News Find/Feedback/Site Index
February 23, 2000


Search Rediff

Is India a soft state?

E-Mail this report to a friend

Mohammad Javed R in Calcutta

Calcutta loves a good debate. It was house full at the prestigious Calcutta Club as seven eminent personalities discussed a question that has become something of a national obsession - is India soft in combating terrorism?

The speakers included Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley; defence expert K Subrahmanyan; General Shankar Roy Chowdhury; Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee president, Salman Khursheed; former Punjab IG KPS Gill; journalist Hiranmay Karlekar; and Suman Mukherjee.

Former Punjab governor Siddhartha Shankar Ray moderated the debate.

Following are the opinions expressed by some of the speakers:

Siddhartha Shankar Ray: Terrorism has been well defined authoritatively, legally and statutorily. An act of terrorism means any activity that involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life or property which is in violation of the criminal law to the land. In other words, terrorism is resorting to the criminal violation of the law to a) intimidate or force a person or a group of persons as a whole to do or not to do something b) to influence or alter the policy of the government by intimidation or to affect the conduct of a person or the government by assassination or kidnapping.

A terrorist doesn't want you to think or be rational. There are various forms of terrorism. Gunning down innocent people is obviously one them, but I would like the speakers to dwell on the recent incident in Varanasi as well. Kindly discuss whether the violent acts of a handful of people there did not amount to terrorism. Going by the definition, it certainly did.

Salman Khursheed: I am reminded by something about a scene in a film Secret of Santa Vithoria. When the mayor of Santa Vithoria got very upset at people saying that he wasn't doing his job properly, he went up to his wife and said: " I have had enough. I 'll pick up a gun and shoot myself in the head." His wife promptly replied: "Why your head when your brain is somewhere else."

That is exactly what our problem is. I don't I need to essentially prove that India is soft in combating terrorism. Anybody who reads newspapers will know that we are. Anybody who flies by Indian Airlines will know. Anybody who thinks that we gave a free ride to three of the worst criminals to a place called Kandahar in the distinguished company of our foreign minister would know that we are a soft state.

Nobody knows what transpired between the distinguished mullahs who went in that plane and the very distinguished foreign minister who speaks a language that mullahs wouldn't have understood. Whether it is the release of hostages or prisoners, friends or foes, the fact remains that we come down on our knees quickly every time there is a terrorist demand. Now, why is that so.

The Indian police have such a distinguished record of being a terror in UP. Our policemen rub chilly powder into the eyes of prisoners. And if they do not sing as our policemen would want them to, they hang him upside down. Sadly, these brutalities are frequently committed in a country which is proud of its human rights awareness and constitutional guarantees.

It is the softness towards terrorists combined with the brutalities against our own citizen which makes us such a weak state.

I would like to ask you a simple question: Is there some reason why after all these years we have not been able to arrest one gentleman called Dawood Ibrahim. He was last seen in Pakistan. But we continue to play cricket with that country.

There are some other names too: Prabhakaran, Virappan...It took us many, many months to nab a miserable, senseless man called Dara Singh.

It's basically a matter of attitude. Our attitude does not reflect a national resolve to pay the price required to fight terrorism. That's our problem. We were not ready to pay the price when the plane landed in Amritsar. We were not ready to pay the price when it reached Kandahar. As a result, today we are begging people to find the terrorists we freed in exchange of the hostages.

Now we say we want the sovereign territory of India which is under Pakistani occupation back. But who are we fooling? Every time we say we want Pakistan occupied Kashmir back, why don't we just get up and do something about it. Again we go back to cricket matches, dialogues and embraces.

We were believed to have solved the Kashmir problem five years ago. Today, the terrorists are taking on the army, attacking the headquarters of the special police. If the special police cannot protect itself, if the terrorists can walk into army camps and shoot a major inside his office, then how will they ensure the safety of the common people?

Arun Jaitley: India is not a soft state in its decision-making process. We are not a soft state in our attitude towards terrorism. We have never been a soft state in implementing our resolve to wipe out terrorism. We have difficulties may be because of administrative lacunae, problems of governance or our long boundaries that we share with a hostile neighbour.

The fight against terrorism has never been a partisan fight. It's a national resolve. My experience has been that we have had crises, we've had wars...I wonder what would have happened to some of the European countries if they had to fight wars, face terrorist attacks and national calamities. A lot of them would have collapsed. But this great nation has always shown the resilience to survive. Within months of 1961, 65, 71 and Kargil, this country was up on its feet, determined to fight terrorism.

We have made mistakes in the past. We allowed terrorism in the early eighties to grow in Punjab. We waited till the 1984 elections before we struck...some of our actions were controversial. What happened in June and November 1984, in fact, provided a political cocktail for terrorism to grow. Even our actions while fighting militants are subject to public and judicial scrutiny. We have always had mechanisms where we enter into dialogues, restore political processes and then try to bring normalcy.

