The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- The attack on Akshardham will result in a plunge into deeper folly

In American soccer parlance, “Monday-morning-quarterbacking” is a well-known expression. During week-end games, many chances are missed, many passes are misdirected, many tackles misfire. Honest citizens spend a considerable part of the Monday forenoon in their offices describing in minute detail how, if only they were playing, they would have made the correct mo- ves. India’s security and intelligence apparatus is obviously going through this Monday-morning-quarterbacking phase. Three brats, armed to the hilt, infiltrated the Akshardham temple of the Swaminarayan complex in Gandhinagar and, for close to sixteen hours, carried out a ghastly carnage, which cost thirty innocent lives and injured over a hundred. Our security network could not do a thing about it.

They are however wonderfully smart after the event. Within twelve hours of the surcease of the outrage, the killers were officially declared to be Pakistanis. Even their names were given out, along with their addresses in Pakistan. Questions nonetheless will persist. In case our security and intelligence people are so clever, why were they not able to prevent the attack' How come these young Pakistanis could penetrate our frontier vigil and travel all the way to Gandhinagar' Are our borders so porous, or are our intelligence apparatchik so comprehensively incompetent'

Now that disaster has already struck, vigilance at religious places is being tightened, and ordinary citizens are going through indescribable harassment in the name of security checks. Whatever the post-event deepening of watchfulness, it cannot really proceed beyond a point though. Even if, given the colour of the Central administration, the decision is taken to beef up the security of only Hindu shrines, temples and other holy places, since there are literally more than a million such spots strewn across the country, the cost will be enormous and call for a hefty increase in our defence and security outlays.

Such outlays, currently amounting to around one hundred thousand crore of rupees, including hidden items, will perhaps have to go up to double that figure. Since the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund do not approve of rising budget deficits, and it is unthinkable to impose heavier doses of taxation on the country’s affluent set, the extra money for security will necessarily be at the expense of spending on development and social services. The overall consequence will be a further lowering of national income growth as well as growth of social welfare. Those below the poverty level will swell in number, unemployment will be aggravated, education and health facilities will shrink further. It will be, all told, a formidably difficult arithmetic.

Even as it is, divisiveness in society has reached alarming proportions. Much of it is on account of the setback in the domestic economy compounded by the liberalization reforms. The obsession over security and the greater importance assigned to defence and intelligence expenditure will lead to a deepening of economic distress, which in turn will be the harbinger of the further fracturing of society. The divisiveness, as is its wont, will take diverse forms: agrarian tension apart, communal passion, either induced or autonomous, will intensify, industrial relations will worsen, caste battles will proliferate, and linguistic chauvinism will rear its head in all parts of the country.

Alien forces will of course not be forgiven if they try to avail of such opportunities and begin to fish in troubled waters. But their endeavours will be a natural offshoot of the developing confusion. To forestall their malevolent manoeuvres, an additional draft on public expenditure will be called for. The consequence will be a further diminution of development and welfare outlays.

The authorities in New Delhi are extraordinarily keen to link up the Gandhinagar episode with the happenings in Kashmir: it is because the Pakistan-bred terrorists have not quite succeeded in disrupting the polls in the valley, they have been compelled, so the argument proceeds, to give vent to their frustration by organizing the Akshardham incident. The argument may be just inane, or it may have some basis. It is however not necessary to get embroiled in that dialectics. What is a more crucial issue is the inevitability of a progressive immiserization of both countries should the India-Pakistan confrontation, now in its sixth decade, be elongated further. The ruling hegemony in either country will not bat any eye; whatever the dire circumstances the general population of the two countries are reduced to, the powerful ones will always continue to have it good. They will be only too glad to embrace the conditionalities of compradordom, and will remain convinced that their specific interests—class interest — will be duly taken care of by the master power, ten thousand miles away but still ubiquitously present. The master power can also be relied upon to supply both parties with weaponry and other logistical support, to continue their phoney, and occasionally hot, war against each other. Such special “defence” assistance will be arranged against long or medium term loans involving high rates of interest. The inability to meet the terms of the loans will gradually sink both countries into the mire of total compradordom.

It is an extraordinary situation. Sensible people in both India and Pakistan realize the futility of the current proceedings. But they are immobilized. Pakistan in any case is a military regime where civil liberties are heavily constricted. India, while a democracy, is a competitive democracy. The latter incorporates the concept of competitive patriotism. The jingo spirit, once unsheathed, cannot therefore be easily sheathed back. Few people possess the courage to stand up and take a position which could be interpreted by motivated ones as gross treason. There is, besides, that other danger: sooner or later patriotic jingoism may be reinforced by an overlay of religious jingoism. The Swaminarayan complex affair will offer an extra chance to those who would love to tread such a path.

To repeat, this an extraordinary, almost hopeless, situation. It has thus been left to a group of university dons from Bangladesh to address a fervent appeal to their counterparts in India and Pakistan. The six decades-old confrontation has not done either the Indian or the Pakistani people any good. It is in its nature that it is unable to render any good to any other entity in the region either. Militarization can be stretched to the infinite extent and yet neither the Indian nor the Pakistani establishment will be in a position to overpower their adversary.

This is a truth which is mathematically provable; the exception of the Bangladesh war was on account of the revolutionary ground realities within. Since militarization alienates the authorities in both countries from the people, any potential revolutionary situation will actually operate against those entrenched in power. The Bangladeshi friends have drawn attention to some of these humdrum facts of life. They have appealed to their peers to gather courage and join their hands across the border to uphold the cause of peace, tranquillity, development and welfare.

All this is folly — or worse, terrorism — to the decisionmakers in New Delhi, Islamabad and Washington.

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