May 6, 2002


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The Rediff Special/ Lt General Eric A Vas [retired]

The problem of internal security

Part I: Indo-Pak confrontation: Who's winning?

The internal challenge that India has faced since Independence is to maintain its traditional policy of unity in diversity while empowering the underprivileged, and finding more room for equality and individual freedom. Pakistan dreams of India being further partitioned into three or four parts. So while our security forces fight in Jammu and Kashmir and our armed forces remain mobilised along the international border, Pakistan is busy directing a second 'war' against India. That 'war' is not being fought with weapons or for territorial gain. The aim is to undermine India's unity and its democratic system in order to prove that Partition in 1947 was unavoidable. The tactics adopted is for their agents to continually provoke dissension and riots within the country.

But let us not put all the blame for internal unrest on Pakistan. The linguistic, religious, cultural and social differences, which are permitted to flourish in our country, are potential areas of internal conflict. Politicians who lack a national perspective are only too glad to take a volatile regional issue to the streets, thereby hoping to gain personal publicity and electoral votes. Undoubtedly, whenever happens, Pakistan is quick to exploit the situation.

The Partition of India and the initial isolation of Muslims from the mainstream lead to the growth of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Over time, this has come to be identified with the Shiv Sena, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and their militant wing, the Bajrang Dal, which form the hard core of the Sangh Parivar [the rightwing Hindu Family]. All behave like the heirs of Jinnah and demand a pure Hindu rashtra.

Over the past 50 years of Independence, thanks to sound policies and Constitutional safeguards, Muslims slowly rid themselves of the trauma of Partition and began entering the secular mainstream, where many of them soon rose to positions of influence in every walk of society. Hardliners of the Sangh Parivar resent the empowerment of the underprivileged and women, and the Constitutional safeguards given to them. They especially resent the growing prosperity of sections of Muslim society, which they distrust.

Discouraged by repeated election failures the BJP decided to copy the Pakistani military and play the Hindu card. They rode to political power on a VHP-led saffron wave which moved from Gujarat to Ayodhya, destroyed the Babri Masjid and demanded that a temple be constructed at the site. Because of this, the BJP was able to gain political power in several states and lead a coalition government, the National Democratic Alliance, at the Centre. Having tasted power, hardline elements of the Sangh Parivar begun behaving like mirror images of Pakistani fundamentalists. Their jehadi tactics, their hatred and fear of modern influences and open resentment against newly empowered sections of society brings them into constant conflict with the core provisions of the Constitution. This creates a law and order problem for the administration.

Persistent undemocratic behaviour of the hardliners slowly resulted in loss of political support from the masses. These adverse trends became apparent from election results in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Uttaranchal and Delhi. This anti-BJP wave made the hardliners fear a political and economic threat from KHAM [the Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim combine] to their last stronghold of political power in Gujarat..

Though a Supreme Court ruling stayed construction work at Ayodhya, organised groups of VHP workers [kar sevaks] kept travelling up and down in trains from Gujarat to Ayodhya. Reportedly the kar sevaks were overbearing and kept baiting Muslim vendors at Godhra railway station, a volatile Muslim stronghold. One day, at the end of February 2002, a well-organised Muslim mob stopped on the train outside Godhra and launched a pre-planned attack. A compartment was set on fire and over 50 kar sevaks including many women and children were burnt to death. The Gujarat government, instead of dealing ruthlessly with those criminals, did not prevent revenge killings by Hindu mobs against influential Muslim political and commercial leaders all over Gujarat.

After 72 hours, the authorities found the mobs were out of control and could not be stopped from killing and looting. This went on for more than two months and over 800 innocent Muslims and courageous Hindus who tried to protect them were slaughtered. Over 100,000 Muslim refugees have taken shelter in refugee camps. Impartial observers and the National Human Rights Commission have pointed to the collusion, culpability and utter negligence of the state government. The prime minister during his visit to the stricken state said what has happened in Gujarat is a shameful blot on the country. The state government announced that victims who were kar sevaks would be given a relief grant of Rs 200,000; others would receive Rs 100,000. The chief minister capped this discriminatory order by making an astonishing statement blaming the media and speeches made by opposition MPs in Parliament for what had happened.

Opposition parties and even some members of the National Democratic Alliance have demanded the removal of Narendra Modi as chief minister of Gujarat. This is being resisted by the BJP. Even while Gujarat was burning, a defiant Bajrang Dal mob attacked and ransacked the Orissa state assembly. Many are asking, 'Are these miscreants any better than the Pakistani terrorists who attacked the J&K assembly?' At a meeting of the RSS in Bangalore in March, an official resolution warned that the safety of Muslims lies in the goodwill of the majority. This resolution arises out of the reality that the Sangh Parivar considers people belonging to the minority communities as second class citizens who can live in peace only at the mercy of the majority community. The central government may try to distance itself from such unbalanced statements, but millions of decent people who are proud to call themselves Hindus have come to see that the BJP's policy aims to secede from the psychological and cultural foundations of India, including Hinduism itself. Many perceive such policies to be separatist, anti-Indian and anti-Hindu.

