My campaigner friend Sudha Passi is emphatic about her view, and rightly so, that corruption plays a major role in nurturing and fostering terrorist activity. Thanks to our "I, me, myself" attitude and approach, our vision has become so myopic that we (Indians) have unwittingly played into the hands of terror spawning organizations. All because we have lost sight of seeing anything beyond ourselves.
India has been a victim of terrorism and insurgency for several decades now. Terror brooks no compassion; neither does corruption. An act of terror is an act against humanity and civilization. A terrorist is worse than a beast. So is a corrupt person, who has lost the ability to distinguish between the right and wrong in the hot pursuit of acquiring ill-gotten fame or wealth.
According to former Central Vigilance Commiss-ioner N. Vittal, while corruption is a cause of terror, it is also a consequence.
Corruption as an extension of financial terrorism can have the same disastrous impact on human lives as physical terror attacks. Vittal attributes the rampant and pervasive corruption in the North-East and Jammu & Kashmir as one of the direct causes the militant activity there. There is usually a high economic price to be paid for the tumult and upheaval wrought by terror.
Terrorism draws its strength from its intense sense of hatred, Vittal says. "This hatred is continuously nurtured to such an extent that those indoctrinated are prepared to sacrifice their lives to take on their enemies. In the case of financial terrorism, greed is the driving force. This greed grows to such an extent that corruption virtually becomes a way of life. People are not shocked by corruption and do not realize its dangers. We realise that we cannot cure what ails our economy unless we are able to tackle the issue of corruption."
The United States proclaimed a war against terror after the shocking attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on 11 September 2001. "While the physical damage caused by terrorism grabbed public attention, (financial terrorism) is another kind of terror unleashed in our country every day which apparently does not shock the people to a similar degree," said Vittal in a lecture in Haryana in 2001.
Corruption is nothing but an arm of financial terrorism. The 9/11 attacks reminded many Indians of the 1993 Mumbai blasts in which more than 300 people died. This was an instance of twin terror attacks: physical and financial. The RDX that was used in those blasts to kill innocents was actually smuggled in by bribing customs officials to the tune of Rs 20 lakh.
Corruption as an extension of financial terrorism can have the same disastrous impact on human lives as physical terror attacks. Vittal attributed the rampant and pervasive corruption in the North-East and Jammu & Kashmir as one of the direct causes the militant activity there. There is usually a high economic price to be paid for the tumult and upheaval wrought by terror.
The 9/11 attacks had an adverse impact on the stock exchanges of the United States and elsewhere in the world. Industries such as travel and tourism reeled for months and years after. Thus financial terrorism has a much wider impact on the corpus of a nation and the lives of its people than physical terror attacks.
Giving a convincing example, Vittal says,"on Terror Tuesday about 10,000 people might have lost their lives. (On the other hand) in the UTI scam two crore investors who had put their life savings in US64 found that their trust had been betrayed. The suffering of the victims who lost their means of financial support, especially in old age, is no less (than victims of 9/11). Once we realize that corruption in India today is in real effect nothing short of financial terrorism we should mobilise public opinion and effort to ensure that the kind of worldwide consensus that is sought to be evolved today to fight terrorism is also brought to bear in tackling such other forms of terror."
In most cases terrorism is an import of transnational criminal activity. Terror is a violent instrument to destabilize states, intimidate legitimate authorities and blackmail governments in pursuit of its goals, which are in most cases religious or political fanaticism. Those masterminding terror acts or movements are generally young, intelligent, educated and fanatically zealous persons. They also have connections in high places and access to influential sources of funding. In many cases the source of this money and manpower is the state its-elf. It is appalling that in civilized societies states are often themselves the motivating and sustaining forces behind terrorist movements. This they justify in the name of history, stratagem and diplomacy.
What is the link between corruption and terrorism? Possible areas where the two overlap or interplay are information and communication, both extremely vital in strategic terms. We have seen many cases of sedition and treason wherein vital documents, maps, defence programmes, etc, were passed on to inimical forces for cash, thereby severely compromising national interests. It may not be surprising if every key government department throws up a faceless mole, who could fit into this role when approached. You will not be surprised to find pimps and dalals - government babus - who will copy and pass on important pieces of information from their offices in lieu of a bribe. In all sensational espionage cases, the pimps and middlemen are very highly paid by the foreign agents and mercenaries. Sometimes senior officials, including defence officers, and politicians are found to be hand in glove with such elements. They play into the hands of the agents in exchange for some ready cash and a lifestyle that is beyond their legitimate means. Their minds are irreversibly mortgaged to these dangerous elements. A gangster or terrorist don can trigger a bomb blast in Delhi through a network of operatives from any corner of the world. It is also common knowledge that many hawala deals are routed to terror organizations. And all of this happens because the mind is corrupt and unable to see beyond one's self even as the earth underneath him is slipping by like wet sand on a seashore.
