Votes vs Security

Feb 21 : The past few days have been very traumatic with the country witnessing a terror attack in Pune and Maoist attacks in West Bengal and Bihar. Steps initiated by the Central and state governments to counter the threat to our national security need to be

explained in greater detail. No political consideration or coalition pressure can determine our response to terror outfits — whether they are external, from across the border, or internal, such as the Maoists and other extreme elements.

In the past few days, over 50 people have been killed and 150 wounded as "sleeper units" attacked the German Bakery in Pune and Maoists attacked police outposts in several states, but what has been our response to this human carnage? We are proud to be Indians, we are proud of the courage and resolve shown by our security forces, we are proud of the restraint and balance shown by the families of those who have lost their loved ones — and while we share their grief, what is our policy towards terror?

Governance is never easy and few expect instant miracles, but we cannot go from one crisis to another in a "routine" manner, as if waiting for the next disaster to strike. Whilst the decision-makers and those within the power structure have extensive security cover, little is done to protect the public.

Union home minister P. Chidambaram has done well within the limitations of the system but all his good work will be nullified if we adopt a "flexible" approach to terror based on votebank considerations.

We are proud to be Indians and we must, as a nation, reject the false propaganda being generated by terror outfits from across the border. I wish all the countries involved in the Commonwealth Games could see the capacity crowds at the two Test matches played between South Africa and India in Nagpur and Kolkata and the security arrangements made at the Commonwealth Shooting competition which started in Tughlaqabad, Delhi, on February 19.

Mr Chidambaram has assured full security at all sporting events, be it the Hockey World Cup or the cricket matches (the upcoming India-South Africa One-day international series). I sincerely hope that the Indian Premier League (IPL) matches will go on as scheduled. The assurances by chief minister of Andhra Pradesh K. Rosaiah should be respected and acted upon by IPL chairman Lalit Modi and the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

The false propaganda being generated by Pakistan-based terror networks is most virulent in the Kashmir Valley. And as I write this article there is a fierce encounter taking place in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir — latest reports indicate that three terrorists have been killed. J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah had announced a "surrender" policy for those who want to shun violence. With suitable inbuilt safeguards, this is a good thing for the future and his decision to involve the Central Bureau of Investigation in the brutal Shopian rape and murder case was sensible. This case attracted huge media attention and post-investigation it has been observed that evidence was fabricated to malign the security forces and create public unrest in the Valley.

The home ministry’s initiative to tackle Naxalism in several states attracts retaliation. Sadly, 24 jawans of the Eastern Frontier Rifles were killed in Silda, West Bengal, and another attack took place in Dharampur, Lalgarh. Reports coming from Bihar indicate that at least 10 people were killed in a Maoist attack in Jamui district because they had refused to join the cadres.

The Naxalite-infested areas in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have 250 Lok Sabha seats together and this issue cannot be settled with the gun. Clearly the tribal population has to get a greater share of the rich resources of the state and as the security forces and the Maoists and other extreme elements battle it out, the tribal population will suffer great hardship. The view expressed by lawyer Prashant Bhushan, that of the last 16-17 Chief Justices, half have been corrupt, needs immediate attention.

On this issue, every political party will choose their words very carefully. One should not be surprised by the reactions of either Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar or Jharkhand chief minister Shibu Soren. Mr Soren negotiates the return of the block development officer and is likely to accept all the terms laid down by the Maoists, including their reluctance to meet the home minister. In West Bengal, Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee too gave a predictable response.

It will be extremely difficult to deal with this violent situation unless there is a common strategy on security. And after witnessing the recent attacks and the political response from Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, there is more confusion than agreement on the issue of "extreme" organisations. The 24x7 media coverage has highlighted the pathetic situation of forces’ camps in West Bengal where the police is just a "sitting duck" for the Maoists. West Bengal chief minister Buuddhadeb Bhattacharjee looks a beaten man and his administration looks very confused. You can well imagine the plight of the police and other officials. In this situation can you expect anyone to fight the Maoists?

We all know the theory of perfect governance in these areas but the thought process revealed by the chief ministers of Bihar and Jharkhand, and the "future" chief minister of West Bengal, is based on the political and economic reality on the ground. But what action is going to be taken in the interim period and will the Maoists/Naxalites be allowed to murder the police and those who oppose their domination? Will the Central government be a helpless spectator to this carnage? There are chances that many in the administration will already be under the control of the Maoists — in the absence of security and protection from the state, what else can they do. We are playing with fire and everyone involved will suffer burns until the power equation is settled.

By Arun Nehru

Arun Nehru is a former Union minister

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