On learning that the European Union was planning to make a critical statement on Gujarat, a ministry of external affairs spokesman said India did not appreciate interference in its internal affairs by foreign leaders. This did not stop the EU from declaring that, 'The carnage in Gujarat was a kind of apartheid. The post Godhra violence was pre-planned and the pattern suggests that the attempt was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas; the chief minister instructed senior police officers not to intervene in the rioting; the state and central governments failed to meet the immediate humanitarian needs of the victims… India cannot plead that the events in Gujarat are an internal matter as what has happened is a human rights issue as it was a kind of genocide and ethnic cleansing… India as a signatory of the UN Convention on Human Rights is forbidden to conduct such violence.'

News that relatives of three British citizens killed in anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat are going to move a British court of justice is an indictment of the Indian system and a warning to politicians that 'national sovereignty' cannot shield them from justice.

Responsible Indians are asking, 'Why is this happening? What can we do to prevent the hijacking of our respective religions by obscurantists?' I dare say another learned commission will also ponder over this matter. As a security analyst one can only say that if a Pakistani was responsible for the Godhra incident, which resulted in the subsequent killings, then the agent has indeed done a very successful job. If on the other hand the Godhra incident was not Pakistani-inspired, then we must admit that by our stupidity, we have given Pakistan exactly what they wanted. Either way, Pakistani propagandists now have an opportunity to gloat over this failure of India's democratic system and India's claim to be a secular State.

Even with the best intelligence, incidents will occur from time to time. Mass murders committed by hooligans are a law and order problem, which attracts the provisions of the Indian Penal Code. Such crimes do not necessitate lengthy debates on cross border terrorism or concepts of secularism. It is the direct responsibility of local magistrates and police officials to ensure that guilty criminals are apprehended and an incident is not allowed to escalate.

In order to scotch wild rumours, spokesmen from the home ministry must keep the public informed of what is happening when a major event occurs. [This was well done during the Kargil war.] People must repeatedly be reminded on radio and television that communal violence only strengthens Pakistan's warped two-nation philosophy. We must keep repeating that India is a multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-racial nation that ensures every citizen full rights under the rule of law.

Many ask, 'What will happen in Gujarat? Will the BJP alliance survive in Delhi?' It is beyond the scope of security analysts to make predictions on such issues. It is the people, through Constitutional democratic procedures, who will decide those issues. No political party pretending to be civilized and disciplined can go on condoning such atrocities as occurred in Gujarat. Either it must take every possible effort to put this down, or it must suffer the scorn and contempt of public opinion. Pakistan is naturally delighted by this turn of events. It has lost no opportunity to tell the international community and their own people, 'That the Gujarat killings have given credence to the Muslim League's theory that Partition was a historic necessity. India's high-sounding Constitutional safeguards of human rights is a hollow fraud. Indian democracy conceals the reality of Hindu hegemony over Muslim, Sikh, Christian and Dalit minorities. Gujarat has demonstrated that elected Indian politicians cannot protect the lives and property of their citizens.'

The common man in India accepts that Gujarat has been a national disaster; a political and social failure, which has broken the traditional bond of trust that had been built over centuries. But after fifty years of Independence, he has come to realise the power of his vote. The vast majority has come to accept that Indian democracy, with all its imperfections, is still a better proposition than sterile military rule or governance by fundamentalists, which stifles the growth of individuality and the freedom to influence changes in policy.

General Musharraf says he wants to be the Kemal Attaturk of Pakistan and modernise his country. However, in yet another gesture of defiance by fundamentalists in Pakistan, the American journalist, Daniel Pearl, was kidnapped and eventually slaughtered in Karachi. Musharraf's personal security has had to be intensified. All this has enormous implications in the context of the 'true democracy' that the military say they want to usher in next October when a general election is scheduled. Constitutional amendments have already been decreed to grant a key role to the armed forces in politics. It looks as if the general will stay in power for another five years. As long as democracy remains a distant dream in Pakistan, India's security forces will continue to face threats on two fronts.

It will be too much to expect that these shocking events, which are assuming international ramifications, would go unnoticed by the armed forces. No soldier can be comfortable guarding the border if he has to look over his shoulder because he fears that his home may be on fire. Soldiers know that internal strife weakens India's security and its cause in J&K. They are saddened that secular India lost a battle in Gujarat, but they are confident that India will eventually win the war on both fronts.

Design: Dominic Xavier

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