Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Apples and oranges

There is an eerie similarity between the agruments about an anti-terror law and the women's reservation bill in parliament.

Everyone agrees that we need to reserve a certain percentage of Lok Sabha seats for women, but someone or the other comes up with another valid argument that women from backward castes should get reservation within reservation. Then everything gets complicated and it's left at that.

Now take a look at the present debate. Should we have a tiugher law as a deterrent to terror? Everyone and their uncles say yes we need one. But then somebody gets up and says what about mob terror? Should we ban Bajrang Dal and VHP? Then someone gets up and says ban conversion? Very valid arguments and very misplaced too. This is where things get complicated and we leave it at that.

Instead of bringing in specific laws to tackle both these threats, we are equating these too equally terrifying but entirely different acts of violence (see the post below).

So for the nth time I would say this: Communal violence targets a community. Terrorists target the state. Communal riots are deplorable (often more dangerous and deserving harsher punishment) because a large mob of one community rapes, kills and ravishes members of another community. We, however, also have history of communities living together. The legacy also forces them to live together again. And there is hope.

Terrorists, on the other hand, don't care who is killed. The kind of terrorism we are faced with today is entirely alien to us. Naxalites also target the state but they target the establishment, not common people. They will blow up a police station or kill a district magistrate but won't plant bombs in dustbins.

It's time we grew up and understood apples and organges as apples and oranges.

And yes I still believe we do not need new laws. We just need the will to strengthen and enforce the existing laws in a bipartisan manner. We don't need a tough law, we just need to be tough.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ban Bajrang Dal and stop this nonsensical debate. SIMI is different. Period.

The Delhi bombings followed by the arrests of young Muslim men from Jamia Nagar area has sparked a debate that involves a lot of uncomfortable issues. This discomfort in discussing challenges at hand has often sabotaged the possibility of a solution in the past and in turn given us the sobriquet Soft State.

There is a dangerous divide between our intellectuals and thought-leaders over how we move from here. Because move we must lest the country should bleed to death and disintegration. During various debates on TV this past week, I saw a lot of people fighting for words when it came to what to do with “the misguided Muslim youths” and “the gangs of Sangh Parivar goons”. And whenever a speaker demanded a tough, new anti-terror law to face the proxy war, his opponents sought that the same law should be applicable to the marauders in saffron rampaging through churches in Orissa and Karnataka. That a ban similar to that imposed on Students Islamic Movement of India be slapped on Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal.

But what is more dangerous is equating these two ugly faces staring at us. Yes, I will stick my neck out and say Bajrang Dal and Indian Mujahideen cannot be equated and should not be dealt with under the same law. But before Mahesh Bhatt cries “Hindu fundamentalist” and dumps me in the corner of his mind occupied by VHP and Bajrang Dal, I would say hear me out. Bhatt has very valid question: Why don’t we treat mob terror as terrorism. The problem is his argument, and that of so many others, only obfuscates the issue and delays a solution.

Bajrang Dal and VHP, the sordid side of the saffron brigade, want a Hindu Rashtra and frequently foment trouble by demolishing mosques, desecrating churches and killing minority citizens. Most of the killings during the post-Godhra riots were executed by these elements or people sympathetic to their ideology. They are largely responsible for what is happening in Karnataka today. And though the Kandhamal tragedy has a lot of angles, the VHP and Bajrang Dal are guilty of spreading trouble in the region.

There is no agreed definition of terrorism. Etymologically, a terrorist act is aimed at frightening people. Many countries now have separated criminal acts from terrorist acts. SIMI or Indian Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and the like may claim to be patrons of a community but they are essentially terrorist organisations. Apart from owing allegiance to foreign forces or jehadi ideology, they are also different from the VHP-Bajrangis in their approach to violence. They target unsuspecting, innocent people irrespective of their community or creed. If al-Qaeda was a pro-Muslim organisation, people would not be dying in Pakistan almost every day. The law and the common citizen have to differentiate between acts of communal violence and acts of terrorism. Terrorists do not target a community. Terrorists do not care who gets killed. The idea behind a terrorist attack to spread terror/fear/panic by killing randomly at random places. Many Muslims have died in the attacks by the jehadi terrorists. It’s always to shock and awe the common citizen of a country.
VHP and Bajrangi violence is communal violence, aimed at a certain community. It may be worse than terrorism but is not equal to. Hang those who use mob violence to terrorist a community. Make the punishment for communal violence harsher than that handed out to terrorists. Communal violence is not any less dangerous to our nation than terrorism. But they are not the same.

