By Dheeraj P.C.

“A brief historic analysis shows that the politics on counterterrorism in India, especially owing to the political future in UP, has left a huge dent on the morale and the ability of the security forces to fight terrorism. Rewarding the suspects, as the SP government did in 1994, after they are released and punishing policemen who arrested them is a major impediment and a de-motivation to pick up counter-terror assignments for our security forces.”

Being the most populous state in the Indian Union, Uttar Pradesh (UP) elections are hard fought by political parties, observed keenly and enthusiastically by political analysts, since it has the capability of leaving a pan-Indian impact. In one of the world’s fastest growing economies, it was rather a pity that it’s most populous state was primarily lured and administered by political parties on communal grounds and little on developmental basis. “Minority appeasement”, a strategy that resonated since the earliest times in UPpicked up pace following the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Notwithstanding this trajectory political pundits of all leanings alike had predicted a Congress- Samajwadi Party (SP) alliance or a probable Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) interjection considering the fact that a 100 plus contestants were Muslims. These analyses stemmed primarily from predicting the minority votes to be bagged by either parties. However, to the surprise of all, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the single largest party shattering all communal based predictions. Now, with the BJP in power- more so by rationalising the victory to developmental politics- what should be the necessary impact on counterterrorism, especially at a time when the state is perceived by many as a hotbed for radicalisation

A brief historic analysis shows that the politics on counterterrorism in India, especially owing to the political future in UP, has left a huge dent on the morale and the ability of the security forces to fight terrorism. In one incident, during 1994, the Intelligence Bureau had developed intelligence reports that a few Kashmiri terrorists, trained by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were hidden in a madrassa in Lucknow. Following on this intelligence, sleuths picked up a few students for questioning and later released them on establishment of innocence. To a rational reader, this may appear as a standard operating procedure that shouldn’t raise any issues. However, the political response to this event is what raises eyebrows. The ruling SP government in a bid to appease the Muslim population not only rewarded the suspects with huge sums of compensation money, but also inflicted harsh punishments on the policemen. Officials believe that such political interference is a major impediment and a de-motivation to pick up counter-terror assignments

A little over a decade later, a similar political drama ensued almost seeming like déjà vu. After the Malegaon blasts police personnel had apprehended both Hindu and Muslim youth on suspicion. At that time, the police were yet to establish the perpetrators of the crime and hence, anyone being suspicious was picked up. However, political intervention was to emerge and once again the pretext was UP elections. With a view of clinching a victory in the UP elections, the UPA regime secured the release of Muslim detainees. Such interference to appease Muslims was not limited to Malegaon alone, but to the Ajmer and Hyderabad blasts also. As a result, in the words of a former counterterrorism expert late B. Raman in 2011, the investigative agencies had not been able to detect any terrorist strikes post 26/11 in Pune, Mumbai, Varanasi and New Delhi. Beyond UP, Hyderabad is another place where elections have impacted counterterrorism efforts negatively. Intelligence agencies and police forces have had their hands tied in several occasions owing to the Congress- Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) communal vote banking strategies. Clearly, a cause for the 2007 Hyderabad blasts and the growing levels of radicalisation in the city.
Contrary to the UP and Hyderabad political models, the Gujarat model offered a rather bizarre and unexpected response to counterterrorism. The horrors of 2002 Gujarat riots in which the Muslim population was allegedly subject to police excesses should have, according to studies conducted on principal drivers of radicalisation, motivated several Muslim youth to resort to terrorism. However, with limited political interference, the police were able to wage a coordinated attack on radicalism by instilling a sense of fear of persecution among the Muslims. Astonishingly, the whole Muslim population in Gujarat absorbed the fear of police action and not only turned down invitations by the Lashkar –e-Taiba but also turned reliable police informers. This sort of a model, although may be viewed as the state terrorising the population, did wonders on counterterrorism front.
In presenting these past analyses, I do not intend to vouch for police excesses. At the same time, one has to comprehend the dangers of minority appeasement on counterterrorism. In most of these occasions, with the terrorists being trained and guided by the ISI infers a logical conclusion that is- the ISI has by and large benefitted by India’s political infighting on communal grounds. Given the latest episodes, the Islamic State (IS) seems to be the new beneficiary. In future, if India needs to tackle the menace of Islamic terrorism an objective political support and operational freedom for security forces is mandatory. The Indian Muslim populace has shown remarkable resilience against the IS ideology or Pak sponsored anti-nationalism. But this doesn’t defend against the few who succumb to such ideas.

In case of terrorism, what really makes news is the success of the terrorist and not the counterterrorist. Therefore, a counterterrorist official is always cursed with greater chances of criticism than appreciation and glorification that rarely comes. In such a scenario, the forces largely depend on political backing for their actions, as long as their actions are by the book. The new government in UP has a mammoth task of linking development with de-radicalisation and failure on one front will definitely impact the other. The new government need not employ a level of terror as seen in post riots Gujarat. It has to just communicate its resolve to fight radical Islam both with the forces as well as the public, by connecting counterterrorism with its larger developmental plan. Bridging counterterrorism and development, if successful, will act as a strong point of attraction for the BJP, which is yet to win the hearts of the Muslims in Bihar, Hyderabad, Karnataka and Kerala- four other states with high rates of radicalisation. Also, if successfully implemented, this strategy will debunk the Pakistani and IS narrative that India is a failed experiment on secularism and that the Hindu right in India is an extremist ideology. Instead if the BJP continues on the same trajectory as others, of playing safe or minority appeasing for political reasons, then both counterterrorism and development will meet the wall.
(The Writer is a Security Analyst based in New Delhi)