Two issues crop up when discussing the brazen Maoist attack on a Congress party rally in Chhatisgarh last night, in which several leaders of the party, including the state party chief, were killed and injured. One is that the goons who killed so many people deserve no sympathy from us, no matter what the reasoning, and must be immediately declared as domestic terrorists. The second, and more important one, is that the BJP is directly responsible, having repeatedly opposed the setting up of a strong NCTC on flimsy grounds. Besides, the state has been ruled (or misruled) by it for the last ten years, in which the matter has only become worse. Now the party must apologize to the nation, sack its CM before the people throw him out later this year when elections take place, and support the setting up of a strong NCTC as originally conceived by the Center.
Many elite Indians like to romanticize the Maoists’ fight as a struggle of the oppressed classes against a powerful, uncaring state. The time for such romanticism is over. Maoists are called Maoists because they draw their inspiration from Mao Zedong, the Chinese leader best known for his belief in armed class struggles. So “Armed” is part of the core ideology of Maoists. It’s the starting point of the Maoist struggle. Maoists are just another type of plain vanilla terrorists. Conceptually, they are no different from the Khalistani terrorists we had twenty years back. The lesson we learnt then was that a strong fightback is what is needed to eliminate such elements, not some romantic embrace.
The BJP makes too much of our federal structure. That law and order is a state subject. That the NCTC as proposed is a bad idea. That it impinges on the rights of the state. Blah. Blah. Blah. The BJP conveniently forgets that Maoism is hardly a state subject. Maoists operate across states. That alone should be enough to make it a Central responsibility. Maoists get most of their funding and weaponry from countries across our borders. Maoist attacks are the equivalent of a foreign invasion on our country, but using local people. It’s terrorism in simple English, if we consider the “foreign invasion” angle. It’s treason if we consider the “local people” angle. Either which way, the central government should be responsible. If current laws disallow that because law and order is a state subject, then it’s time we branded Maoists as terrorists, and handed over the responsibility to the Center. But instead of supporting this, the BJP in fact works in the opposite direction – demanding that the NCTC be weakened.
We need a strong NCTC to prevent terrorist attacks. Today, we don’t have a counter terrorism body. Arun Jaitley wrote an open letter against the NCTC’s planned powers on Feb 26th, 2013, arguing “Why should the central government not trust the states” and “Is there any reason to doubt that the state police in India cannot be trusted for anti-terror functions?”. Great political rhetoric. But we’ve seen what happens when the IB passes on intelligence inputs to states. Most such intelligence is not “specific” and the state police neither has the capability nor the resources to investigate the leads. As a result, many preventable attacks go undetected. The same thing happened yesterday. The Chhatisgarh government did nothing about the tip off it received from the Center. If the NCTC had been tasked with such responsibilities, it would have directly probed the tip.
Clearly, we need the NCTC, with all its powers. Powers of search and seizure. Powers of acting directly without keeping the state police informed. Powers of doing whatver it takes to prevent terrorism of any form and color. The NCTC was conceived under the UAPA, amendments to which were passed in Parliament after the Mumbai attack of 2008. At that timie, perhaps sensing the public opinion, all political parties had supported the amendments. The BJP had taken a strong stand against terrorism in justifying its support for the amendments. But today, its back to it’s usual political double-speak. Today, it wants to embarrass the Congress. It hasn’t allowed the NCTC to get set up. Who knows, the NCTC could have prevented the attack last night. Who knows? Can the BJP, and its savvy ivory-tower lawyer-leaders give conclusive arguments that the NCTC would not have prevented last night’s attack?
Here’s what I wrote last year on Feb 19th (2012) which is still so true: Fighting terror requires a unified response. Just look at the politicization of the fight against the Maoists. Again, the Central government can do pretty much nothing except request the states to up the ante. Because all states don’t coordinate their efforts, Maoist attackers often jump across from one state to another to escape their capture. Most of the Maoist affected states are poor and don’t even have the sophisticated arms and the trained forces required to take on the Maoists. And yet, when the Center wanted to plan a bigger offensive, it had to tamp it down under similar excuses – that law and order is a state subject. The next time a Maoist attack happens, lets all wring our hands in anger and shame and despair. And let’s make more political attacks on each other.
Well, the “next time” happened last night. This time, it was the Congress rally that was attacked. Next time, it could be some other party’s. Maybe we will have to lose a few more lives before we wake to the reality. The BJP accuses the Congress of policy paralysis. But the BJP itself stands accused of paralysis of ideas even when it is not in power.
In another piece on May 6th, 2012, I had written that “The same is the case with the fight against Maoists. A few years back, there was expectation that the Union Home Ministry was launching a new strategy to eliminate the internal threat. The Army was to be used in a minor or major way as the reports indicated. Activities of various states were going to be co-ordinated by the Central government. But again, the pressure from the CMs – who were worried that the Center would take over in the name of fighting the Maoists (in reality they were worried that some of their dubious political friends could be arrested) – put paid to any such plans. Today, the scourge of Maoists has only increased. Every now and then, Maoists capture someone or the other – and a swap with kidnapped Maoists follows – rendering the entire fight irrelevant”. It’s clear. The BJP is directly responsible for last night’s attack.
The real truth is that the BJP must deliver on its tough rhetoric on national security. It must support a strong NCTC with all its original powers (of search and seizures) intact. It must agree to branding Maoists as terrorists. And as an important symbolic gesture, it must sack Raman Singh, the incompetent CM who has stood by as the Maoists gained strength in his state over the last ten years of his rule….