Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Delhi - four terror attacks in as many months. Is the aam admi feeling terrorised? Is the UPA Government being seen as being soft on terror?
To sense the mood of the nation, CNN-IBN-Hindustan Times conducted a survey in seven metros across India with research firm GFK Mode.
The poll titled Terror: The Nation's Voice was conducted by GFK mode in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Ahmedabad on September 24 and September 25.
The findings of the poll were debated on Weekend Edition with Rajdeep Sardesai with a special panel comprising author, lyricst and poet Javed Akhtar; MP and BJP Spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy; MP and UPA Spokesperson Jayanthi Natrajan and former police commissioner Mumbai M N Singh.
A representative sample of 1,428 people were interviewed of which 544 - about 35 per cent - belonged to the Muslim community.
The first question that was asked was whether people feel scared for their own safety as well as their families?
The poll reveals that 81 per cent of urban India is feeling scared after the recent terror attacks. Just 19 per cent said they are not feeling scared despite the repeated terror attacks. The fear factor was the highest in Delhi, Bangalore, and Ahmedabad perhaps due to the recent blasts in these cities.
Interestingly, the fear factor is higher among Muslims than among Hindus, showing that fear cuts across communities. 84 per cent of the Muslims interviewed said that they were feeling scared now and 81 per cent of those who feel terrorised said that they will avoid shopping in crowded markets, 75 per cent say they now go to markets only when necessary, 71 per cent say they now avoid going to markets on weekends and 83 per cent say they are much more alert now.
We always talk about the resilience of the Indian, but the findings of this poll show that there is fear among Indians. Somewhere, the terrorist has managed to strike a fear among the average Indian, the aam aadmi.
"I think fear is totally understandable. People who are saying they are not scared are just keeping a brave front. Somewhere in their heart of hearts, they must be feeling threatened. When a bomb blast takes place in a crowded area, it doesn't ask your religion or community. But after that, a Muslim perceives that I will be the only suspect. So he is even more terrorised. He is fearful of the bomb and the after-effects of the bomb," said Javed Akhtar.
PREYING ON THE FEAR FACTOR
Out in the streets, people - both Hindus and Muslims - are genuinely beginning to feel that their lives are not safe anymore.
Rajiv Pratap Rudy reiterated what Javed Akhtar had said. He stated that a bomb does not know religion
"It's an act of terror and unfortunately today, acts of terror are getting attributed to one particular community. And the man who is having the last laugh is the terrorist," he said.
But the troubling fact is that Indian politicians and leaders are not seen to be providing reasssurance and they do not seem to be calming down sentiments. Instead, it seems that they are aggravating sentiments at times.
"The attitude of the politician is that when there is a blast, he goes to the site, meets the victims, expresses regrets, says that he would take action, he announces compensation. Then he releases a sketch, says that he will fight terror and that's all. It's all over. If it is like this, then the people of this country will certainly lose hope because they don't find the Government taking any tenable action and the same formula is repeated everytime a terror attack takes place," he said.
Jayanthi Natrajan agreed saying that terror was something that every right thinking citizen should be worried about.
She said, "I don't this is a wake up call. I feel that this is the way the situation has evolved. The Opposition should be more responsible instead of aggravating a situation and attributing motives, they should come forward to support the Government. Terror has moved from Parliament to soft targets in malls and shopping places. However, the Government is doing everything in it's power to protect the people."
FROM PARLIAMENT TO MOSQUES TO MALLS
The terrorist has moved from targetting Parliament to targetting mosques - Malegaon - and now to malls.
M N Singh said that terror attacks have almost become like a monthly routine.
"Earlier when terrorism was confined to border areas, the parties concerned were either security forces or the terrorists. Now there is a third dimension and that is the general public. Blasts are killing innocent urban Indians and destroying their properties. There are only promises and no solutions. Then a time will come when people will start demanding explanations from the Government," Singh stated.
