Terror is the biggest business today at home and abroad. Everyone is a beneficiary. The government gets more clout and more powers over the lives of its hapless subjects through new terror laws and activation of old ones in an atmosphere where no one dares to question the motives of the politicians over the vital issue of “security”. Security forces get immunity for illegal acts and crimes for which they win medals, rewards, promotions and huge funds with no accountability attached. Newspapers and TV channels improve their circulation and ratings sensationalising real and imaginary terror stories with total impunity as no one would dare question their rightful concern for our safety and security. Sales of arms dealers and security providers skyrocket year after year and politicians get their usual kickbacks. Foreign arms and security manufacturers continue to do roaring business. Some political party may even try to usurp the security issue and snatch power playing on the fears of the people as BJP has been unsuccessfully trying for over a decade now. With trillions spent on security and defence, the common man is the real sufferer as the ever expanding budgets rely essentially on increased taxation and cuts in social security, healthcare and education resulting in ever-increasing poverty and suffering of the masses who nevertheless remain grateful that there are people at the helm who still work for the security of the common man and the country.
This intro was necessary to understand how the security issue remains our agenda number one and everyone benefits from this “flowing Ganga”. Late last month as Varun Gandhi was facing imprisonment for his treason and our government at the fag end of its term was concluding one dubious and unethical deal after another with world’s leading terrorist regime while a previous deal is under investigation. Suddenly the security and terrorism issue returned to the front pages. Times of India, as usual, was the leader of this scare. On 31 March its campaign unfolded with a screaming headline: “India forced to reassess threat” which told us that “Jihadi” terrorism in Pakistan was about to spill over into India. In another story the same day it enlightened us that there was an “Alert in Kerala after terror-from-sea tip-off”. TOI story said that 30 members of Jamiat-ul-Mujahidin had arrived at Negombo. The information was so hazy that TOI could not rule out that they “could belong to LTTE”. Next day (1 March) the TOI struck it big with the screaming front page headline: “Chhota Shakeel planned to kill Varun”. The news, though related to Mangalore in Karnataka, was based on an unknown IB source in Lucknow and accompanied a photograph of Varun in crosshairs. The story claimed that the shooter assigned is a certain “Malbari” alias “Double” who was arrested on 27 March in BJP-ruled Karnataka wherefrom the “sharp-shooter” was preparing to move to Pilibhit. TOI enlightens us with the reasons why the gangster was going to kill Varun could be: 1) kill Varun for his hate speeches; 2) to restore ‘confidence in Indian Muslims’ and 3) ‘disturb’ Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh (!) (TOI, 1 April). In another story same day, TOI tells us that the said Malbari entered India via Nepal but (curiously) instead of going straight to Pilibhit across the Nepal border, he decided to do a detour via sea landing on Karnataka coast in the deep south – a real Indian version of going north by north west. In two more related stories the same day, TOI tells us that Taj Group hotels have received email threats from Pakistan and that “Security beefed up at Taj hotels across country”.
Next day (2 April), TOI strikes it big again with a screaming first page headline splashed across the whole page: “Security shield for poll rallies after fresh terror threats”. Strangely, the big story has no byline as it is attributed to “Times News Network”. The whole story is about normal preparations by the police and security agencies to meet any eventuality in the national capital in view of the huge election rallies held by various political parties. The whole big story fails to offer us a single claim by any security agency about any imminent threat but an inside story tucked away on page 13 of the same issue tells us that the Union home minister has written to 40 top leaders “mainly SPG and Z-plus (NSG) protectees” of different political parties asking them “to take adequate precautions for their safety” – a fairly routine reminder to the protectees as a result of normal security reviews which are held periodically. Same day another box news datelined Mumbai on page one of TOI tells us: “Trained pilots sneak in on terror mission”. It cites an unverifiable “intelligence report” to claim that “7-8 trained pilots and around a dozen women fidayeen have entered the country on a mission to carry out terror strikes and hijackings”. A boxed item appearing with the story says that the group “May be Pakistani nationals” and that its reported mission was “to carry out terror strikes and hijackings”. The report adds in good measure: “The group may also be planning to disrupt Lok Sabha elections” (emphasis added). Inside the story we discover that the said report is based on a threat intimation received by the aviation ministry (and not by the intelligence bureau or the home ministry) and that the idea that the group may be planning to disrupt elections came from an unnamed “senior intelligence official” who was charitable enough with his comment: “We cannot take a chance…”. An inside story in TOI tucked away on page 13 on the same day (2 April) and armed with a question mark says: “Was Shakeel aid in India to kill Muthalik?” It tells us that the dreaded Malbari “had actually come to India to target Sri Ram Sene chief Pramod Muthalik” and enlightens us that “the gangsters’ interest in pursuing jihadi design [is] to do something big which could vitiate the communal atmosphere in the country”. Strange indeed. Gangsters are now fighting jihad and want to vitiate the communal atmosphere by killing those who are doing this job free of cost and extremely successfully. But the same story in Hindustan Times same day (2 April) was not accompanied by a question mark and said plainly: “Target Sene chief, not Varun”. Another TOI story on same page (p. 13) same day betrays that TOI’s mission was accomplished. The headline says: “After threat, Varun’s cover upgraded to Z-category” which entails deployment of 13 cops and an escort vehicle. According to the story, the request for security upgradation was made by Varun himself in a letter to the home minister way back on 20 March citing “current controversy” and his “family history”. So the whole idea of the hype, for which other Sanghis fake jihadi threats, was to secure highest level of security for Varun and the gullible State succumbed to the blackmail and agreed to provide security to the rabble-rousing criminal whose real place is a secure jail cell and not a posse of highly-trained commandos. But why complain? Many criminals who took part in Babri demolition, Mumbai riots and Gujarat pogroms and spew venom day in and day out, enjoy tight security at the expense of the benevolent State which spends taxpayers’ hard earned millions on protecting hard-core criminals whose counterparts never get such treatment in any other country.