We often talk of an unholy nexus among cops, criminals and politicians. The one big link between them is cash. There are two types of terrorism: triggered by internal forces and external forces.
Internal terrorism is generally an act of gangsters and the mafia. But their ends are limited to acts such as abduction and extortion. But these gangsters and mafia dons can assume lethal forms when they join hands with multinational criminals or terrorists.
Transnational terrorists are imports from beyond the borders.
India has always been vulnerable to attacks from beyond its borders, be it by nation states and imperial clans in the ancient past or global terrorist organizations today. Our inherent weakness is that we do not react. And even if we do, it is never enough or at the right time. If our neighbour is having a problem we may do lip service but would rarely be interested in getting to the root of it. Corruption and terrorism are always interlinked. These emerge from the crucible of sheer hate and perverse thinking. Corruption is cancer.
Here I want to narrate a legend related to Lord Krishna and Putana, the mythical demon. Putana went to the village of infant Krishna to seek him out and kill him at the behest of his uncle Kansa. She disguised as Krishna's mother. Finding Krishna alone she started breastfeeding him. But instead of being poisoned the infant Krishna suckled the life out of her. Moments before she died, Putana moaned: "Oh Krishna! Don't you know that I am your mother? How can you kill your mother?" "In the same way that a mother tries to kill her baby … you deserve to die; you are an evil," Krishna retorted.
But Putana continued to argue. "I may have committed a crime but you have become a murderer by killing the woman who breastfed you. I shall curse you before I die." Krishna softened, and said, "Tell me what do you want from me apart from your life?" Putana said, "Make me loved by all people while I continue to harm them". Krishna smiled and said "From today you will be the avatar (incarnation) of corruption. Wherever you go you will spread like cancer but the people will continue to adore and crave for you."
Thus Putana acquired immortality as the embodiment of evil. We see her handiwork all around us. But Lord Krishna did not show us the way to do away with the Putana that is deeply entrenched in our society in the form of corruption.
Terrorism does the talking through bullets and bombs and kills people with a thunder. Corruption does the same subtly and on the quiet.
We have seen the blasts in Mumbai in 1993 and 2006, the assassinations of former Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and ex-Chief of Army Staff Gen. A.S. Vaidya, the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament, carnages at Akshardham Temple and Ajmersharif dargah … the list is endless. Even religious sites are not spared in this unrelenting gory tide of terror. We have lost more lives to terrorism than in all the four wars that we fought since Independence. What is worse, terrorism is not always the handiwork of the foreign hand; many of them have been executed by our own brethren although the brain might have belonged outside. Many of the executors of such heinous acts are educated and nurture a deep-rooted hatred for this country, its institutions and beliefs. Others are unemployed and misguided. Some do it for money; some are forced into doing it. Organizations and individuals who inject terrorism into India are flushed with funds and can afford to pump in cash to implement their plans because there are many a lacuna in the social fabric of the society. They further their aims, and build their defences, by resorting to corruption.
Twenty years ago, two persons dying in a terrorist attack in Jammu & Kashmir would make national headlines. Today, such an event would not merit an inside page "brief". We have become "used to" such killings. We are now desensitised, rendered immune by the recurrence of such acts. In 2004 there was a bomb blast in the heart of Delhi's busy Karol Bagh market on Diwali-eve. At that time I was shopping in Bengali Market, just four kilometers away. When the television sets in the shops flashed the news, only a handful of shoppers turned around to look at the screen. The rest did not even bother. Those who did too turned away within seconds and went back to their shopping. It was business as usual in a matter of minutes.
The common man's reaction to terrorism nowadays is almost indifferent. He is more concerned about himself, his home and family than the blood of their fellow citizens. Today a terror attack evokes lesser public reaction than an act of demolition by the local corporation in the cities. Those having anything to do with illegal construction follow the news with rapt attention lest the axe may next fall on them. This because, today there would hardly be a person in town who has not bent the law in one way or the other to grab every inch of land that he could lay his hands on.
