The PM's meeting with his Pakistani counterpart in the SAARC summit did seem positive. But, in the immediate context, was it relevant? Even with the best of intentions, it is very doubtful if Prime Minister Gilani can translate his assurances into genuine policy. The terror crisis in India is immediate. And before effective Pakistani cooperation is forthcoming, there is need for much to be done by India within its own borders.
Politicians in different parties are solemnly referring to India's war on terror. War on terror ' what a nice sounding phrase! It provides good copy to headline writers in the media. But do politicians really believe we are facing a war unleashed by terrorists? Nations brush aside all obstacles when they fight for survival in wars. Our leaders are content to mouth stale platitudes and tattered resolves after every act of terrorist violence. This scribe does not want to repeat the same views and suggestions expressed in these columns on 9 May 2007, 17 January 2007, 19 July 2006, and several times earlier. No suggestion is either dismissed or accepted.
A successful war on terror requires curbing political corruption that leads to political collusion with terrorists; recognizing the terrorist violence by all outfits espousing separate causes as a single war in different battlefields against one mastermind exercising centralized control; identifying the foreign power which is the mastermind and suitably revising India's relationship with it; and addressing the genuine grievances of those frustrated sections of the population that are cleverly exploited by the terror mastermind. It must be recognized that this is war. And that is how wars are really fought and won.
The measures mentioned above can become meaningful only if there is an executive instrument capable of implementing policy. Does India have that? Consider the current state of national unity on the question of terrorism. The central government proposed a federal agency to fight terrorism. Ignore the merits or demerits of the proposal. Possibly, there are better alternatives. Consider the reasons why state governments are overwhelmingly opposing the proposal. They believe that the central government will misuse the proposed federal agency to derive political partisan advantage. Can the state governments be blamed for believing this? The record speaks for itself.
Recall how the existing central agency, the CBI, has been used as a political tool by successive governments to either harass or protect politicians, depending on the central government's disposition towards them. Recall also how the NDA government failed to sack or censure the BJP ruled Gujarat government after the Godhra riots. Recall how the UPA government threw law to the winds by dissolving the Bihar assembly to pre-empt an opposition government being sworn to power in the state.
Currently there is an even more glaring example of the Centre misusing its power for partisan ends. BJP ruled state assemblies have passed anti-terror laws. But the Centre's nod is not forthcoming. Gujarat is denied thereby an anti-terror law that is similar to the anti-terror law already operating in neighbouring Maharashtra, which is ruled by the Congress. The Centre found no difficulty in giving assent to the law passed by the State ruled by the Congress party. Even the tallest leaders from different parties in the Centre have failed to avoid partisanship in their dealings with state governments. In this situation, can state governments be blamed for being wary of any central proposal? Can this situation of political paralysis created by mutual suspicion ever allow an effective instrument to emerge for governance?
It cannot. So does the fault lie with the Constitution? No, it lies with the politicians and jurists of India who persist in misinterpreting the Constitution. How can the Centre block an anti-terrorist law passed by a state assembly that does not violate the Constitution? Quite simply, the central cabinet prevents the President from signing the Bill. But how does the central cabinet exercise jurisdiction over an elected state assembly for enacting laws? It doesn't. The central cabinet enjoys this power by subverting the Constitution and exercising power to which it is not entitled. The Prime Minister is elected only by a majority of Lok Sabha MPs. The President who is treated like a puppet by the central cabinet is elected by both Houses of Parliament and by all the state assemblies across the land. The President alone, in the centre, has the democratic mandate and the moral right to decide on matters related to state governments. Even a child conversant with simple English would interpret thus on reading the powers of the President as written in the Constitution.
And yet, an entire galaxy of celebrated jurists through the last six decades have knowingly, willfully, distorted the Constitution by quoting this or that past legal luminary to obfuscate the truth. Recourse to legal comment in the past becomes valid only if the text in a written constitution is obscure or open to diverse interpretations. That is not the case with the Indian Constitution. The section describing the President's powers is explicit and unambiguous. Even after Indira Gandhi, sensing the danger to her father's flawed interpretation of the Constitution, amended it to curtail the President's powers, she did not succeed in substantially diminishing the powers of the presidency conferred by the Constitution.
India's Constitution and the prevalent political system may appear to be a far cry from the war on terror. But without a suitable systemic instrument no operation can succeed. Terrorism has forced India to make a choice between performance and paralysis. This scribe and some others may be able to wait and see if India's politicians make the right choice. But will the terrorists wait?