Friday, April 17, 2009

Naxals not motivated by ideology, they're bandits: Chidambaram

18 Apr 2009, 0417 hrs IST, TNN

P Chidambaram took over as home minister in the aftermath of Mumbai attacks, and has helped fashion the government's counter-terror initiatives.
With elections on, he has also been leading Congress's counter attack to BJP's "soft-on-terror" charge. In a conversation with Vishwa Mohan and Himanshi Dhawan, he tries to shift the battle to the rival's terrain. Excerpts:

Q. Is terrorism an issue in the election?

A. It is an issue but it is not the sole issue. Both in urban India and rural India, I acknowledge that it is an issue amongst the handful of issues that occupy the mind of the electorate.

Q. If several issues are in play, why did the Congress party feel the need to bring out a document on terrorism?

A. No particular reason to put out the paper, but we want everybody to know that we have done a lot of homework on this matter. I thought this was an opportunity to make the point that you cannot fight terror unless you're prepared to fight communalism. As far as Indian terror groups are concerned, both groups -- the jihadi terrorist groups and the Hindu militant groups -- perpetrate terror in the name of religion and therefore unless you are prepared to fight communalism, you can't fight terrorism.

Q. Many people will look askance at the equivalence you are seeking between jihadi terrorism and the one by Hindu militants.

A. Terror is terror. Anybody who perpetrates terror will have to be dealt with firmly and decisively. I am able to see that both kinds of terror groups commit acts of terror in the name of religion. They are not committing acts of terror in any other name, but they are doing so in the name of religion to advance what they believe is their religious cause. Therefore, one has to be able to fight communalism in order to be able to fight terrorism.

Q. How do you react to BJP's charge that the fight against terrorism has been a setback because of UPA?

A. Complete rubbish. What is BJP's record in fighting ULFA, in fighting naxalism, in identifying and fighting terror modules in India? These terror modules did not spring overnight. These terror modules have been in the making for the last many years.

As far as I am concerned, terror is terror. Terrorist is a terrorist. I do not recognise his religion. It is motiveless malignity, if I may borrow a Shakespearean phrase.

Q. Why no decision has been taken on Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru's mercy petition?

A. Afzal Guru is one amongst 28 cases who are on death row. His case is 22nd in the list of 28. Before him, serial number 14 is also terrorist offence -- assassins of Rajiv Gandhi. Is it not an important case?

Assassin of Rajiv Gandhi was sentenced on January 28, 1998. It was confirmed by Supreme Court on May 11, 1999. BJP was in power. Why didn't they carry out the sentence? Let me answer this myself. In this country, examination of a mercy petition is a well established but a slow procedure. So, what applies to case number one and what applies to case number 14 will apply to case number 22 also. Why did you pick out one case and say this has to be dealt with on a fast track. Then, I am entitled to say that you are picking up that case because you are looking at that case through the lens of religion. You are looking at the religious persuasion of that man, which I reject. All these cases are to be dealt with according to the established procedure.

Q. There is a perception that before 26/11 nothing substantial was done as a result of which the country had to face a series of terror attacks during 2005-08. How has the situation changed now?

A. I don't think you can divide our anti-terror efforts into post-26/11 and pre-26/11 and even if you divide in that manner, pre-26/11 would include NDA government's rule. When I looked at the situation, I found that all the elements were there. All the agencies were there. But they were not pooling together. Post 26/11, I decided to question the intelligence establishment and security forces on the strategy that they have adopted so far and goad them into rethinking their entire strategy.

Q. Has it resulted in important shifts?

A. Not only in the case of cross-border terrorism but also naxalism. For example, it was and it is even now believed that police action and development can go hand in hand in naxal-affected areas. To some extent, it is a naive theory. Development is important but development can take place only when police action has secured the area. If police action does not secure that area, whatever development you may do, will be wiped out by naxalites in a few days or few weeks.

Q. It marks a departure from what is considered the `root cause' approach?

A. Well I don't think naxalites are motivated by any ideology. Maybe one or two of them are ideologically motivated but most of them are simply bandits.

Q. Do you think the amended Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) is strong enough to fight terror, considering that it does not recognise confession before police as evidence?

