Sunday, November 18, 2007

WHO IS GREATER - INDIVIDUAL OR NATION?

A few related developments during the last fortnight or so have put the media spotlight on Rahul Gandhi, the Crown Prince of India, as he fondly referred to by some.

On November 8, Rahul Gandhi attended the Congress Working Committee meeting in Delhi for the first time after taking over as the General Secretary of the Congress party. On November 12, he attended his first Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee meeting in that capacity. On November 17, the series climaxed in the All India Congress Committee (AICC) meeting in Delhi, where the resolution adopted by the AICC welcomed his induction as AICC General Secretary.

During the AICC meeting, notwithstanding a few minority discordant and drowned voices like Arjun Singh, speeches by Congress leaders from the Prime Minister downwards had one basic theme: the baton of the leadership of the party, and therefore the country, I may add, was being passed on to Rahul Gandhi formally.

There was another interesting and very significant twist in this milestone political development.

On November 17, it was splashed all over the media that the police had arrested three militants near Lucknow. These militants, who were quickly declared to be Pakistanis by the police (the basis of establishing their national identity was neither asked for by the media nor given by the police), were on a mission to abduct Rahul Gandhi, to secure the release of some arrested militants. Visuals of the three militants “confessing” their plan in a police station were also aired by some TV channels.

The very next day, while the AICC session was in progress in Delhi, lawyers in a city court in Lucknow went berserk and thrashed up the three arrested militants within the court premises. Some lawyers were shown demanding on TV that the militants should be immediately hanged! One prominent lawyer was quoted as saying that Rahul Gandhi was the “heart throb of the generation” and that the reaction of the lawyers to the threat to him was natural!

Even the National Security Advisor (NSA) appeared on a number of national television channels and newspapers to inform the country that Rahul Gandhi was a prime target for militants, as indeed was the whole Gandhi family, and that his security needs would be reviewed.

There is already talk that this foiled militant plan to kidnap Rahul Gandhi was a part of the elaborate plan of the Congress party to launch him into national limelight as the only leader and hope of young India.

Be that as it may, the real question that should worry Indians is: Whose security is more important, our politicians' or our country's?

For those who may not be aware, it may be mentioned that security of some of our top leaders is taken care of by the elite Special Protection Group (SPG). It broadly consists of three layers. The outermost periphery comprises armed local police, or paramilitary forces. The inner ring comprises of commandos deployed on rotation basis by the SPG. The security cover is scaled up or down depending on the threat perception. Also, every movement of these VIPs is guarded by a mobile protection team of the SPG. In short, the aim is to ensure zero possibility of any attacker penetrating the security cordon and reaching the person of the VIP to cause him any physical harm.

Now let us examine the security threat to India, the nation, Mother India herself. Everyone knows that India has been the worst sufferer of terrorism for almost two decades now. Everyone also knows who the creator and the sustainer of terrorism is. Everyone knows too that India’s response to terrorism has been very poor, because of which this menace is becoming worse and is spreading to more and more parts of the country.

The security cover required by a country is in many ways similar to that required by a person; only it is much more complex and requires more number of intricate layers, whose thickness and strength should be dictated by the ever changing security threat. Every other nation in the world, including Pakistan, the father of terrorism, has put in place tough security measures to protect the ‘person’ of the country from the threat of terrorism. What have we done as to ensure as foolproof a security as possible for the protection of the ‘Aam Admi’ that the politicians never tire of talking about, and indeed the country itself?

The same NSA who appeared on TV immediately after the threat to Rahul Gandhi was uncovered, has been strangely silent and ineffective in doing anything to protect the country better. He had once mentioned in one program on television that the Al Qaida is a mindset. Disclosing that seemed to be enough for him. He made no effort whatsoever to suggest that he had even the foggiest of ideas or plans to effectively counter and defeat the threat posed by that mindset. As to why India’s response to terrorism remained pathetic, all he could say was that we had to work with the limitations of democracy!

Immediately after 9/11, the US, a democracy, took some drastic measures to ensure that the “inner ring” of the country’s security would not be breached again, like it was on 9/11. All other countries facing the threat of terrorism took similarly appropriate steps. Despite the fact that our inner ring has not only been broken repeatedly with ease but also does not seem to even exist, we presently have no specific measures in place to counter this threat.

This is what the US Homeland Security Country Report on Terrorism, 2006, had to say about India’s efforts to fight terrorism:”India's counterterrorism efforts were hampered by its outdated and overburdened law enforcement and legal systems. The Indian court system was slow, laborious, and prone to corruption; terrorism trials can take years to complete. An independent Indian think tank determined that the thousands of civilians killed by terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir from 1988 to 2002 received justice in only 13 convictions through December 2002; most of the convictions were for illegal border crossing or possession of weapons or explosives. Many of India's local police forces were poorly staffed, trained, and equipped to combat terrorism effectively.”

There is nothing new in that assessment that our leaders or their security advisors have not known for decades and-this is the indictment from which there is no escape-have not addressed as they should have.

Again, this year, as reported in the Hindustan Times of September 11, 2007, as per a United Nations report submitted to the Central Government, India is virtually losing the war on terror because structures vitally required to fight it are either not in place or are in a disarray. The report highlights in detail the major gaps in the anti-terror framework which need to addressed urgently.

What action did the government takes on this report? It ensured total silence in the media and elsewhere. No discussions, no talk of any new measures to tackle this grave threat. It seems almost as if the government feels it has no responsibility to do anything and is living on the hope that this menace will gradually die. So what if many more thousand lives of innocent, ordinary, expendable Indians are lost in the process?

Somewhere, our politicians have forgotten a few very basic facts: They are because the nation is, the nation is not because they are; the nation protects them only so that they can better protect the nation.

Sadly, our leaders and the structures of the government react swiftly to the danger of terrorism only when it affects their persons individually. The danger to the 'person' of India does not seem to elicit the kind of response that has been shown by all other nations affected by the same threat. Perhaps the politics of vote banks does not permit them to do for the nation what needs to be done more urgently than ever before.

The individual has, alas, become greater than the nation.