Sunday, January 06, 2008

Barbarians at the gate

In India, but not at home!
Barbarians at the gate
It was waiting to happen all these days and it happened on New Year's Day. Nobody quite knows for sure how many of them were there -- some say there were four jihadis, others say there were three -- but there is little dispute over the ease with which they walked up to the sentry box of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Group Centre at Rampur after killing a rickshaw-puller sleeping nearby, hurled grenades, stormed the control room and mowed down seven jawans. It was only then that they faced some resistance. It is believed one of the terrorists was injured in the shootout that followed, but that did not stop his escape. The others escaped, too, leaving behind no clues. Since then, it has been a guessing game, although the Special Task Force of Uttar Pradesh is working on the theory that one or more militants-turned-jawans, who were inducted into the CRPF after they surrendered to security forces in Jammu & Kashmir, based at the centre may have provided crucial information to those who planned the attack. But any speculation at this point would be premature.
While investigations may or may not reveal the identity of those who attacked the CRPF centre at Rampur -- inquiries into other terrorist attacks in recent times have hit a stonewall -- what has been established by the daring strike, the first of its kind outside Kashmir Valley, is that the theatre of jihadi violence in India is rapidly expanding and is no longer restricted to big cities and towns. Seen from the perspective of the jihadis, this serves a dual purpose: First, it takes the message of fanatical Islam beyond urban centres to kasbas and villages which are ideal catchment areas for recruits to jihad's army; and, second, it facilitates the percolation of terror as more and more people are seized by a sense of insecurity, the debilitating impact of which cannot be overstated.
Meanwhile, as rapidly unfurling events in Pakistan demonstrate, the barbarians are at the gate. India is the new frontline state in the war against terror. We can either summon the courage and prepare for a counter-assault, and thus protect our national interest, or we can prepare for a siege that is more likely to end with the gate being smashed. Worryingly, the UPA Government appears to have settled its mind on exercising the second option. This is partly on account of key functionaries going into a denial mode, refusing to accept that the worsening internal security scenario is on account of jihadis expanding their territory of terror, and largely because of the regime's obsessive compulsive politics of pandering to minorityism.
A fallout of this game of blind man's bluff is Government's failure to acknowledge a simple fact: There has been a steep rise in the incidence of jihadi violence outside Jammu & Kashmir, which has coincided with the UPA rolling back anti-terrorism measures adopted by the NDA Government. The scrapping of the Prevention of Terrorism Act is only one example; the absence of demonstrative action to convey the Government of India's determination - Afzal Guru spends time in Tihar Jail confident that he will not hang for his crime of plotting the attack on Parliament House till such time the Congress is in power - is another. When confronted with tough questions, the standard response of the UPA Government is to point out that things were "no better" during the NDA years. Whenever the issue is raised in Parliament, Congress leaders are on their feet, taunting the BJP: "Parliament was attacked when you were in power. Raghunath temple was attacked when you were in power. Akshardham temple was attacked when you were in power. How dare you talk about terrorist attacks now?"
That's disingenuous, to say the least. Not only because, to use a cliché, two wrongs do not make a right, but also, and more importantly, because statistics prove the situation is far worse today than it was before the summer of 2004 when the Congress and its allies took charge of the nation's affairs. While it is true that there were high profile terror strikes during the NDA years, it is equally a fact that there has been a steep increase in the frequency and spread of terrorist attacks outside Jammu & Kashmir (the decline in jihadi violence in that State has been matched by the increase in jihadi violence elsewhere) and the loss of lives has been far more with the Congress at the helm than the cumulative toll during the six years when the BJP was in power. Let's look at the facts.
A quick scan will show that there were 12 major jihadi attacks when the NDA was in power from early-1998 to mid-2004. Of these, three resulted in heavy casualties: the massacre at Chhamba on August 8, 1998 (35 killed); the fidayeen attack on Akshardham temple on September 24, 2002 (32 killed); and, the bombings in Mumbai near Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar on August 25, 2003 (52 killed). In all, 148 civilians were killed in these 12 attacks.
There have been 12 jihadi attacks of greater severity between June 2004 and January 2008, spread across the country. The fidayeen attack on the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya on July 5, 2005 was an astounding display of jihadi fervour, but it did not have any collateral damage in terms of loss of lives, barring those of the terrorists who were shot dead.
But virtually every attack after that has extracted a terrible toll of human lives: The bombings in Delhi on October 29, 2005, resulted in 62 deaths; the blasts at Sankatmochan Mandir and Varanasi Railway Station on March 7, 2006, left 21 people dead; the commuter train bombings in Mumbai on July 11, 2006, created havoc and claimed 200 lives (the Prime Minister went on air and asked people to pretend all is fine); the Malegaon bombings of September 8, 2006, killed 40 people; the bombing of the Delhi-Atari special train killed 68 passengers, almost all of them Indians; and, the bombings in Hyderabad on August 25, 2007, killed 44 people.
In all, 466 innocent civilians have been killed in 12 jihadi attacks after the Congress came to power in half the time the BJP and its allies were in Government. If we were to add the number of people killed by insurgents, including Maoists, and jihadis in Jammu & Kashmir to this death toll, it would be a shocking grand total.
It does not require great mathematical skills to work out whether the situation is worse today than it was when the NDA was in power. Nor does it require much intelligence to figure out what has gone wrong between then and now. The next time the UPA's drum-beaters taunt the NDA, they should have the deadly numbers thrown at them. If that doesn't wake up the Prime Minister and his colleagues from their slumber and goad them into action, then people must prepare for the barbarians to break down the gate.

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