I would like to reiterate here that I do not think we need new laws to tackle either of these elements. All we need is the will to stop this nonsense by bipartisan enforcement of the existing laws. Stop demanding the same treatment not because we need to be soft on communal violence but because in this debate, we may end up not being tough on either.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dust to dust: The bomb's journey from Chagai Mountains to Margalla Hills

A week after India’s capital saw a Serial Blasts Saturday it was the turn of the Pakistani capital. A man wanted to drive a truck packed with as much as 1,000 kg of explosives into the lobby of the Marriott Hotel, the best and the hottest hotel in Islamabad's shiny Shalimar overlooking the pretty Margalla Hills. The guards at the highly-secured hotel stopped the truck. So the suicide bomber detonated his truck bomb right there. The explosion was so powerful the hotel caught fire and now stands as a devastated witness to the curse called: terrorism in the name of jehad.

This is what happens when you *****……. Those who want to repeat that famous line from The Big Lebowsky hold your Pomeranians. It’s true that Pakistan nurtured and nourished terror. It’s also true that Islamabad, in its blind passion to be seen as equal to the other child of that midnight, tried to bleed India by a thousand cuts. And it did succeed to an extent. But the Bomb, as yours truly wrote earlier on these pages, equalised the two for ever and ended the race. The atom bomb also killed their idea of an enemy, the enemy they lived for. Enemies give us a purpose to live. Poverty, fear, ugliness, ignorance, loneliness, envy and so on. All of us live to see the demise of our biggest enemy. And we toil day and night to rid ourselves of that enemy. When the very enemy you live for, the idea that sustains you, your raison d’etre dies, what do you live for? Disintegration/separation was the idea of Pakistan. Keeping it all together was the idea called India. That’s the story of the midnight’s children.

In Pakistan’s western neighbourhood, the Taliban, well-assisted by a well-equipped, well-educated tall lanky man with flowing salt-and-pepper beard, were mastering the art of suicide bombing. There was no point in getting inside the mind of a mindless suicide bomber. What mattered to the world was how to protect itself from dying young men and in cases women. They died and killed in the cold deserts of Afghanistan. Some went abroad and died to kill on September 11, 2001 other days. The promise of heaven and fairies is too simplistic for educated men to believe in. They wanted something in this world after their deaths. It was martyrdom, as eulogised in Palestinian rallies and al-Qaeda videos. The word Fidayeen has a positive connotation whether you like it or not. Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar did not choose to go fida. They found a lot of young men to do the job for them. Many elements in Pakistan were happy to see this fever catching on. They could use some of its spores in Kashmir. And they did. In groups of three or four, fidayeen would attack in Kashmir and die in gunbattle if they couldn’t escape.

But apart from Kashmir the fidayeen saw no point in travelling too far away to die, when all the ‘enemy’ ills they were indoctrinated with were in the neighbourhood. India has more Muslims than Pakistan but Indian Muslims are not ready to die in vain for fake martyrdom. There is still rule of Indian law and all those who tried, like any other Hindu, Sikh, Jain or Christian, have reached the top. In films and in industry, in corporate India and outside, poor Muslims in India face less discrimination than those in Pakistan. There is discrimination but it’s as true for poor or backward Hindus, Sikhs or Christians.

Pakistani society is caste-ridden and nearly tribal in parts. The Punjabi ruling elite has alienated large parts of the country. In areas bordering Afghanistan there is no rule of law. Many areas have not yet tasted the fruits of Pakistan’s recent economic leaps. In absence of a government, Wahhabis have taken over education and brainwashed a whole lot of youth into thinking how modernisation and urbanisation violate the basic tenets of Islam. Baitullah Masud finds recruitment easier. These young men come to Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore or Karachi and find people watching TV, obscene mujras based on vulgar Indian songs, girls in jeans, conversations in coffee shops, booze in bars, hostesses in hotel lobbies and everything that they related depravity with.

Hence, the deafening Marriott explosion did not surprise Islamabad. Pakistan has an army of young men waiting to die. And going to America, Europe or even India is not easy. So they detonate at home. If Pakistan wants to escape its own children, it must stop cantonmentising the frontier provinces and start civilising them. Giving them tools for life will at least wean them away from martyrdom today. Those who are already matured for martyrdom will detonate tomorrow. But the day after may be safer. Inshallah!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What do you need a new law for?

All of us rabbit on when jolted out of sleep. What? Oh my God! How? Switch off the damn AC! Who died? Ouch! etc etc. In the cacophony that follows an earthquake at night, people rush out in their night-time negligee or the lack of them. That’s usual human reaction to sudden shock in deep slumber.

Take for example, the Bharatiya Janata Party. The party has been sleepwalking its years out of power. It wakes up to demand a new law against terrorism, every time it hears a detonation. “We want POTA back”. The Congress had revoked the BJP’s draconian law POTA because the BJP had scrapped Congress’s draconian but very tuneful TADA. The Congress says no to bringing back the draconian POTA but agrees to framing a brand new one. In a display of the “boys will be boys” behaviour the debate has moved from “my toy is better than yours” to “let us have one, a brand new one, yeah!”.

