One doesn't know whether to laugh at or cry over the antics of India's politicians as they "fight their war against terror". After the Jaipur blasts, the predictable nonsense was spouted by both the Congress and the BJP as they sought to score electoral points against each other. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh solemnly said that an all India federal agency was needed to fight terror. It required the Jaipur bomb blasts to wake him up to this. In August 2007 the Madhava Menon Committee on the National Justice Policy had said in its report: "The National Criminal Justice Policy should conceive legislative provision on federal crime and the need for a federal agency to enforce it." Why was the issue not taken up seriously in Parliament immediately after that report?
Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje pleaded for discussions involving the Centre and all state governments on how to coordinate effectively the war against terror. Does she expect such discussions to be held each time there is a terrorist attack in any part of the country? ' considering that the creation of an institutional mechanism like the proposed federal agency to facilitate this was ridiculed by her party colleague and BJP spokesman, Arun Jaitley? The BJP leaders reiterate that the re-enactment of a stringent law like POTA is a must to fight terrorism. Both the Congress and the BJP are wrong. Neither the proposed federal agency nor a revived POTA by themselves would succeed, unless there was effective governance and implementation of laws.
The CBI is a federal agency to fight corruption. Consider its scandalous record in solving corruption cases. At every step in every case it is impeded and subverted by political interference. So how would a federal agency for fighting terror be any more effective -- unless it was insulated from political interference? To accomplish this, federal agencies would have to be made autonomous. They could be made accountable to either the President or to Parliament. This would involve a systemic change. Would the politicians accept such change?
The BJP's proposal to re-enact POTA in order to fight terrorism is equally farcical. POTA was in force when major terrorist attacks, including the one against Parliament, were successfully carried out. Perhaps the most conspicuous achievement of the POTA law was Jayalalithaa's successful arrest of her political rival, MDMK leader Vaiko. Given the propensity of India's politicians to misuse, subvert and bypass laws, it is unlikely that any law by itself could successfully counter terrorism.
Politicians need to be reminded how, in the Jain Hawala case, only two conduits of illegal funds to terrorists received minor jail sentences. Over a decade later the businessmen who facilitated the transfer of illegal funds were held guilty and slapped a fine of Rs 30 crores. The case originally filed under the defunct TADA law (as stringent as POTA), was converted to a corruption case simply to avoid embarrassment to over 40 involved national political leaders of various parties. The aborted TADA probe helped a minor separatist, Salauddin, to escape unscathed. He flowered to become, today, the Pakistan-based head of the Hizbul Mujahideen. Thanks to the suspended TADA probe to protect politicians, another hawala operator, Moolchand Shah, also escaped. Only recently was he convicted for involvement in the 1993 Mumbai bomb blast case. Years after the Jain Hawala case probe ended, Tariq Bhai, the foreign fund donor named in that case, who was never questioned, was identified by British authorities as a prime source of terrorist funding in Kashmir. Mr Jaitley would surely recall that case? His considerable legal skills were deployed to get a number of involved politicians off the hook. Every single politician was acquitted for lack of sufficient evidence.
There was nothing unique in the political-terrorist nexus revealed by the Jain Hawala case. In Andhra, in Jharkhand and in some other states the fact that politicians protect Maoists to augment votes is acknowledged. In Tamil Nadu and in Karnataka politicians for many years protected the serial killer, Veerappan. He funded terrorists based in the jungle trail through which he transported ivory to Myanmar and China for his illegal smuggling trade. In Kashmir, Assam and the North-East, politicians seeking secure votes have been credibly accused of colluding with terrorists. Many more examples of politician-terrorist nexus can be summoned. So, would the mere re-enactment of POTA or the establishment of a federal agency effectively end terrorism?
For any serious war against terror, three prime requirements are essential. First, political corruption has to be curtailed to ' among other things ' prevent leaders becoming vulnerable to blackmail by terrorist elements. Secondly, investigative agencies would have to be insulated from political interference by introducing systemic change. And thirdly, Panchayati Raj would have to be strengthened by creating a new, primary level of the police force accountable to local bodies both in village and in town. This level of local policing could, apart from pursuing other duties, prevent the creation of undercover terrorist cells in one's own locality. For a successful war against terror, the creation of greater participatory governance would be necessary.
In the absence of such measures, any real war against terror is illusory. To hope that the present crop of politicians in government and in opposition could introduce such change would be equally unrealistic. In the circumstances, India may have to keep living with terror that will continue to bleed our nation until our political culture is radically transformed.