Increasingly, in the last decade or so, violence has pervaded Indian politics. It has found various forms-from shrill and abusive language and character assassination of opponents to casteism and communal violence and from booth capturing to physical attacks on the oppressed (agricultural laborers, daltis, tribals and women) who try to raise themselves and actualize the promises of equality and equal opportunity embodied in our Constitution. But, above all violence has taken the form of organized and large-scale terrorism.
Terrorism has become endemic in India since early 1980s. We have not been able to check it or contain it. What is worse, we have failed to make it politically illegitimate. When a major assassination occurs, we use words such as brutal, barbaric and heinous to describe the act, but in more normal times, we treat it as if it is business as usual.
In our approach to terrorism we fail to distinguish it from the use of violence or armed struggle in a revolutionary situation. There is a vast difference between violence in a democratic society, where venues of peaceful protest as also political change through electoral processes exist, and an authoritarian dictatorial society where the people have no choice but to overthrow the political regime through use of weapons. But even in the latter society, violence takes the form of mass upsurge or armed struggle based on massive political support and mobilization.
Terrorism at a serious and dangerous level arises in a democratic society when an organized group is convinced of its own political righteousness and yet finds itself unable to acquire political power democratically because it is unable to persuade the majority to back it either in terms of mass mobilization or, ultimately, in terms of electoral support.
In 1946-47, the communal riots and the partition had funneled communalism. In Pakistan, the Muslim communalists had risen to power. In northern India Hindu communalism had grown in geometrical proportions. But the national leadership and, above all, Gandhiji had rolled back the tide. The frustrated communal forces had hit back through the agency of Mathura goes. The atmosphere of hatred and violence was sufficient explanation of the dastardly act.
Similarly, in the late 1970s, the Alkalis found themselves at the end of their tether. All their communal demands, including the most unreasonable ones, had been satisfied. The population rations and therefore electoral logic in Punjab 40 percent being Hindus and 38 percent or so of the Sikhs being scheduled caste agricultural laborers and therefore in class conflict with the landed jets-did not favour Alkalis.
The Alkalis were not able to even once capture state power in Punjab unless they allied with Hindu communalists. The Akali leadership faced three choices; one, abandonment of communal politics, two, and effort to unite all the Sikhs by raising the cry of Sikh religion and identity in danger and three, recourse to violence to capture state power.
The first choice was never considered. Sent Longwood and G.S. Tohra adopted the second course. Bhindranwala went in for the third course. But for a violent mass movement and armed struggle not only arms –readily available from Pakistan –were needed bit also the masses. That latter were not forthcoming. And sot he separatist movement degenerated into or rather remained stuck at the level of terrorism, that is , individual killings of their political opponents stuck at the level of terrorism, that is, individual killings of their political opponents and thus the terrorization of the people of Punjab and of the Indian State.
The fact is that terrorism of every type and of every origin must be stamped out at its origin and stopped in its tracks. If it continues to exist, not to speak of succeeding in place, it is bound to spread to other places. Whosoever finds it impossible to achieve his/her objective through normal democratic/peaceful processes will take recourse to it. Today it is the terrorists in Punjab or Assam or the LTTe in Tamil Nadu. Tomorrow, when stymied in their designs in Ajodhya, that votaries of the Bajrang Dal could ape their Punjabi fascist communal counterparts. Day after tomorrow it could be the turn of the casteism fanatics, whether of the forward or backward variety. SO long as we don’t say, “It shall not pass” and “It shall not pay”, terrorism will go on claiming victims, till it tears India apart.
But the default has of been only of the political leaders. Intellectuals have need equally involved.
Regarding Punjab, the common stance has been to find alibi or terrorism. For example, that Bhindranwala was a creation of Indira Gandhi and Sail Singh. Ergo, the problem was not Bhindranwala and terrorism but Indira Gandhi, or, the youth in Punjab are unemployed and feeling deprived, and the answer must be found in solving their basic socio-economic problems as if the Hindu youth or Scheduled Caste Sikh youth in Punjab are having full employment. Or, the problem is created by November 1984 riots – as if Bhindranwala had nothing to do with terrorism in Punjab. Or, the real terrorism in Punjab was not perpetrated by Hailstones but by the state, i.e., the police, CRPF and other state organs.
The same disregard for reality and refusal to face up to the challenges of terrorism have been there regarding the LITE in Tamil Nadu and the ULFA in Assam which are declared to be ‘ethnic’ problems. Similarly, there is complete silence and sometimes even support for the activates of the people’s War Group in Andhra, because it is supposed to be fighting for revolution and has taken up the cause of the tribal people.
Most of the civil liberty groups have revealed complete bankruptcy by keeping quiet regarding PWG’s activities even when the cadre and leaders of the CPI, CPI-M and the Congress have been kidnapped, maimed, mutilated and killed in André and the neighboring areas. Those who capture booths are condemned but those who use violence to prevent people from voting are quietly ignored if not praised.
Narco-terrorism-using drug money to finance terrorist activity is also becoming a problem in India.
Mutual co-operation among terrorist movements –as in Punjab and Kashmir and in the North Eastern sates is also a matter of grave concern. The March 12th, 1993 serial bombing in Bombay have added another complex mosaic to terrorism in India the growing collaboration between various terrorist movements in different parts of the world with crime syndicates operating within country.
Inspire of the magnitude of the problem there has been no international consensus on a solution of the problem of terrorism, as it ahs often been perceived that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. In India the attempts to control terrorism has been mainly through the deployment of police; military and Para-military forces. At the same time efforts have been made to redress the socio-economic grievances which were the causes of terrorism.
In this regard the government has met with some success in Punjab and the North East but the battle continues in Kashmir.
Ultimately it is only by improving social, economic and political conditions and by fostering the forces of democracy and secularism, peace and stability that the battle against violence, fratricidal conflict and terrorism can be won.