A series of widely dispersed but very well coordinated explosions, within minutes of each other, at the courts in Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh come as another reminder, within a long and continuing series of such reminders scattered across the length and breadth of the country, of the dangers of terrorism and India's inability to respond coherently, proportionately and with sustained institutional commitment.
With only very preliminary information available on the blasts at the time of writing, it is premature to attempt to arrive at any definitive identification of the organisations behind this latest outrage. Just before the blasts, several news organisations received e-mails, purportedly from the 'Indian Mujahideen', claiming responsibility for the bombings. The organisation is unknown, and would probably be a front for one or more of the better-established outfits that are known to have been operating in the state -- particularly Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami and Students Islamic Movement of India.
In the immediate aftermath of the latest blasts, a wide range of questions are once again being raised regarding motives for the attack, the choice of targets, the timing, etc. It must be clear that authoritative answers to these questions will have to wait till investigations secure demonstrable successes. What is immediately apparent, however, is that this incident is only the latest in an ongoing series; that, over just the past three years, major terrorist strikes have been engineered by Pakistan-backed groups in Delhi, Bangalore, Ayodhya, Mumbai, Varanasi, Hyderabad, Malegaon, Panipat ('Samjhauta Express'), Ajmer and Ludhiana, with lesser attacks at a number of other locations; that India is failing to contain the menace of Islamist terrorism; and, the state and its leadership cannot evade responsibility for this failure.
It is useful, in this context, to recall that the then outgoing Supreme Court Chief Justice, Mr RC Lahoti, had specially noted, on October 31, 2005, the nation's success in "wiping out terrorism from Punjab", and had insisted that "the Punjab experience could be repeated in other parts of the country". He squarely blamed the "lack of political will" for the continuous growth of terrorism in India, in contrast to other countries, such as the UK and the US, which reacted with swift determination after the first major strikes, so that "no further incidents of terrorism took place".
Uttar Pradesh is a particularly glaring example in this context. Vote-bank politics has given free rein to Islamist forces, and politicians have repeatedly interfered in actions against those who have facilitated the extremist-terrorist entrenchment in the state. Senior police officials in the state have constantly warned against the rising dangers, but such officers have often been hounded by the political executive for doing their duty. As many as 34 of Uttar Pradesh's 70 districts are identified as 'sensitive' in terms of Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorist activities. The South Asia Terrorism Portal has recorded at least 57 incidents of 'terrorist subversion' in the state between April 2001 and November 2007.
A UP Police Report in November 2006 indicated that the state had emerged as one of the "major centres of the activities of the ISI and its proxy terrorist groups in India", and that ISI-trained terrorist modules had infiltrated a number of cities and small towns in the state. Political parties have, nevertheless, found it expedient to protect the constituencies where this terrorist mobilisation is occurring. Significantly, then Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav repeatedly spoke out in support of SIMI, particularly at the time when the issue of the renewal of the Union government's ban against this organisation was brought up in the Supreme Court.
Uttar Pradesh is, of course, not unique in this, and the 'Marxists' of West Bengal have been just as eager to appease a violent Islamist constituency, as was most recently evident in their response to the orchestrated demonstrations against dissident Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen in Kolkata, which the state inexplicably failed to prevent or contain, requiring the deployment of the Army in the city's streets. The Bengal Marxists have also long denied the creeping demographic invasion of illegal Bangladeshi migrants into the state, preferring to exploit this captive vote-bank rather than protect national security interests.
Which is what the Congress has done for decades in India's North-East. More recently, the party gave tickets to former terrorists in the Punjab Assembly election. In Hyderabad, in the wake of the Mecca Masjid bombings, disclosures indicated that the police were actively prevented from taking action against Islamist terrorists, and some prominent extremists who had been arrested were released under political pressure.
As is invariably the case after a major terrorist attack, parties in opposition have sought to make political hay after the latest serial blasts, speaking in sweeping generalisations about intelligence and policing failures. There is, of course, a tremendous failure underlying such incidents and the growth of Islamist and other brands of terrorism in the country; but it is the failure of the intelligence of the national political leadership, not the failure of the 'intelligence establishment' or the police.Indeed, and this is a point that cannot be sufficiently emphasised, the nation's intelligence and police organisations are doing an exemplary job, given their colossal deficits of capacity and the constant obstruction of their work by unscrupulous and corrupt politicians blinded by their electoral ambitions. Uttar Pradesh has a bare 94 policemen per 100,000 population, as against a national average of 143. International norms prescribe a minimum of about 250 policemen per 100,000, and some Western countries have ratios approaching 500/100,000. Indian policemen, moreover, operate under abysmal working conditions, with little technical support, the poorest possible facilities and resources, rudimentary training, excessive working hours, and constant interference and abuse by politicians.
These are aspects that are well known, and have been documented by committee after committee at the centre and in the states. But no government is willing to act adequately and effectively to correct these deficiencies, with 'too little, too late' being the norm of the ad hoc augmentations that occur periodically. It should be abundantly clear, however, that unless counter-terrorism is placed out of the ambit of opportunistic electoral politics, and unless the security forces, intelligence agencies and administrations are adequately manned, equipped and empowered to deal with extremists and terrorists in accordance with stringent laws, within an efficient system of justice administration, terrorist attacks will continue to occur with sickening regularity, and with near impunity.
K.P.S.Gill is former director-general of police, Punjab. He is also Publisher, SAIR and President, Institute for Conflict Management. This article was first published in The Pioneer