Standing together

Published : May 25, 2002 00:00 IST

THE May 14 massacre at Kalu Chak evoked an unprecedented level of unanimity of opinion across the political spectrum. In a rare show of consensus on May 17, the last day of the Budget session of Parliament, parties cutting across political barriers proclaimed Pakistan the offender and extended unconditional support to the government in teaching it a lesson.

The entire Opposition in both Houses of Parliament urged the government to take as tough a set of measures as it deemed fit. Some parties, such as the Shiv Sena and the AIADMK, even demanded a full-scale war. It was high time that India taught Pakistan a lesson, they remarked.

Simultaneously, the entire Opposition and also the allies of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) took the government to task for depending too heavily on the United States in its fight against terrorism. They said the U.S., which talked of fighting terrorism wherever it existed, had made Pakistan, the main perpetrator of terrorism in India, a key ally in its own war against terrorism in Afghanistan and hence it could hardly be expected to support India's fight against terrorism. Members of Parliament cutting across party lines said that India must ask itself how much the U.S supported it in its fight against terrorism. "It is essentially our fight and we will have to fight it ourselves," was the common view. The Opposition parties were unsparing in their criticism of the government for displaying "weakness" in waging a decisive war against terrorism. The increased terrorist activities across the border are a result of the government's spinelessness, so went the argument.

Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi, while pledging support to the government in its fight against terrorism, sought to know the results of the "fight to the finish" and the "decisive war" the government declared after the attacks on Parliament House and the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. "The government owes the nation a clear and convincing explanation about the concrete results of its policy. The troop mobilisation on our borders continues for the last five months... We also expect the government to share with us its understanding of the gains from this mobilisation as well as its long-term approach to it," she said.

Sonia Gandhi said that the U.S. had declared that the war against terror was to be fought wherever it existed, but "so far we see this as a statement of intent and not as a statement of fact; we wait for it to be translated into action". She added, "It is high time we asked ourselves whether the international coalition against terrorism had helped us in any way."

Sonia Gandhi said the government was found wanting in its effort to sensitise the world on this issue. She claimed that the attack at Kalu Chak had exposed the weaknesses in the security apparatus. Intelligence reports had indicated the possibility of an attack, yet the government failed to pre-empt it, she alleged. "The steps taken so far by the government have not proved to be effective. This is despite the continuous and unprecedented support not only from us but from all Opposition parties," she said. She cautioned the government against launching into yet another round of "customary rhetoric" on the issue. "Rhetoric is no substitute for strategy and vision. If the government has a strategy, then let the government spell it out clearly and once and for all."

Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, often accused by the Bharatiya Janata Party of being pro-Pakistan, was equally emphatic in demanding that the government "teach Pakistan a lesson now". He said that since the attack on Parliament House, the government had only been talking of a "decisive war against terrorism" without doing anything substantial. "You do not even have to fight a war. Stop Sindhu (Indus) water to Pakistan, that will bring them to their knees," he suggested while extending all support to the government "in any action whatsoever" in its fight against terrorism.

Even the Bahujan Samaj Party, the BJP's new ally, was unrelenting in its attack on the government for its "ineffectiveness" in tackling terrorism. "It is our fight and we will have to fight it ourselves. We should not depend on the U.S. to fight our war. We are with you on this all the way," declared Rashid Alvi, BSP leader in the Lok Sabha. Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, who is waiting in the wings to get into the NDA government, too questioned its dependence on the U.S. for launching an offensive against Pakistan.

Omar Abdullah, National Conference leader and Minister of State for External Affairs, criticised the U.S. for paying "only lip service" to fighting terrorism in South Asia. Shiv Sena leader Anant Geethe, a die-hard Pakistan-basher, declared that the attack in Jammu was the latest example of Pakistan's unrelenting proxy war against India and that India should now give it a befitting reply by attacking its installations across the border.

The AIADMK supported an all-out offensive against Pakistan. AIADMK member in the Lok Sabha K. Malaiswamy read out a statement from party leader Jayalalitha in which she demanded that all diplomatic relations with Pakistan be snapped and a full-scale war against Pakistan be launched because "it was high time Pakistan was taught an unforgettable lesson".

There were voices of caution too, which came notably from the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The CPI(M) leader in the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee, cautioned the government against creating war hysteria. He said: "Don't forget that they are a nuclear country. Jingoistic utterances for a war will not bring a solution to the Kashmir issue."

The government responded through Home Minister L.K. Advani, who assured the House that the government was under no pressure from any quarter on this issue. He added that a "suitable strategy" would be worked out in due course, which would be communicated to all, and "an appropriate decision" would be taken at the right time. The Lok Sabha adopted a resolution unanimously declaring its intent to fight terrorism unitedly.

One leader who was visibly disappointed by the government's ambivalence was National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, who sat through the entire debate in the Lok Sabha in the visitors gallery and was seen leaving in disgust after hearing Advani. Asked by the media for his reaction, a visibly upset Farooq Abdullah retorted: "I don't care what action you want me to take. I would take that action if I were in the government."

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