The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Time to shed soft image, says Advani

New Delhi, Jan. 13: “A democratic state need not be a soft state” is the message that deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani wants to get across to the country as well as India’s neighbours who have long been taking advantage of its magnanimity.

Faced with an unprecedented threat to the country’s security — “an almost war-like situation” as Advani described it —the deputy Prime Minister argued it was necessary to take “some firm measures” to send a clear signal to India’s detractors.

He was talking about not only Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in India, but also criminals such as Veerappan who pose an equally serious threat to the country’s security from within.

“It is the urgency to dispel the image of a soft state that makes us think of denying a passport to those who run down the country abroad,” Advani said. “Democracy does not mean allowing everyone to do what he wants to do. Which country can allow such freedom'” he quickly added.

He was obviously referring to the Centre’s recent decision of denying permission to All-Parties Hurriyat Conference leader Mirwaiz Omar Farooq to go abroad.

Mirwaiz, one of the moderates among Hurriyat leaders, was till recently a favourite of Delhi. His decision to boycott the Assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir, however, appears to have rubbed the Centre the wrong way.

Advani talked of a mature democratic nation’s ability to review its stand, to the extent of altering it if proved wrong.

He cited Kashmir Times Delhi bureau chief Iftikar Geelani’s case, where the government decided to withdraw the case against him after he had stayed behind bars for seven months. “It is our democracy that made us revise our decision on Iftikar Geelani,” Advani said.

The deputy Prime Minister, who is reading Bob Woodward’s Bush at War, referred to the book liberally to prove his point. “We have to learn from our experience of the past,” he said.

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist strikes in the US, President George W. Bush, while still in Florida, had given specific orders to shoot down any aircraft flying in the American sky that day. “These kinds of hard decisions need to be taken even in a democracy,” Advani said.

For the past four years, he said, Delhi has been closely watching the activities of Hurriyat leaders and found them toeing the line of their Pakistani masters. The Centre, he clarified, is in no mood to “mollycoddle” those who are playing “footsie with Pakistan”, but the government is also open to discussions with those leaders in Kashmir who have maintained their independence.

Though the Centre is open to talks with the Hurriyat leaders, their decision to always involve Pakistan — either by travelling there or asking Islamabad to be part of the negotiations — has raised serious doubts about their credibility, Advani said.

The deputy Prime Minister, referring to the Centre’s ongoing negotiations with the NSCN (I-M) leaders as well as the Bodo Liberation Tigers representatives, said these proved India’s democratic credentials.

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