12/13: No Lessons Learnt

Updated: Dec 15 2002, 05:30am hrs
I write this on Friday, December 13, 2002. It is the first anniversary of the attack on the Parliament House.

The Americans call their day of awakening as 9/11. That is September 11, 2001. Thankfully, we dont call our day of awakening as 12/13. Because, although it was perhaps the most audacious terrorist challenge to the authority, there had been similar outrages in the past and there have been some since. The attack on the J&K Legislature, the occupation of several places of worship and the attack on the Akshardham temple are only some recent examples.

The difference between 9/11 and 12/13 is the difference in the response of the US government and the response of Indian government. The Americans reacted as if their very existence as a nation was in peril. Every department of the federal government was galvanised into action. The CIA, FBI, defence, aviation, banking, immigration, social security, state police departments you name it, it was there were part of President George Bushs war against terror. If the Americans can be faulted, it is perhaps for exaggerating the threat to their economy and polity. But it is the right of every nation to assess the threat to its security and make preparations accordingly.

Indian governments response has been just brave talk. Has anything changed since December 13, 2001 According to the Intelligence Bureau, infiltration from across the border has not declined. According to published statistics, the number of encounters and the number of militants killed remain high. The number of security personnel who lose their lives every month is also unacceptably high. There was another intrusion in Kargil, and (although denied at first) it is now admitted that the Army sought the help of the Air Force to evict the intruders.

The Indian government has indulged in high rhetoric of taking the struggle into the enemys territory. From time to time, deputy prime minister LK Advani hints at hot pursuit, only to deny it within hours. Hints are also thrown about destroying the bases in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir from where the militants operate, but there is no evidence of any attempt to do so. National security adviser Brajesh Mishra blames the US for its total failure in terms of results in containing cross-border terrorism. When The Hindustan Times polled its readers on the question, Has Indias preparedness to counter terrorist attacks improved since the December 13 attack on Parliament, a resounding 66.8 per cent said No.

Intelligence, counter-intelligence and internal security are tough subjects. There is no room for amateurs. There is no room for errors. In the first place, there must be a policy of the kind that Mr Bush placed before the US Congress. One may disagree with the Bush doctrine (If you are not with us, you are with the terrorists), but there is no gainsaying the fact that his speech contained a clear articulation of the US policy.

Secondly, the government must find one exceptionally qualified person responsible for drawing an agenda for action. In record time, the US created a new department of homeland security, and concentrated all authority to counter terrorist activity in that department. Under the BJP-led government, the department of internal security has become weak. There is not even a minister for internal security, and the department has been put under the direct charge of the home minister. Mr Advani may be an able man, but I cannot visualise how a 74-year-old person, with numerous other responsibilities in the government and in the party, can give his undivided attention and energies to the most critical department in the Central government.

In 1996, when Mr Indrajit Gupta sought and got the home ministry, I had cautioned him on the almost unbearable burden of work that he was taking upon himself. Within weeks, Mr Gupta ruefully admitted to me that he was buried under his files. If you disregard Mr Advanis speech, where is the agenda to counter terrorism

Thirdly, there must be a determined action to implement the agenda. Absent on agenda, there is no question of implementation. The BJP-led government cannot claim that it has made any significant progress in containing or countering terrorism. The situation is the same a year after December 13, 2001 as it was before. The government hobbles from crisis to crisis. After every attack or encounter, there are more brave words, but little concrete action.

We are used to Mr Advanis anti-Pakistan rhetoric. They have become shriller by the day. Even so, I was surprised when he challenged Pakistan and said Lets have a fourth war. Should we take Mr Advani seriously Does he believe that another war with Pakistan is the solution And will it be a fight to the finish, a war to end all wars Taking him seriously, I would like to ask him if he and his government really believed that a war with Pakistan is the solution to the problems between the two countries, why do they not invoke the undoubted authority of the executive government and go ahead and declare war on Pakistan

The fault is not in his choice of words, the fault lies in Advani the swayamsevak. Because he has been nurtured by the RSS, he wishes to see India as a Hindu State. When he draws a battleline between Pakistan and India a line that he will never dare to cross he is actually drawing a battleline between the Hindu and Muslim. There are a hundred hidden messages in his latest war cry. These messages were meant for the electorate in Gujarat, and will be repeated when the electoral battle is joined in the 10 other states next year. It is a pity that the home minister of the country, instead of uniting the people, is emboldening the extremists among the Hindus and provoking the extremists among the Muslims, and in the process drawing a faultline between the two communities.

Mr Advani should pause to consider the dangerous implications of pitting the Hindu against Muslim or the Hindu against Christian. In every city and town and even in many villages the Muslims are being pushed to live in exclusive areas. They are really ghettos. The Scheduled Castes also live in such ghettos in many parts of the country. The people of a country living in ghettos and living apart can never forge a nationhood. The faultlines that divide them will destroy India more surely than any war will.

The author is a former Union finance minister