Governance is the easy part of being in power. You govern through systems. Systems are protected by institutions. Institutions grind their way forward on hierarchy, oiled by memory or precedence. When there is need for innovation, change is sifted through a time-consuming committee. The end product may not be brilliant, but it comes with minimal-risk insurance: it will not do damage, and might even do some good.
India’s bureaucracy may not be the steel-frame of old. Corruption might have left it a brittle plastic. But it serves. Very often the difference between a good and a bad Minister — the titular head of the bureaucracy — is no more than his or her ability to leave well enough alone. Lalu Prasad Yadav has created a favourable reputation by the ingenious tactic of non-interference. He lets the Railway Board get on with the job and only appears on the scene when it is time to take credit. Give him full marks. More has been destroyed by the deadly combination of ego and incompetence than has been achieved in Government through genius. As the Railway Board has proved, India could be much better off if Ministers left Government on auto-pilot while they concentrated on what they know best: spilling each other’s blood.
The difficult part of power is leadership. Any term of office is divided between phases of placidity and the roils of turbulence. If turbulence is not calmed it develops quickly into a storm. Terrorism has become a raging hurricane. The statistics are well known. There is no point wasting space on them. But there is no leader who can challenge this storm, manage its fallout and restore some balm to the jangled nerves of the nation.
Dr Manmohan Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi have, at best, the most banal phrases to offer. We do not need a Prime Minister to tell us that terrorism is a grave threat. That much wisdom is available from any taxi-driver, the familiar source of political perspicacity sought by a visiting journalist anywhere in the world. No one has yet written a speech for Mrs Sonia Gandhi that takes us anywhere near a remedy to this terrible disease.
An answer must begin with a question: when did terrorism begin? Too long ago. India is unique. Every faith has delivered its quota of terrorists. The Nagas who challenged Indian unity were Christians. The sister-regions of the Northeast gave us Hindu terrorists. Sikhs rose in Punjab, and Muslims in Kashmir. The overwhelming majority of Naxalites are Hindus.
And now some young non-Kashmiri Indian Muslims are playing with dynamite. Some three years ago, when President George Bush visited India, Dr Singh proudly told his American mentor that Indian Muslims did not believe in terrorism. As evidence he pointed to the absence of any Indian Muslim name in the rolls of Al Qaeda.
If this was true, then what has happened in the last three years? India has not been ruled by any party that Muslims consider hostile to their interests. Congress has been in power in Delhi. In fact, Indian Muslims believe that if they had not mobilised to an unprecedented degree the Congress would never have got enough seats in the last general elections to cobble together a coalition. Indian Muslims claim a sort of ownership of the UPA regime. Why have Dr Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi been unable to prevent a spurt of despair within the community?
The Congress will not even admit this question, so it is difficult to see how it can introspect its way towards an answer. There are two principal reasons for the renewed rise of Muslim despair. First, the community has not got the justice it expected from the Congress. One fact will illustrate. While those found guilty of terrorism in the Mumbai bomb blasts of 1993 have been, rightly, punished through the legal process, those found guilty of crimes against Muslims in the preceding riots have been left untouched. The constables found guilty of state terrorism during the awful riots in Mumbai after the Babri episode in the report of the Justice Srikrishna Commission are wandering around, free. Dr Manmohan Singh, Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Mr Sharad Pawar cannot “find” them.
The second major reason is a sense of helpless hopelessness. The history of economic deprivation long precedes the UPA Government, but its mistake was to believe that it could fudge through its term as its predecessors had fudged through theirs. Dr Singh should never have asked Justice Rajinder Sachar to find out the truth if he wanted to do nothing about it. The truth has become the ultimate betrayal, for the report is a devastating indictment of Congress neglect of its most loyal constituency. Muslim youth watched as Mr Arjun Singh reserved even more jobs for others, and maintained an ultra-secular silence on reservations for Muslims. As I have written before, other communities got jobs under Congress; Muslims got enquiry commissions.
This was fuel for a fire that could so easily mesh into an international conflagration. The memory of riots, particularly in Mumbai and Gujarat, was equally incendiary. Indian Muslims have had apostates and middlemen as leaders. In the vacuum, a number of youth found it easy to drift towards the malevolent attraction of evil. They convinced themselves that virulent hate mail and unpardonable killing of innocents was the means to display a destructive strength. This terrorism, of course, is already hurting Indian Muslims far more than it damages their avowed targets.
The Congress is twisting this damaged psyche further with its cynical response to terrorism. There is a suspicion, bordering on conviction, among Indian Muslims that the Government of Dr Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi has offered scapegoats in the form of students of the Jamia Millia University to appease majority anger after the terrorist attacks on Delhi. We do not know the full truth, but there is enough that is murky in the events of 19 September when Delhi police surrounded and killed two students of Jamia at Batla House, while two others apparently escaped. There are questions galore, not least being the manner of the “escape”: if there was only one entrance, how could the two “escape”? Police have shifted their version after every question. The “escape” now is meant to have been through the rooftop. Did anyone see them in the daylit skyline? Nor does anyone believe in the version offered of the death of Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma. It was first put out that he had been shot in the stomach. Then pictures were published of him walking after being shot, with no evidence of a stomach wound. The latest theory is that he died of a heart attack following loss of blood. One TV station claimed that the autopsy report showed he had been shot from the back, hinting at what is known as “friendly fire”. The UPA Government then sought to demonise the community when they covered the faces of suspects with the red, patterned, Arab headdress instead of the black cloth normally used. Who got these headdresses from the market? Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who claimed that he had personally supervised these operations? Was he telling India that these suspects were linked to Arab terrorism?
The questions grow each passing day, each one another fuse for anger.