another State and perhaps another country - enormous logistical support from locals must have been necessary for an operation of this magnitude. The police commissioner of Surat said as much, without pointing fingers at any specific segment and has immediately been hauled over the coals for allegedly insulting Surat's syncretism.

After each terrorist attack, blame is justifiably directed at the Indian State, particularly at the UPA Government. It has not just dismantled the legal infrastructure being used to combat and punish terrorism but has also neglected intelligence gathering and has demonstrated no real political will to fight terror. It is worth asking, however, what role the media and public intellectuals are playing. Nobody is suggesting that India's entire Muslim community has been radicalised and has become an ancillary to the global terror machine. Yet, even if commonsensical observations that people who are citizens of and living in India are involved in facilitating or carrying out terrorist operations, admittedly in likely conformity with a larger blueprint drawn by Islamist elements outside the borders of India, are shouted down, does it not also undermine the resolve to fight terror? In Maharashtra, routine police search and interrogation operations after the Mumbai blasts of 2006 have been painted in lurid colours. In Hyderabad, politics has made the Old City - parts of which are emerging as the national headquarters of jihad in India and are home to big financiers of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba - more or less out of bounds for security forces. In Gujarat, there is consensus in liberal circles that people like the late Sohrabuddin Sheikh are small-time thugs but not terrorists. This difference is sometimes fictional. Local agents of Dawood Ibrahim have been linked to the recent terror episode, just as Dawood's henchman in Gujarat, Abdul Lateef, was implicated in the Mumbai blasts of 1993. Sohrabuddin began, of course, as a Lateef sidekick. The Gujarat example is instructive; it is being repeated elsewhere in India. Charity begins at home, they say, but so must an effective onslaught against terrorism.

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