Anti-Terrorism Day: Need For A Holistic Response

On Anti-Terrorism Day, it is important that the nation once again focuses its attention on a simmering threat which impacts the India growth story.
Keywords: Terrorism, India, IPKF, LTTE, Intelligence, Kashmir, LWE, Northeast, Punjab, Consciousness, Attack, Military, Pakistan, Threat, Police
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On May 21, 1991, Rajiv Gandhi, India’s former Prime Minister was to address a series of public meetings in Tamil Nadu, ending at Sriperumbudur that night. The first round of voting for the 1991 General Elections had taken place a day earlier on 20 May and electioneering was on in other constituencies. Unknown to India’s intelligence agencies, a dastardly plot to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi, who was expected to win the elections and become India’s Prime Minister for the second time, was already in motion.

Determined to prevent Rajiv Gandhi from returning to power and fearing the re-induction of the IPKF, the LTTE supremo Prabhakaran, in a meeting held in Jaffna in October 1990, had ordered the killing of Rajiv Gandhi. Dhanu alias Gayatri and Shubha alias Shalini, both women members of the LTTE’s shadow squad, were chosen as the human bombs. On the fateful day, both wore denim vests, fitted with explosives and carried a garland in their hand to greet Rajiv Gandhi. They were in location, near the VIP enclosure by 5 pm. The former Prime Minister arrived five hours later to a rapturous welcome. Dhanu moved forward, ostensibly to touch Rajiv Gandhi’s feet. When Rajiv Gandhi bent to lift her up, Dhanu activated the bomb, killing both instantaneously. India, no stranger to terror attacks across the years, had once again been subjected to a grievous and vicious terror attack. To focus the national consciousness on the dangers of terrorism, 21 May has been observed since then, as anti-terrorism day.

Terrorism is not a new phenomenon; its use being made to coerce governments and populations to submit to the diktat of terrorists. Modern communication means and the easy availability of sophisticated weapons and material to manufacture explosive devices has however heightened the threat levels to a far higher degree than hitherto fore. Since independence, India has been subjected to terrorist inspired violence in some of the states in Northeast India, the movements being supported initially by China, and the causative factors being ethnic identity. In the mid-sixties, Left Wing Extremism (LWE) raised its ugly head, starting from an obscure village called Bengai Jote, where 9 adults and two children were killed in police firing in the Naxalbari block of Siliguri district on 25 May 1967. Thereafter, the Naxal movement, as it came to be known, lost its agrarian character and became a militant movement. Today, while the spread of LWE has been contained to a large extent, the Maoists are still able to carry out targeted attacks as evinced by the killing of Central Armed Police Force (CRPF) personnel on 5 April 2021 in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh. LWE is inspired by ideological motivation and seeks to overthrow the state through the use of force.

India has been through a painful period of Sikh separatism in the Punjab, supported by Pakistan, in the 1970s and ’80s, which was eventually put down. Thereafter, Since the middle of the 1980s, Pakistan shifted its focus to Jammu and Kashmir and continued using terror as an instrument of state policy, to wrest Kashmir from India. The period since has seen many high profile terror attacks on Indian soil, some of the more dastardly ones being the terror attack on Mumbai which left 257 people dead, injured over 1400 and left a deep psychological blow to Mumbai’s psyche. The attack on India’s Parliament on 13 December 2001 nearly led to a war between India and Pakistan. This was followed by an attack on the holy Akshardham Temple in Gandhi Nagar, Gujarat on 24 September 2002, the August 2003 Mumbai bombings which left 52 dead, the 29 October 2005 bombings in Delhi which killed 70 people and injured over 250, the Mumbai train blasts of 11 July 2006 which killed over 200 people, and the 26 November terror attacks, once again in Mumbai, which killed 171 people. Between June 1980 and 2021, India has been subject to over 100 major attacks, across the length and breadth of the country.

Terrorism has a debilitating impact on a nation’s economic well-being. It tends to drive out capital and forces the state to spend more on internal security measures. When terrorism is sponsored from across the borders, it is essential that the fountainhead of terror be addressed and to that extent, we have seen a focused shift in the policy of the Government of India, since 2014. While initial attempts were made by the BJP led NDA government to establish friendly relations with both Pakistan and China, the response to Indian overtures was tepid, and Pakistan continued to use terrorism as an instrument of its foreign policy.

Post the attack on an Indian military post in Uri on 18 September 2016, the Indian Army responded with a series of cross border strikes across the Line of Control, hitting out at terrorist bases. Popularly called surgical strikes, they sent home a message to Pakistan that India will retaliate to preserve its security interests and will not be deterred by Pakistan’s nuclear blackmail tactics. This apparently had a salutary effect, as we did not see any major terrorist attack thereafter, till the attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama on 14 February 2019, which led to 40 personnel from the CRPF losing their lives. This time, India responded by using the Indian Air Force to destroy a major Jaish-e-Mohammed camp at Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, on 26 February 2019, over a 100 km deep inside Pakistan. This was deterrence at play, and once again the Pakistani nuclear bluff was called. Since then, there have been no major terrorist attacks on India, though this by itself does not preclude attacks taking place in future.

Pakistan has been conveyed a message that there is a price to be paid if it continues to sponsor terrorism on India. Any future terror attack which can be traced back to Pakistan must hence be responded to with firmness if deterrence is to be effective. Alongside the current policy of the government to choke terrorist funding, weed out support elements within the Valley and in other parts of India, its current political and diplomatic offensive against Pakistan’s support to terrorist groups is bearing fruit and must be pursued with renewed vigour. It would be helpful if all political parties in India united against this threat, but considering the nature of India’s polity, that appears to be, at least as of now, a distant dream. However, the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A and the bifurcation of the erstwhile state of J&K into two Union Territories has contributed greatly to the restoration of normalcy and has restricted Pakistani options in the area.

With respect to LWE, there is a need to improve the training and leadership standards of the CRPF, which is the designated lead force in carrying out operations against the Maoists. While political and administrative measures have yielded great success, the absence of deterrent hard power gives the Maoists the capability to strike at select targets at periodic intervals.

On Anti-Terrorism Day, it is important that the nation once again focuses its attention on a simmering threat which impacts the India growth story. A united all-party approach will go a long way in enabling the country to rid itself of the scourge of terrorism. We, the people of India, must stand united in this effort.

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Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch

Major General Dhruv C Katoch is Director, India Foundation and Editor, India Foundation Journal.

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