In just 12 months, the ability of the terror squads to strike has grown exponentially. There was the foiled attack on the makeshift Ram temple in Ayodhya which was narrowly foiled. There were the serial pre-Diwali blasts in the crowded markets of Delhi, the murder of a scientist in Bangalore's Indian Science Institute, the explosion in the Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi, the foiled attack on the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, the repeated grenade attacks on hapless tourists in Srinagar and, finally, the serial blasts in Mumbai on July 11.
The list could even be longer if you include the audacious jail breaks by Maoists in Jehanabad and Malkagiri, the land mine blasts and attacks on Salwa Judum relief camps in Chhattisgarh.
If the Government'sNational Security Adviser is to be believed, the terrorists have silently infiltrated the armed forces and are readying to carry out spectacular attacks on the country'satomic energy plants.
India is under attack from every quarter. The jehadis have established cells all over the country, and particularly in the towns and cities of Andhra Pradesh. The Maoist red corridor which threatens to link Pashupati to Tirupati could well be said to be a de-facto reality, more so after the turbulence in Nepal. And in Assam and the North-east, uncontained insurgencies and a systematic demographic change put a big question mark on the very integrity of eastern India.
Some three decades ago, some Pakistani strategists had evolved the strategy of ?thousand cuts? to bleed and ultimately dismember India. Today, at more than any point in our recent history, India has become vulnerable.
The paradox is that the threat to India and the ferocity of the assault on our nationhood is most intense at a time when economically the country is on the cusp of a major take-off. It would hardly be an exaggeration to suggest that despite islands of extreme immiseration?witness the continuing suicide by farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Vidharba?India has never felt so assured about its own future. And yet, this spectacular improvement in our economic well-being coincides with the most serious assault on Indian nationhood.
Does economics explain why there is a greater threshold of tolerance in the country? Does the fear of disruption, and the ensuing monetary losses, explain why the instinctive response of the Indian establishment to terrorist attacks is to pretend that nothing has really happened? The media and even the political class celebrated the so-called Mumbai spirit in the aftermath of July 11. What did this celebration of resilience actually mean?
It meant a dread of economic disruption.
The conviction that terrorism will not be able to derail the nation'smarch to prosperity and a robust GDP growth is admirable. That so many people have a stake in normalcy should be a lesson to all those who complain of India being slothful and indolent. Yet, there is a danger that the national determination to ensure that life remains normal can be misinterpreted as apathy or, worse, defeatism. More ominously, the danger of terrorists interpreting the lack of any explosive anger as a licence to kill and maim more people cannot be discounted.
In forging an adequate and effective response to these threats to our nationhood, it is best not to repose inordinate faith in the UPA Government. That this Government is ?soft? on terror has, by now, become conventional wisdom. It is also well known that this inability to defend the country against both internal and external subversion is linked to narrow vote-bank politics. The jehadi menace is not being countered with sufficient intensity because there is a misplaced perception that aggressive policing will lead to the alienation of Muslims?a community that can be relied on to vote solidly for the UPA partners. An ideological threat is sought to be countered by doling out economic sops, like grants to madrasas and job reservations, to Muslims. At the same time, there is a general disbelief in the Congress that these ameliorative measures haven'tled to the visible isolation of the jehadis from their own communities. Rather than see this as evidence of a wrong approach, there is a temptation to go further down the road of hand-outs.
It is remarkable that the follies of the Government haven'tled to a popular tide in favour of the opposition. For all its other inadequacies, the BJP has been screaming against terrorism from the rooftops. Last summer, the party even undertook a Bharat Suraksha Yatra which, however, failed to capture the public imagination. In the aftermath of the Mumbai carnage, the BJP failed to galvanise the growing disquiet at the Government'ssecurity failures. Even horror stories of the jail for the Coimbatore blasts accused being turned into an ayurvedic massage parlour was allowed to pass.
At one level, the failure of the political class to forge a viable strategy against terrorism can be attributed to a crisis of leadership. History has shown that inspirational leadership is the basic precondition for a nation to extricate itself from a national crisis. Unfortunately, there is no inspirational leadership in the public face of both political formations. If Manmohan Singh is perceived as a stop-gap arrangement, the erstwhile NDA stalwarts are regarded as well beyond their prime.
There is also another silent concern. There exists in India today an all-pervasive dread of citizens taking the law into their own hands and unleashing the type of retaliatory violence that was witnessed in Mumbai in 1993 and Gujarat in 2002. There is a strong belief that terrorists want Hindus and Sikhs to come out into the streets and attack Muslims?a reaction that will make the silent communal polarisation more overt. Consequently, there is a fear that Hindutva politics of the type witnessed in the early-1990s will compound the problem rather than resolve it.
None of these concerns should be dismissed lightly. There exists in India today a profound exasperation, verging on anger, at the inability of the UPA Government to either acknowledge or fight the jehadi and Maoist terror. At the same time, the perception of what constitutes the alternative approach is seen to be a threat to the growing economic well-being of the country. The Opposition has responded to the Government'sinadequacies in a mechanical way?demanding the restoration of draconian anti-terror legislation. It has not addressed the anxieties of the people. Nor for that matter has it addressed the complex interaction between robust nationalism and a modern identity. It is time to debate the political responses to terrorism a little more innovatively.
(The author is a well-known columnist and senior editor, The Pioneer.)