In a city like Delhi most people are educated, employed and make a more decent living compared to those in other parts of the country. Yet, despite their high levels of awareness about issues concerning them and the country, they are not bothered about acts of terrorism in their own city.
Do we care? Are we alarmed? The shadow of terrorism looms directly over a fifth of the nation. This means, more than 200 million Indians live under a perennial threat of terrorism. Going by media reports, there were as many as 5900 acts of terrorist and insurgent violence across the country between 2001 and 2006. This means an alarming daily average of two strikes at one place or the other in the country! The same report mentioned that 4000 Indians were martyred in the wars against Pakistan and China in 1948, '62, '65 and '71 and the Kargil operations in 1999. In Jammu & Kashmir alone, more than 20,000 people were killed in terrorist strikes and anti-insurgency operations since the start of militancy in 1989. We have thus lost five times more lives in Kashmir in 20 years than in five wars spread over 50 years.
A Hindustan Times report of July 2007 titled 'One in every six Indians lives under insurgency' says: "As armed groups spread their influence across their country's sprawling triangle of rebellion, from J&K to Manipur to Andhra Pradesh, more than 17 crore people in militancy-affected areas live with no access to functioning schools, decent roads or other basic development work." The report featured a villager from Jharkhand, Dinesh Mahato, standing on the ruins of a primary health centre. The centre was yet to be visited by a doctor since its inauguration 15 years ago. Utterly neglected and non-functional, it crumbled into a heap of rubble. Mahato asks a pained question: "Are we a part of this country?"
Students in half of India's schools pass out with a shoddy, half-baked education that leaves them incapable of meaningful employment in this globalised world. Such youths from many parts of the country where this situation is compounded by poverty, backwardness and lack of opportunity and infrastructure - such as Jammu & Kashmir, the North-East and parts of Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Andhra - are tapped by terrorist and Naxal groups. It is the absence of even the slightest iota of love and patriotism towards our country among such youths that makes them readily accept the offers of terrorist organizations. Apart from serving as a happy hunting ground, India is also gradually becoming a safe haven for international terrorists.
The advancement in information technology is also feeding terrorism. Terrorists, transnational criminals and drug lords are increasingly using IT as a potent tool to beat the authorities at their own game. A terrorist in, say, Kerala can trigger a blast in coordination with accomplices in Kashmir through the effective use of email, the cellular phone and the Internet. Terrorism can be remote controlled from not only within India but also outside. The Internet today is flush with all kind of information - like tips on bomb-making, etc - and such sites can be accessed by one and all. Drug barons and the betting mafia operate globally through internet. The 9/11 terror strikes in the United States have unveiled the new image of the global terrorist as a technology-savvy, educated, intelligent, and resourceful person who moves with a number of aliases.
India has one of the largest pools of trained manpower in the world in the information technology sector. The number of competent software profess-ionals is growing inexorably. The terror machine also takes advantage of this large unregulated pool of talent. Sometimes we are shocked to hear young educated professionals being hired by terrorist groups without their knowledge. While some professionals would double-check the credentials of their employer, many would not think twice if the money is good. The software industry knows no protocol or official restrictions. Spies in the Internet can open the doors of the Indian establishment to prying eyes across the world. Documents can be smuggled and information can be leaked. Sometimes terrorist groups can be tipped off about a possible crackdown even as the same measures are being debated at the highest policy-making level, making their getaway all the more easy.
Why have things come to such a pass? The answer is because our people simply do not react. The people are indifferent; the government is corrupt. Corruption weeds out the will to take hard decisions that strike at the root of evils plaguing the country. And the people are simply not concerned with anything that extends beyond their living rooms and workplace. While a corrupt police is always on the lookout for a bribe, the average Indian can be made to play into the hands of terrorists and other anti-national elements for money. In most cases of terror attacks, the police and Army get into the act when it is too late. By then the damage is already done. The political leaders pay lip service to the bereaved and at best an ex gratia of a few lakhs of rupees. Meetings are convened with the standard refrain that "terrorism is a dastardly crime against the nation which should be condemned in the strongest possible terms". No one, however, takes the lead in weeding out terrorism. Thanks to a sick and sort-sighted mind-set, the consequence of terrorism has proved to be more severe than the loss of lives and limbs.
