Lessons of Mumbai

Terror has once again revealed its ugly and horrifying face in Mumbai. The July 11 blasts that killed at least 200 rush-hour commuters and injured several hundreds more on Mumbai's local trains have been the most lethal blow that Mumbai, or for that matter any Indian city has had to suffer in recent years. Maharashtra has a dedicated Anti Terrorism Squad which received a lot of kudos recently for its claim to have saved the RSS headquarters in Nagpur on June 1 from an alleged terrorist strike. But the blasts have shattered the self-congratulatory claims of the police top brass and made it crystal clear that Mumbai, like most other Indian cities, is probably more insecure and vulnerable today than ever before.

While no organisation has claimed responsibility for the blasts, the police have named the usual suspects - Lashkar-e-Taiba and Students Islamic Movement of India - two outlawed outfits, and some arrests have also been made. The track record of the police forces however inspires little confidence that the police would really succeed in nabbing the real culprits. The July 11 blasts were preceded by two mysterious incidents of blasts in Maharashtra and the police action in the two cases has left many questions unanswered. An independent citizens' enquiry has shown many loose ends in the police version of whatever happened at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur in the early hours of June 1. Earlier on 6 April, two Bajrang Dal activists died in an explosion while making bombs in a house at Nanded, but the local Sena-BJP leaders and the police all wanted to dismiss it as a case of mere ‘cracker blast'!

The only redeeming feature at this hour of shock and tragedy has been the remarkable resilience and united determination displayed by the ordinary residents of Mumbai and Maharashtra in dealing with the aftermath of this enormous tragedy. In spite of all the irresponsible and inflammatory speeches and statements made by the Shiv Sena and its communal cohorts, and Modi's provocative visit to Mumbai to head the BJP's so-called ‘anti-terror campaign', the people of Maharashtra have not allowed anybody to disrupt social harmony and fan up communal frenzy in the name of reaction to terror. Mumbai's resolve to steer clear of the spiral of communal violence should find ready resonance in every corner of the country. Beyond the immediate aftermath of the killer blasts we should now take a critical look at the strategic response being articulated by the state and advocated by dominant political forces and opinion-makers.

The BJP has already hit the streets with its call for reenactment of POTA and clamour for a ‘hard state'. If terrorist incidents in India were to be viewed as a ‘punishment' for India 's allegedly ‘soft state', how are we to account for terror strikes in New York and London ? Surely, Bush's US and Blair's Britain are not soft states by any stretch of imagination! From MISA and NSA to TADA and POTA, and not to forget the infamous Armed Forces Special Powers Act, India has never had a dearth of draconian laws, but experience clearly shows that all these black laws have never made India any more secure or less vulnerable to terrorist atrocities. Giving the BJP a run for its money, the Congress-led UPA government has indefinitely postponed foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan and appealed to the G-8 to stand by India in her battle against ‘cross-border terrorism'. In the media, sympathetic parallels are being drawn between the ‘similar' problems being faced by India and Israel with loud hints for following Israel 's model of aggression.

Nothing could be more dangerous than this attempt to ‘globalise' India 's fight against terrorism and tag it to either the US or Israel . It will be suicidal for India to gloss over the historical role of the US-Israel axis behind the current proliferation of terrorism across the globe. Most of today's terrorist outfits were originally funded, armed and patronised in every possible way by the US to serve its own interests of imperialist hegemony during and after the Cold War. The CIA has already penetrated India 's security and intelligence agencies as revealed so glaringly in the recent case of transfer of National Security Council secrets to a CIA operative working under cover as a Third Secretary at the US embassy in New Delhi . While the US will use the ‘war on terror' pretext to deepen its military-political intervention in India and South Asia, India will also invite greater terrorist attention in the process.

Our experience shows that communal distortions in India 's domestic politics and denial of autonomy aspirations, deterioration in Indo-Pak relations, and closer identification with the US have proved to be a sure recipe for proliferation of terrorism on Indian soil. In order to contain and overcome the challenge of terrorism, we must reject and reverse this suicidal course. Delinking Indian foreign policy from the US-led ‘war on terror' and adopting an active political and diplomatic strategy to resolve the backlog of India's own domestic discords as well as issues of bilateral contention with Pakistan, can be the only sensible political strategy against terrorism.