As both print and electronic media with fake footage were playing up the terror threat and how 20 “fedayeen” had sneaked in to play havoc with the country’s security, the new no-non-sense home minister Mr Chidambram called a press conference on 2 April to dispel these unfounded claims. He told the media in a press conference that “there is no credible threat but we must remain watchful.” He trashed the story of the women fedayeen, said that there is no truth in the claims about imminent plane hijackings and that the airports alert has been cancelled. The home minister further cautioned the media
not to publish news which had no basis. He termed as “blatant lie” the claim about the sneaking Pakistani fedayeen and said that despite occupying his position as home minister he had “no information about it while some people are claiming that the terrorists have not only sneaked in but that they also know that 20 terrorists have come to India via Bangladesh and that they are going to strike at Old Delhi’s busiest locality, Chandni Chowk. There is no truth in it”. This was promptly reported next day (3 April) by two Urdu dailies, Hindustan Express and Hamara Samaj as front page news but TOI was still adamant to continue its terror farce. So for the third day it keeps up the hype and its front page headline announces that “Taj hotel gets fresh threat from Pakistan” and claims that a fresh email threatens “to blow up the heritage building…”. TOI kept the myth with another story, this time from Lucknow, containing quotes from an alleged transcript of calls between Malbari and Chhota Shakeel during 15-21 March in which the don orders his sharp shooter to kill Varun but the latter tells him that Pilibhit is far away and suggests to bump off Muthalik instead. A short news on the front page same day but in smaller print tells us that “Hijack alert issued to airports withdrawn a day later”. Indian Express front page story same day (3 April) is clearer with the headline: ‘No need for alarm but must be on guard’. IE’s report on the withdrawal of the airport alert, also on page 1, same day, is clearer with the headline: “Airport alert on women bombers not ‘credible’ so govt takes it back” while HT headline same day also did not try to mislead: “Safe to fly, terror alert withdrawn”. TOI’s real insult is tucked on page 11 (3 April) which says: “Chidambram plays down terror threat”. The report fails to report how Chadambram chastised the likes of TOI for playing up the threat while reporting that Chidambram said that the alleged threat to Varun was based on the interrogation report of a terrorist arrested in Mangalore which he termed as “exaggerated.”
Next day (April 4) on a page 13 Delhi-datelined story, TOI tells us: “Top Isro scientists on LeT radar”. The revelation, termed as “chilling”, comes from unnamed “officials” who refer to interrogations of a LeT terrorist [no question of the possibility of his being an alleged one] by, surprise, surprise, [BJP-ruled] Karnataka authorities which, and I quote, “showed that LeT was planning to despatch terrorists to assassinate senior members of Isro…” [emphasis added]. So the threat is not even credible or imminent but it is in the planning stage. Down the line we learn that an alleged terrorist extradited from Oman claimed that such plans “came up” for discussions with an alleged LeT member in Muscat! In other words, it was not even planned but was part of a chat no one knows how real or serious.
As the airports and Varun scare died down, our media discovered yet another scare – this time an imminent or possible or real sneaking in by terrorists across the LoC in Kashmir where army and police officers have been telling us for months that militancy has been contained and the assembly elections were held there only recently with unprecedented voter participation. But the scare was needed to ward off the threat of an imminent American intervention to force the spoilt brats of the Subcontinent to see some reason and cure the festering Kashmir canker. Something had to be done before the Holbrook visit which took place on 8 April. So we heard that terrorists, rather Taliban, had sneaked into Kashmir! Clearly their Afghanistan and Pakistan mission was accomplished and now they were turning their attention to Dilli. Soon it became clear that the whole story was concocted and there was no reason to fear Taliban showing up on our international border or on the LoC.
Fact or fiction, the show goes on for our print and electronic media with no holds barred and no questions asked. In this age of terror nothing sells better than terror-mongering. Terror is good for all with the sole exception of the common man who in the end pays the price whether terror attacks take place or do not take place.
*All references are to newspapers’ Delhi editions
Zafarul-Islam Khan,The Milli Gazette, 16-30 April 2009