Look at Mizoram. Mizoram is a state which suffered badly because of militancy. I am certainly not as depressed as Salman about the fate of India, because Mizoram is today considered a near peaceful state. We had United Liberation Front of Assom wreaking havoc in Assam not so long ago. But since last one year or so, ULFA has been on the run. Hundreds and hundreds of ultras have surrendered. Besides, the governor and the chief minister of the state made an extraordinary gesture and said "we invite militants in the state...we will give you a week's amnesty. If you are disappointed with our initiative to bring about peace go back to wherever you want."

This is not a sign of weakness. This stand could have been taken only by a government which had the confidence that it really could stand up to terrorism.

The developments in Kashmir today may be depressing. In 1988, it took us nearly eight years to restore the democratic process in the valley. This was the year when Kashmir was returning to normalcy. The maximum number of militants were killed during that year, the highest number of tourists in the last decade visited the state. The Kargil episode was nothing but the fallout of our neighbour's desire to disturb peace in the valley.

Our determination not to cross the LoC during Kargil war was not an indication our softness. It was a shrewd move. We diplomatically isolated Pakistan.

As Iqbal said: "Rome, Misr, Unan sab mit gaye jahan se, kuch baat hai ki hasti miti nahee hamari". With one Kashmir problem we need not indulge in an exercise of self-denigration.

General Shankar Roy Chowdhury: We should examine India's response to various terrorist challenges over the last fifty years. These responses can be divided into three components - military, administrative and political. The proposition that India is soft on terrorism depends on the fact whether or not these three components were evenly matched. The military responses have generally been fast, but those from the other two components have not been quick enough. When we talk of state being soft on terrorism, the implication is that the government succumbs to pressure. It's an ineffectual state. It's ineffectual because it's ineffective. It's ineffective because it's inefficient. And that's been a basic bane of the state in last fifty years. Though we have tried to conduct the campaign against terrorism and separatist movements as firmly as possible, unfortunately our execution has fallen short of what we had intended. Every state in the world including the United States and the United Kingdom have courts to ensure that the people who have been brought to book through military actions are punished in accordance with the law of the land.

We enacted a series of special legislations to combat terrorism - MISA, DIA, DASCA, NSA and TADA. But all these were allowed to lapse. Due to several lacunae in our governance, our system of enforcing the rules of law suffered, amply indicating our softness in fighting terrorism.

K Subrahmanyan: One way of looking at the problem is agreeing that that we are a soft state. But the statement would have some merit only if we find what the deficiencies are and then try to rectify them. What we need to do is find what's gone wrong and where. This nation has always been prepared to pay the costs of taking on the terrorists. That is not a sign of a soft state. What actually is wrong with us today is that we do not anticipate events, assess our environment or that of others whom we have to deal with. General Roy Chowdhury would say that's an administrative failure. Others can say it is a political failure. But that would be different from saying that the Indian state is soft. Kashmir problem has existed for the last ten years or so, yet no comprehensive strategy is in place to deal with it. This is shocking considering the fact that Pakistan is determined to disintegrate India. I would say that we are not able to chalk out a comprehensive plan to deal with insurgency in Kashmir for two reasons. One is the attitude rightly mentioned by Salman Khursheed and second the problem inherent in politics. Our politicians have failed miserably to administrate the state effectively. We have had many reports which identified the areas where we had failed, but nobody acted upon those suggestions. I hope it will not happen to my report on Kargil. I must say that the way the terrorists were dealt with in Calcutta in early seventies was not emulated in other disturbed areas of the country. However, I remain a firm believer of India being a strong state. It's unfortunate that because we are reactive, we are paying avoidably higher price.

Hiranmay Karlekar: A large state like India has the strategic depth. So when one part of the country is on fire, resources of the country in totality can be deployed to bring about peace. The point is when terrorism subsides in one part, it emerges elsewhere because we are soft. After terrorism subsided in Punjab, it emerged in Kashmir. Before terrorism could be tackled in Kashmir and Punjab, it emerged in the north-east. We continued to battle terrorists all along. Mind you, we are not a soft state. We are just soft in responding to terrorism. Softness is something we have to live with. Nothing was done in early seventies when the reports came in that the preparations were on to unleash terrorism in India. Even after the terrorism made inroads into India, nothing much was done. In 1981, we saw Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale walk away with all his armed supporters after being detained by police.

Same year, DIG police Atwal, was shot dead in front of the Golden Temple causing an uproar. Police could have walked in to arrest Bhindaranwale and his associates. But it didn't happen and things came to such a pass that operation Blue Star became necessary.

Take the intrusion in Kargil. According to an army source, one reason we couldn't detect the intrusion was because we didn't have remote control aircraft. We were handicapped because we didn't have gun-locating radars, which would have enabled us in silencing the Pakistani artilleries. Same was the case with the winter uniforms. Even after 1962, when we sent our troops to fight the Chinese in tennis shoes, we had not learnt our lessons. Why didn't we take note of the fact that in 1995, Pakistani Army had made the biggest purchase of winter uniforms ever in its history from European countries.

Back to top

Tell us what you think of this report