First Person | Engage, Not Alienate

If you don’t get the ideas right, you will get the policies wrong

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

Quite unlike the pre-election noises, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has been talking in innuendos and conjectures on internal security ever since it assumed power. Sure, it is early days for announcements to be made, but there have not been whispers even; only assumptions and presumptions.

To begin with, in the appointment of the national security advisor, experts have read that the Modi government’s primary focus (after economy) will be on internal security. This is the reason, within days of taking charge, the Prime Minister asked home secretary for a low-down on internal security situation of the country, which included issues like Left Wing Extremism (LWE), Jammu and Kashmir and terrorism. While the Prime Minister is in a listening mode right now, his aides are in ‘floating ideas’ mode, perhaps to gauge popular opinion on various issues.

Some of the ideas that are being circulated are: resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits in the especially-built enclaves in the Valley; amending the recently-passed Land Acquisition Bill to make land acquisition less cumbersome; and bringing in a new anti-terror law, maybe less draconian than Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), but more stringent than Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). All these issues have appeared in the press as ‘according to the sources’ articles than as definitive policy proposals.

Even if these eventually do not translate into actual policies, it is safe to assume that these are indicative of a thinking process. And this thinking process is faulty if not downright dangerous to the internal health of the country.

Taking Kashmir first, Kashmiri Pandits were selectively killed in 1989-90 not because their neighbours suddenly started to hate them or covet their property. They were killed because there was an attempt to communalise the Kashmir issue, with the operative word being ‘issue’. Pandits were, unfortunately, peripheral to the main Kashmir issue, which at different times have been enunciated as either complete independence from India, merger with Pakistan or greater autonomy.

The Pandits’ killing and subsequent exodus from the Valley was very tragic indeed, but it was not central to the ‘issue.’ So unless the ‘issue’ is resolved, repatriation of the Pandits will remain a half-baked idea, which may not even see fruition and if it does under extreme political pressure then may further complicate the situation in the state. In fact, many from among the Pandit diaspora accept that the political conditions that forced them to leave the Valley continue even today and unless they are resolved, Pandits will not feel safe. Once the Kashmir issue is resolved, the return of Pandits will cease to be an emotive, political question, instead it will then be a matter of expediency.

The second floating idea is the Land Acquisition Act of 2013, imaginatively titled ‘The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill 2012’. This was the long overdue piece of legislation, a bit akin to the Forest Rights Act of 2006. Of course, unlike the Forest Act, the scope of the land acquisition act is widespread, extending even to the urban areas, but its importance to internal security cannot be undermined. Reams of research has been done to establish how discriminatory and high-handed laws of India, promulgated by the British, have contributed in criminalising vast sections of the dispossessed Indian population, gradually nudging them towards Left-wing extremism in various forms. Ideologues apart, the mass of the LWE movement comes from these dispossessed people.

While the erstwhile Forest Act robbed the forest dwellers of their right to forest produce, thereby rendering them helpless in front of corrupt forest officials, the old land acquisition act which dates back to 1894, created a mass of displaced people, evicted from their places of habitat and employment without adequate compensation by a state in a hurry to grow. One doesn’t have to look too far back in history to see how often the state tried to ride roughshod over its own people, for what it calls the larger good. Nandigram in West Bengal and Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa are immediate examples of how people’s resistance can turn both political and at times violent. Is it a coincidence that amongst the vociferous opponents of the new Act are states most afflicted by Maoist violence?

The third idea of a new anti-terror law is an old hat. Every time a tough law is passed, the bogey of terrorism is raised. But instead of combating terrorism, such laws are used to settle scores based on personal prejudices or to win brownie points. It is no state secret, that thousands of Muslim youth are languishing in various prisons all over the country merely on suspicion. In many instances, forget the judicial process, even the chargesheets have not been filed. Every time a Muslim person of some consequence throws his weight behind the Modi government, he makes a very public request to the Prime Minister: look into the instances of Muslim youth being implicated in false terror cases.

Instead of a new terror law, we need better assimilation of the Muslims in the mainstream. This will not only generate better preventive intelligence but will involve community leaders in leading and also policing the youth who have the potential of going astray. Anything else will alienate, not engage.


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