The BJP’s election plank will be Mumbai. This is understandable of a party which thrives on divisions and disruption – By Kuldip Nayar

Road that leads nowhere

By Kuldip Nayar

IT is difficult to say whether the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Mizoram are the semi-finals.

The voters were agitated and angry over the terror attack on Mumbai on Nov 26 and it is difficult to say how they would have voted in normal times. There are still four to five months left for the final — the Lok Sabha polls. Much will depend on the people’s mood which is getting nastier by the day.

The BJP has, however, made it clear that its election plank will be Mumbai. This is understandable of a party which thrives on divisions and disruptions. Yet what is not understandable is the absence of L.K. Advani from the all-party meeting called by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss Mumbai and the aftermath. (Manmohan Singh and Advani did not travel in the same plane to Mumbai). The BJP’s second-rung leaders present at the meeting only criticised the government to their heart’s content. There was nothing wrong in pointing out the lapses in the system and there were many.

Advani could have presented them at the meeting. His presence would have sent a message to the terrorists and the world that whenever it came to India, the country was united and one. What happened in Mumbai has challenged the ethos of pluralism and the idea of India. Election is a means, not an end in itself. The end is governance through which the country’s ideals are protected.

Still the BJP has not given up its parochial agenda. When the fire of terrorism was raging, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi was stomping in northern India, articulating national chauvinism. The party published joint advertisements in Mumbai newspapers blaming the government for surrendering to terror. Here was the time to raise the morale of the people, putting them back on their feet for a united response.

Advani and other BJP leaders should recall how former president Clinton offered his services to President Bush following the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York.

Surprisingly, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s mentor, has urged for unity in the country. The BJP still has not realised that India’s faith in pluralism is not a matter of policy but a commitment. The nation’s temperament is secular. The BJP saw how the semi-final that it had won before the last Lok Sabha election got converted into a victory for the Congress, relatively less communal.

But there is no justification for Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s warning that the military option was open. India has sent a list of some 20 people who have reportedly taken refuge in Pakistan after committing acts of sabotage in India. Certain names are the same which were sent in 1993. The point to underline is not the repetition of names but Mukherjee’s ultimatum within 24 hours of dispatching the list. Islamabad should have been given ample time to consider the names.

Talking of military option in the same breath does not speak well for our respect for the sovereignty of Pakistan, even if India has the right to bomb training camps inside Pakistan. Former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was also pressed on that point during the war in Kargil. But he refused to allow the bombing because he feared that hostilities could escalate. US president-elect Barack Obama has not sanctioned the bombing of training camps. The media is twisting his words. In any case, the military option is not one that New Delhi should consider.

Cutting off diplomatic relations with Pakistan, stopping railway and air connections or similar measures are harsh but more than adequate to show anger by a nation which feels outraged. However intransigent Pakistan may be there is no option other than peace to bring it around. Civil society on the other side is not yet asserting itself but it will do so in due course of time. Even a limited war will give a handle to those forces which want perpetual hostility against India.

The biggest casualty will be India-Pakistan relations. They have deteriorated to such an extent in the last few days that even the eventuality of a full-scale war is not being ruled out. Both possess nuclear weapons and they would be destroyed whether one uses the device first and the other later. Voices of reason in both countries are few and they are hardly heard when anger gets a hold of them.

Maybe things could have been sorted out on the Mumbai happening if there had been confidence between the two. When Manmohan Singh requested President Asif Ali Zardari to send his Inter Services Intelligence chief to New Delhi, the prime minister assumed that he had developed such an equation with Zardari that he would agree to it. He did and the Pakistan Prime Minister’s Office announced that the ISI chief would be travelling to India.

It is another matter that some forces, called the third chamber in Pakistan, came in the way and nipped the effort in the bud. Had the ISI chief come, it would have established the joint mechanism to fight against terrorism that the two countries have been talking about for several months. Since there is no confidence between the two, Pakistan does not take into account even the confession made by the terrorist apprehended at the scene in Mumbai.

Whether he was trained in Muzaffarabad or came by boat from Karachi, it was for Pakistan to find out. By this time it should have searched the length and breadth of Karachi to satisfy India which feels angry. The new organisation in place of the Lashkar-i-Taiba and Jaish-i-Mohammad should have been banned and its activists arrested. Islamabad should have invited a team from New Delhi to check for itself how far Pakistan had gone to act. It would have given New Delhi proof of Islamabad assuaging India’s feelings.

Both countries should fight the scourge together.

It is a pity that people-to-people contact builds up goodwill inch by inch. But Mumbai-like incidents destroys this in a jiffy. Anti-friendship elements are too strong to allow the common man to live in a secure and peaceful environment.

Within India the disillusionment with politicians is understandable but not with politics. Better persons should be elected. Anger should not lead us to lose faith in democracy. In fact this is the system where we can change the rulers. In our effort to curb terrorism we should not take any step which may restrict individual freedom. America’s Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11 has done a lot of damage to that society. The test of a nation’s faith in democracy comes when it is challenged by undemocratic forces.

The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi. (Dawn, 5 Dec 2008)