But do we need a new law? Shivraj Patil says no. In these troubled times, it’s difficult to agree with someone so handsome in handling terrorism or intelligence! But I say even Shivraj Patil can be right at times. Outside burping and farting, we have one law or the other against everything we can possibly imagine doing (you must have heterosexual sex even if you are homosexual). We are overburdened with so many laws that one law becomes the loophole for someone caught under the other. Why do we need another one?

Our law sanctions the ultimate: death by hanging. What do you want: skewer a terrorist to death? That bandhgala adorning a neat chamber in North Block said the terrorists behind the 13 September blasts would be handed out stringent punishment under the laws. To punish Terrorist X ‘stringently’ we need to first catch Terrorist X. To catch him, we need an intelligent intelligence infrastructure and well-equipped police officers. We have laws against unlawful activities and against treason, (both Shivraj Patil would like to slap me with), we have acts against carrying arms and explosives, we have MCOCA, which is worse than POTA (it at least had a clause against misuse by police). Our problem is not the lack of a law but the lacunae in law enforcement. India has a pathetic record in conviction. The conviction rate in murder cases in India is just about 7 per cent. So there is a 93 per cent chance of getting away with murder. There are people who blame it on weak laws. But the villain here is the shoddy investigation by an unprofessional bunch of unfit men in khaki. They have their own reasons: too much work, too little pay and little respect.

Manmohan Singh needs to stop thinking about a new law, and start working on how to foolproof the implementation of the existing laws, and most importantly, how to make our police a force that criminals and terrorists fear. The terrorist must not find it easy to plant a bomb. In case, he manages to do that, he doesn’t get away with it. In case he does get away, he is caught. Law comes after that. A well-equipped police force should be able to prove it in the court of law that the terrorist is a terrorist. There are enough laws to hang the cretin. But if you insist on skewering him to death, please draft a new one. The BJP will support.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Thank God for Him

Can't help it. I don't find time to update this blog. But sometimes there's a need. And unfortunately, in times of need, one Mr Patil becomes a target of this blog. So, now the nth time, a salute to the irrepressible man.

Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil has once again defeated the evil designs of terrorists. Soon after Delhi was rocked by five bomb explosions on Saturday, the handsome home minister made it clear to the terrorists that their dastardly designs were in for a shock, because he could do the impossible: ask people not to panic. Moments after that stupendously superlative thought struck him, he was there on TV screens. “It is a cowardly act by those who don't want us to live in peace. We have just overcome the difficulties and these cowardly people have hit us again. But I would appeal to people to stay together and not create panic,” Patil told the nation.

It worked. The nation rose in unison and saluted the saviour for revealing to them the real plot behind the bombs in dustbins. And to everyone’s pleasant surprise, he unearthed the evil designs in less than four hours. Of course, he looked into the mirror a few times to talk to himself. It helps.

This time he went a step ahead and spoke about punishing those who caused the blasts. “The people behind this act will be given stringent punishment according to the law,” he said. Now this is what we call a masterpiece. Punishments are according to the law, another new revelation to the nation. Apart from Afzal Guru, who’s being punished according to politics, every other person is punished by the book.

But one must not forget his successive successes in dealing with what he calls a “dastardly designs”. Since he has taken over people have understood the importance of what a home minister can do. The home minister can appeal for calm. He can foil the dastardly designs. By now everyone knows that who he calls “cowards” have already planned their next target, the modus operandi would obviously be the same.

No one can stop a terrorist attack, even Pakistan (which is supposed to control all this) has failed in doing so. What matters is that your leader delves deeply into the issue.

Yes, sir, it takes a lot of meditation. It’s after much deliberation that he finds the answer to the evil. It’s impossible to chase these bomb-planters. It’s equally impossible to police every nook and cranny of Connaught Place. We are not Israel for Moses’ sake. We are a huge country. Why waste energy in catching these designers before they unleash their terror when you can defeat their designs even after the blasts?

Mr Patil is also the first man to actually dissect the whole thing and understand its other hidden meaning: terrorists want to create panic. “Hey you wanna create panic. I ain’t panicking. You wanna scare me? I ain’t scared. You wanna spread fear, I ain’t afraid. How’s my hair?” He is brave in the face of such catastrophic cacophony crowding his mind, which for your information is far more powerful than an otter’s. Of course, the home minister has the unfair advantage of having intelligence agencies. However, it can be scientifically proved that even if these intelligence agencies start working for Mr Otter, the home minister would beat them when it comes to confidence in the face of terror, his colleague Sriprakash Jaiswal backs him up like before.

For example, an otter can repeat the same words for the nth time while asking the citizens to not panic. Otters have a very limited vocabulary consisting of just three words: hum bhartsana karte hain (We condemn). While our man has a better sentence: Hum nirbhartsana karte hain (which means the same but is kind of superlative). So even cunninglingusitically, we are in safe hands. Don’t panic. Don’t be afraid, people of Indore, Chennai or wherever the next blasts would take place.