In Jammu and Kashmir two decades of terrorism has ruined the once-flourishing tourism. India has tremendous potential to attract foreign investment. But the threat of terror has affected the investment climate. Add to this the work culture and corruption in our bureaucracy and political system have earned us an image of being most corrupt in the eyes of global investors.
Can a corrupt government provide peace and security to its people? Can a corrupt government offer a fair and level playing field to investors and industry? If the system lacks transparency, work culture gives way to the culture of bribes and the end result is sheer inefficiency. The number of employees who will simply not deliver unless they are bribed, I am sure, is more than the number of corrupt politicians.
With Planet World opening up its markets for all, terrorism has taken a new avatar. In this avatar, terrorism spreads faster than cancer or corruption or both. This is financial terrorism that seeks to dominate the world through the control of its commerce. India by many counts is one such huge state where financial terrorism flourishes. The NGO Azadi Bachao Andolan estimates that more than US$ 1000 billion of Indian money is lying in various foreign banks and financial institutions. This is 13 times our total external debt. The NGO calculates that if this money is distributed among all Indians, each one of us would get at least Rs 35,000. Without going into the authenticity of this information, I am sure you will agree that this money is certainly not the fruit of honest labour and income. This money actually belongs to the people. Ironically, many of the true "owners" of such a colossal sum die of hunger and disease everyday, and our government cannot afford to spend even 2 per cent of it GDP towards their health and education.
The illegal transfer of money from one country to another (made possible by technology), counterfeit currency, satellite phones, laptops and other modern gadgets are easy tools for unleashing this vicious form of terrorism called financial terrorism.
According to Vittal, financial terrorism is to blame for the starvation deaths of millions of poor in our country. He had, in 2001, cited the example of Orissa where poor villagers in the interior districts died of malnourishment while the Food Corporation of India's granaries were overflowing in other parts of the state. The Union Government provides substantial quantities of grain free to states such as Orissa but little of this reaches the starving and the needy. On the contrary, a substantial part of this grant made available to Orissa is recirculated and sold back to the Food Corporation of India at commercial rates. That year paddy cultivation in Orissa was down to 30% of the average because of a poor monsoon, but the FCI had managed to equal, if not exceed, the procurement target for paddy for the state! Is this not a glaring example of how financial terrorism in the public distribution system plays havoc with the lives of the hungry poor? Are not these deaths as heinous as those in New York on 9/11?
As we have discussed earlier, in India the term "contacts" is often bandied about to refer to the most effective means of securing favours. Industrialists bag the biggest contracts to the exclusion of honest bids through their "contacts". Through our contacts we can get the most sought after flat in a government housing colony allotted to us. Tender rules are manipulated often. This is not new. But we do not realize that the culture of "contacts" kills the spirit of honest competition and diligent enterprise. Those who benefit from their "contacts" are willing to meet their ends through any kind of corruption, be it "fat", "mat" or "rat". Take a look at how the government is selling the nation's family silver for a song to understand the "wonders" that these "contacts" work.
According to Vittal, "our focus on bringing about a radical cultural change must therefore be an outright attack on the culture of corruption through transparency. Corruption flourishes because of two elements in our culture of governance: lack of transparency and delay. We must extensively use information technology to bring in transparency and to eliminate, or at least, curb delay."
This delay in execution while leading to corruption is often the direct consequence of corr-uption too. If delay is not born out of corruption, then it is begotten by inefficiency. Again, if someone is inefficient in his work, I am sure he lacks commitment.
Vittal has suggested "a three-point strategy as a broad framework for the onslaught against corruption. The first is by simplifying rules and regulations so that the scope for corruption is reduced. The second is by empowering the public so that they know their rights and can have access to information. In this context, the Right to Information Act has a vital role. The third is an effective and prompt mechanism to punish the corrupt."
Vittal's roadmap is excellent indeed. His suggestions should be followed, if they are doable.
But we must go down to the basics. Human behaviour is extremely complex. Curbs alone will not do unless accompanied by change from within. A law does not work unless it is respected by the citizens. Transparency and simplification of the laws could be effective only when the people are ready to accept the same. Therefore, Vittal's suggestions will work only when our hatred against corruption becomes second nature. Perhaps we can destroy the Putanas in our society only by hating them, or at least by ceasing to love them.