Friday, December 12, 2008


A 2-Pager by Ajit Chaudhuri
‘Hagney jad aavey tho loto ro yaad aavey’

These days, I am at the receiving end of everyone’s outpourings on terror. Our PM is talking about a federal agency to deal with the scourge, our opposition about bashing Pakis, our chatterati about bashing politicians, and our media (and no doubt our phone companies) about sending messages in support of or against this that and the other. Some are linking the above average post-terrorist-strike noise with the fact that the English speaking elite got hit instead of the usual migrants from Bihar, others with elections being around the corner. And I am increasingly being reminded of the old Marwari saying featured above. And I too would like to add my piece to the rhetoric.
In sum, I would like to say what I have yet to hear – that we will have to live with terrorism until and unless we deal with corruption. And we will have corruption as long as our political system depends upon black money. And in all the rhetoric, there has been no mention of the need to address this and get the state to fund elections. This is because, for our political system, terrorism is a small price to pay for the spoils of office that high corruption allows, more so because the spoils accrue to the neta-babu-thekedar nexus and the price is paid by the aam aadmi. And expecting the nexus to change the rules in favour of honest and transparent governance is the equivalent of expecting Al-Qaeda to formulate rules for the US for better inland security. So – are you lukewarm about corruption? Do you think of it as an ‘enabler’? Do you see it as a wheel of the economy? If yes, do not crib about terrorism. You, like Lashkar-e-Toiba, are part of the problem. And yes, I do realise that my argument rests upon the link between terrorism and corruption, and this is what this paper is about. Please read on!
Allow me to take you back to class 6, when we learnt that fire required three ingredients – oxygen, fuel and a spark. A fire cannot begin without the presence of all three, and can be doused by removing any one of these. Terrorism too requires three ingredients to thrive. The first is the existence of a large number of very angry and aggrieved people in the general population. The second is the existence of organisations with the ability to motivate a core group of desperate young people into doing anything. The third is the ability to move people, weapons and explosives.
Much has been made of the fact that the US and the UK, unlike India, have dealt with that one terrorist attack in such a way as to ensure that there have been no others. Well, there are large numbers of people majorly pissed with the US and plenty of organisations willing to work on terrorist strikes against it – but they are all sitting in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Africa. We have them next door, in every direction, and even within. The UK too has angry people and organisations – many sitting within, but procuring and moving weapons and explosives is so difficult that they find it easier to go to Pakistan and Afghanistan to vent.
It is the existence of all the ingredients that makes India particularly vulnerable. With politicians who should be in jail for crimes against humanity legitimately occupying high office, with a sclerotic legal system, and with opportunities available only to a miniscule minority, I think it is safe to say that we can be certain of large numbers of angry and aggrieved people in the foreseeable future. And as the old saying goes – you can fight history but you can’t fight geography – and we are stuck with the neighbours we have. As long as they remain chaotic basket cases for failed states, there will be space for non-state actors to go about their business of motivating and training disaffected youth and coordinating terrorist strikes. And they too will remain so in the foreseeable future. And our not seeing Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Nepali stability and prosperity as being in India’s strategic interest does not help the situation. It is the last piece of the triumvirate that can be worked upon – that it is so easy to procure and move weapons and explosives, to create identities, to establish safe houses and to generally go about the mundane activities that are necessary for intent to be converted into action. And this is where corruption is a critical factor.
Terrorist operations do not build logistical chains – these are usually too complicated. They merely adapt existing ones for their requirements, chains that have been built up for the illegal movement of drugs, hooch, contraband, and people (prostitutes, child labour, etc.). And these chains have political connections and police protection, if not ownership. They cannot operate without these. And if you look back at any terrorist act and dissect it, you will see the role of corruption as a critical enabler at every stage. Yes, the same corruption that we see around us all the time!
If I have convinced on the link between corruption and terrorism, let me take the argument a step further. There is no way of separating corruption relating to terrorism from corruption relating to crime, politics, extortion and speed money. If you want to curb one, you have to curb all. And curbing corruption is our only way of realistically preventing further terrorist attacks. However, curbing corruption is not easy. It is naïve to expect that individual citizens can do this by standing up and saying no – refusing to accept bribes and refusing to pay them – or by signing on to some media website. The root of the problem is that a politician does not have the option of honesty – s/he has to generate funds to pay for elections. And if the person at the top of the food chain has to generate a slush fund, there is no way of preventing lesser minnows doing the same. And the only way around this is to have the state meet the election expenses of all major political parties, thereby removing the top persons’ need for corruption. Unfortunately, this requires statesmanship – not a quality associated with our political establishment. It is easier to talk about creating more bureaucracy in the form of another agency, and of Paki bashing, and of uniting people against terror. And then to just forget about the whole thing! Until the next terrorist attack! And then do the same again! And again! As has been the case so far!
Acronyms etc.:
Aam-Aadmi Ordinary Person
Neta-Babu-Thekedar Politician-Bureaucrat-Contractor
PM Prime Minister

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