Democracy must survive both terrorist granade and Advani’s salvo

THREE MONTHS after the World Trade Centre towers in New York fell to terrorist strikes, the Parliament building in New Delhi became the target of another stunning terrorist assault. Whether or not there were specific intelligence inputs regarding this particular incident, there were indeed widespread apprehensions about such an attack. December 13 would now be remembered as the unfortunate day which saw one of those worst fears come true.

While the casualties have been mercifully quite low, the political Magnitude of this abominable assault can indeed prove to be enormous. The aftermath of the attack has already started following the American pattern in the wake of September 11. Media headlines in India have begun to scream “India Under Attack”. The cabinet resolution adopted five hours after the attack Echoes the same language and accent the world has heard ad nauseam from President Bush. And hawks of the Sangh Parivar are being joined by their non-saffron or not-so-saffron counterparts in the political establishment in demanding Afghanistan-type action against Pakistan.

Spokespersons of the Vajpayee government describe the incident as a handiwork of the Pakistan-based militant outfits Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. In fact, they see the entire incident in the framework of the India-Pakistan-Kashmir triangle and the retribution is therefore seen to lie in teaching Pakistan a ‘befitting lesson’. They believe that after September 11, the US will not be able to prevent India from pursuing such a course however much it may be fraught with the grave danger of a fourth full-scale war between India and Pakistan. A variant of this argument would like the US to intervene on India’s behalf and extend the Afghanistan war straight inside Pakistan.

But the December 13 attack need not necessarily be a direct offshoot or fallout of the insurgency in Kashmir or of Indo-Pak hostility for that matter. By siding so uncritically with Washington in the Afghanistan war and by virtually condoning the heinous Israeli attacks on Arafat and Palestine, India has incurred the wrath of the entire Islamic and Arab world. Every terrorist grudge against Washington is now also directed against New Delhi. Indian policy of blind pro-Americanism has evidently increased India’s vulnerability manifold. There is of course little that is Islamic or anti-Islamic about it, many other pro-US regimes in Islamic countries or in countries with sizeable Muslim population are liable to suffer a similar fate.

Beyond the obvious immediate parallels between the World Trade Centre tragedy and the assault on the Parliament House, observers of world history may well remember another ‘attack’ on another parliament in another time. The Reichstag fire of 27 February 1933 in Germany had served as a major pretext for Hitler and his men. Whoever might have been responsible for the burning of the Reichstag, the incident was used to the hilt by Hitler to silence the opposition, ban the German Communist Party and consolidate his fascist Nazi rule. It is not difficult to discern a similar reflex in Advani’s response to the December 13 terrorist assault on the Indian Parliament.

In his interview published in the Sunday Times of India, Advani has once again started complaining about the ‘ultra-soft’ nature of the society and state in India. “The nature of our polity is a constraint when it comes to countering terrorism. We have allowed ourselves to become a soft society and our government, being a part of the same society, is also too soft,” says Advani. The answer, according to him, therefore lies in a fascist transformation of the Indian society and state. Post-December 13, Advani has set his sights not just on enacting POTO but on reaffirming the fascist orientation of the Sangh Parivar.

While condemning the terrorist assault on the Parliament House, it is therefore all the more necessary to reject not just POTO but the entire gamut of fascist arguments emanating from the Sangh Parivar. In the same TOI interview, Advani has also confessed that it is difficult to stop a suicide attack. We can only add that while it is difficult to eliminate terrorism, it is possible to lessen the risks by creating a political environment that discourages terrorism. Advani’s is however a prescription for greater terrorist risk and bigger disasters. For every genuine arrest of a terrorist under POTO, at least a hundred innocent citizens or imaginary terrorists would also be subjected to state repression. And this is the surest way of producing at least a dozen more terrorists in real life.

Fascism can only breed and feed terrorism, it can never weed it out. If terrorists had chosen Parliament as their theatre of action to threaten democracy, it is no wonder that Advani has also fired his fascist salvo on the same polity. Terrorists and fascists are indeed fast friends.

This is undoubtedly a testing time for India. We must reject any military misadventure and fascist short-circuiting of the constitutional rule of law. Without a firm democratic resolve combined with a patient and realistic political handling, there can be no reduction of the terrorist threat.