Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

India Under Siege

Blasts in Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Delhi and Malegaon— the list goes on. We perhaps believed the worst of the terror run was over. But the pre-Diwali lull proved false. Yesterday, several blasts struck Assam — in Guwahati, Bongaigaon, Barpeta and Kokrajhar — leaving scores dead. Spread over almost the entire state, the horrific attacks proved yet again that enemies of India’s territorial and emotional integrity have organisational and technical capabilities that our law enforcers repeatedly underestimate.

While fanatics demonstrate with sickening regularity their power to strike at will, the official response is invariably an assertion of renewed resolve to fight terror. Assam’s tragedy shows up, damningly, the government’s failure to deliver on that promise.

There were recent warnings that Assam was on the radar of a United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA)-Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) combine. It should have been on high alert, more so given recent ethnic strife between Bodo tribespeople and Bangladeshi migrants. The north-eastern state’s strategic importance in terms of resource wealth — oil, in particular — and security cannot be overstated.

More, its social fabric has long been stretched thin by students’ movements against ‘foreigners’, fears of demographic change, ULFA’s secessionist violence and ethnic strife fomented by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland. Pakistani and Bangladeshi militants have long been known to be fishing in these troubled waters; home-grown terror in the form of the Indian Mujahideen (IM) has only helped their agenda in the north-east and elsewhere.

In September, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh insisted that the UPA wasn’t soft on terror. This had gone along with a frank admission of gaps in our intelligence network. It may be asked what the home ministry has done since then to reinforce preventive intelligence and law enforcement mechanisms. When it comes to anti-terror combat, it seems India can no longer afford the growing perception of being led by an excessively gentlemanly prime minister and a dandy but weak home minister. For, the prevailing sense of drift has only served to embolden all kinds of challenges to the Indian Union.

Terrorism is now a pan-India phenomenon, with terror recruits being traced to even Kerala. Home-grown extremists — whether of the IM or of the saffron variety — are deepening religious divides. At the same time, Naxalite carnage is beating previous records. Now, regional chauvinism of the Raj Thackeray kind threatens to blow up into an interstate conflagration. People’s representatives can no longer wink at the fact that India’s unity is under siege or play games of electoral one-upmanship.

The prime minister must immediately do something. He should call an all-party emergency meeting, so that the entire political spectrum stands — and is seen to stand — united against balkanisers and hate-mongers of every stripe.

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