Vanzara: A victim of bleeding hearts

Mr Vanzara’s resignation was born of despair and a legitimate perception that he has been made a fall guy for defending the country using all means at his disposal

The long letter of resignation from the Indian Police Service written by D.G. Vanzara from a prison in Mumbai to the Gujarat government has, not unnaturally, triggered a political storm along predictable lines. However, before exploring its larger ramifications, a more fundamental question needs to be asked: What has been the record of the Indian state in coping with anti-democratic threats to its democracy?
The answer involves exploring the nature of counter-insurgency operations beginning from the Communist Party-led insurrection in 1948 to the handling of the jihadi terrorism today. This, in turn, prompts unearthing of a paradox which is best to not shy away from. Democracy involves both the will of the people and the supremacy of the rule of law. Yet, even the most hardened democrats have, through bitter experience, been compelled to acknowledge an unpalatable fact which, ironically, enjoys a large measure of popular sanction: that the conventional rules of democracy are ineffective when dealing with people who have little respect for the democratic rules of the game.
Between 1967 and 1972, to take one example, West Bengal was thrown into panic and disarray by the activities of Left-wing splinter groups who were collectively referred to as the Naxalites. The Naxalite movement, inspired by Mao Zedong’s reckless Cultural Revolution, led to educated and semi-educated youth waging a campaign against all symbols of state power. In practice, it meant killing petty landlords in villages, traffic policemen in the cities and targeting people such as venerable vice-chancellors. The Naxalites failed to dislodge the state apparatus or even create institutions of dual power, but they steered Bengal into a state of near anarchy whose effects are still being felt.
The Naxalites didn’t believe in the ballot; for them political power came out of the barrel of the gun. It was pretty useless to appeal to them to test their ideas in the marketplace of democratic politics. Consequently, Indira Gandhi, helped in no small measure by Siddhartha Shankar Ray and a handful of determined police officers, was forced into acknowledging that force would have to be met by force. That this approach involved the temporary suspension of the rule of law and the judicial process was undeniable. The fight was taken to the Naxalites and their sympathisers and before long the movement was crushed.
As governor of Punjab in the mid-1980s, and with the blessings of Rajiv Gandhi, Ray emulated this approach in Punjab, which was in the throes of the Pakistan-inspired Khalistan movement. He was again fortunate in having at his disposal some police officers who were prepared to take the fight into the enemy camp. Instilling fear into the heart of the insurgent was a central feature of this strategy and although the methods used were harsh and attracted outrage from the human rights industry, the outcome was entirely satisfactory for both Punjab and India.
In subsequent years, this approach was used in Andhra Pradesh by the governments of N. Chandrababu Naidu and — after some initial hesitation that proved very costly — T. Rajasekhar Reddy. The result was that the Maoist insurgents were thrown back into the jungles of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Chief minister Raman Singh attempted to pursue a similar strategy, with local improvisations, in the Bastar region which the Maoists had converted into a “liberated zone”. Unfortunately, he was hamstrung by the fact that a partisan Centre did not extend the cooperation necessary to deal with a national threat. No wonder that the Maoists have successfully taken refuge behind not-so-innocent do-gooders and human rights bodies to provide them the cover for their politics of murder. What could have been handled within the existing parameters of the Indian experience has been allowed to assume menacing proportions due to partisan considerations.
Since 1993, India has been faced with the threat of jihadi terror. This is not entirely a domestic movement and is linked with a wider religion-based terrorism that the whole world faces. Coping with this menace involves not merely a sophisticated intelligence network but also a proactive approach aimed at neutralising the terrorist network before they have had an opportunity to inflict damage. Above all, it requires political will that gives policemen the necessary self-confidence to do what is necessary. As a DIG in Gujarat, Mr Vanzara led the way in securing Gujarat against terrorists who were determined to avenge what they perceived as the injustice to Muslims in 2002. That, in the process, he cut corners may well be true. What is important, however, is to recognise that he wasn’t waging a private war; he was protecting a state against terror.
Today, such a man is languishing in prison for the past six years for having done his duty. The charges against him are not that he allegedly organised encounter killings against innocents — the deaths of a criminal gunrunner and a terror squad with links to the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba does not warrant either national mourning or the victimisation of a daring policeman.
Mr Vanzara’s resignation was born of despair and a legitimate perception that he has been made a fall guy for defending the country using all means at his disposal. His case may be used to take political potshots at Narendra Modi, but it is important to realise that the only ones who are gloating are those who would rather celebrate the human rights of terrorists than the right of Indians to live in security.

The writer is a senior journalist

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