A. It's strong enough. But, along with strong laws you also need fair laws. Two provisions are obnoxious. One, confession to a police officer will be made admissible. And second, if a public prosecutor opposes bail, court shall not grant bail. Given the reality of the policing system in this country, we all know that the confession to a police officer is invariably suspect and to say that if a public prosecutor opposes bail the judge should not grant bail is to make a mockery of the court. These two provisions are not there in our law. We have no intention of introducing these two provisions in our law. I think, the UAPA, as amended, is a strong and, at the same time, fair law.

Q. Congress party's document on terrorism remains silent on infiltration despite the fact that it poses a big threat. Why it is so?

A. This is only confined to cross-border terror. This plan does not deal with naxalites, it does not deal with insurgent groups in the northeast nor does it deal with infiltration from Bangladesh. We didn't want to distract from the core of the document, which is cross-border terror supported by home grown terrorist modules. There are separate strategies (to deal with naxalism, infiltration, immigration lapses and others) and if necessary we can put them together in the form of a booklet.

Q. Porous Indo-Nepal border also poses a big problem as there have been reports that the terrorists may take this route to sneak in. How will the home ministry address this issue?

A. Indo-Nepal border is a porous border. Indo-Pak borders in Punjab and Rajasthan are more or less secure. Earlier, infiltrators were coming through LoC and international border in Kashmir. They still make an attempt to come through the LoC in Kashmir but in recent times, they have found it feasible to come via Nepal. They come to Kathmandu and try and cross the border between India and Nepal. We are working with the Nepal government in identifying these potential infiltrators when they reach Kathmandu. There have been some successes, but I don't deny that it is possible that a few of them may have infiltrated the Indo-Nepal border.

Q. Ambitious Multi-Purpose National Identity Card (MNIC) scheme is billed as one of the steps to keep tabs on infiltrators or illegal immigrants. But, the pace of the project is quite slow.

A. It was a pilot project. We had to prove the concept. It was completed in March 2008. The period between April 2008 and March 2009 was the maintenance phase. That phase is also complete. Now the pilot has been proved. We have entrusted it to the Registrar General of India who is going to take it up. I have given a timeframe to all the coastal towns and villages as well as Andaman and Nicobar Islands for cards to be issued to all residents by 2009-2010. For the remainder in India, it will be done along with the National Population Register. So once the NPR is ready, side-by-side the cards will be issued.

Q. Police vacancies in states have become a major impediment in the fight against terrorism and naxalism. How will you tackle this problem?

A. We are addressing that. At the time of chief ministers' conference on January 6, there were 100,000 vacancies in the constabulary. But since that conference and since my review, every state is in a crash programme mode to fill vacancies. In fact, I am pretty confident that the bulk of the vacancies will be filled by December 31, 2009 and most certainly by March 31, 2010.

Q. Will the states adhere to the deadline?

A. They are all doing it. I know their programmes. I have got the numbers, I have got the calendar. They are now in a rush to fill the vacancies.

Q. Pace of modernisation of police forces has also been quite slow.

A. It is in a frantic pace now. Whether it is raising more India Reserve (IR) battalions, setting up more police stations, procuring more weapons, communication equipment, bomb disposal equipment, filling vacancies in the constabulary, every state is in a rush to address the pending issues.

Q. Are you seeing a new type of sensitivity that has been so far absent?

A. Well, there is a certain sense of urgency and CMs are now being asked to review the work of their home departments. I am holding review meetings in states and so far I have done it in 12 states. Therefore, there is a sense of urgency. DGPs are using this new awareness to pressure their governments. DGPs are also using their clout, which is another pressure point.

Q. What do you say about the Karnataka chief minister's allegation that the Centre neglected the state's cause as far as giving it a regional NSG hub is concerned?

A. Karnataka thinks it can reap dividends by peddling this sob story. Karnataka has no reason to complain. It is the first state which got an operational anti-terror hub. The NSG hubs have not become operational in Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata or Hyderabad, but Karnataka's anti-terror hub is operational in Bangalore.

I have written to the chief minister telling him it is operational, you now coordinate between the DGP and the commander of the anti-terror force so that they can be deployed where necessary. Karnataka should in fact thank the government for setting up the first anti-terror hub and secondly, Army's special force unit is as good if not better than the NSG hub.

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