"People may be fed up and want to solve problems themselves but the fact is that it is only the powers that be and security and intelligence agencies that can solve this problem. We cannot think of arming people in villages and towns and cities. Think of the effect it will have on our culture, tradition and ethos," Javed Akhtar added.
He said that the survey also said that 80 per cent Indians were ready for security checks and that was sad because people were willing to surrender independence and freedom to buy back security.
LINK BETWEEN TERRORISM AND RELIGION
In the survey, when people were asked whether terrorism was related to particular religion, a majority 61 per cent feel that terrorism has no religion. The remaining 39 per cent said it was related to religion and out of this 58 per cent were Hindus and 8 per cent Muslims.
Among those who said terrorism and religion were related, 85 per cent linked it to Islam and only 4 per cent linked it to Hinduism, the rest blamed Christianity and other religions.
What is heartening to know however is that 72 per cent of the respondents said that the recent terror attacks had not affected their level of trust in people who did not belong to their religion.
The survey asked whether Hindus and Muslims are ready to rent their houses out to each other and it found that 62 per cent Muslims are ready to rent their houses out to Hindus and people fromm other religions. But only 48 per cent Hindus are ready to rent their houses out to Muslims and people fromm other religions.
A majority of respondents from Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Mumbai said that they would not let out their houses to other religious communities.
In the survey, when people were asked who can be branded a terrorist organisation, 41 per cent said SIMI is a terrorist organisation and only 17 per cent said Bajrang Dal was one.
There is a growing idea that if terrorism is linked to a religion, then that religion is Islam. To this, Javed Akhtar said it was something that was a given and understandable.
"The trust has not been broken because the Hindus or the Muslims that we know are good peole and the ones that we don't know are the bad people. So you may trust certain people of a community, but not others. As far as people's opinions go, they will believe what they have seen on TV or read in papers. Unfortunately, these mediums don't highlight certain other facts and if they did, perhaps the perception of the people would have been different," he opined.
"These kind of prejudices have been there for ages, but the fact is that 15 crore Muslims in this country are living in houses, aren't they? The fact is that in every city there are certain areas where people would rather not give house to a Muslim," Javed Akhtar said.
He said that the middle ground was finding it tough to defend itself and was thus shrinking because extremists from both sides were pushing against it.
"Hats off to the 17 per cent people who believe that Bajrang Dal is a terrorist organisation. The fact in that in places like Chennai, Jalna, Parbhani, Nanded, the Maharashtra Police has named the Bajrang Dal and the VHP in planting of bombs. But people will remember headline news always. These facts never come out. Whatever is happening in Kandhamal in Orissa and Mangalore in Karnataka is nothing but terrorism," he stated.
POLITICIANS CAPITALISING ON GROWING PERCEPTIONS?
The trust has not completely broken down but there is a growing perception in people that the other community is involved in violent acts and this perception is growing by the day.
Rajiv Pratap Rudy shot back at Javed Akhtar saying, "Was there any Bajrang Dal in USA when the World Trade Towers were attacked? Was there any Bajrang Dal in London when the tube was attacked? The Islamic fundamentalism that these countries talk about are what India is facing now and there are forces which perpetrate them. There is an ad-hoc terror which is being attributed to religious communities or organisations in this country. SIMI - which has been banned by the Supreme Court - has an association with terror attacks."
He added that India has the second largest Muslim population in the world and that anyone who said all Muslims are terrorists is a madman.
"It is the community which needed to get out of the grip of the terrorists, fight them out. But if the Vice-Chancellor of a University like Jamia says that he will not even let his students be investigated, then I don't know what to say," Rudy snapped.
Javed Akhtar on his part retorted, "I have not said one word against SIMI and I am very happy that a organisation like it has been banned. However, I am shocked that a representative of a party - whose offshoots Bajrang Dal and VHP which provided assistance to Dara Singh, the killer of the Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two children - is upset that the Vice-Chancellor of a University wants to provide legal aid to students who are being arrested in the name of terror by the police. The Vice-Chancellor has not said that he will not even let his students be investigated. He just wants to provide them with legal aid."
An angered Rudy then accused Javed Akhtar of relating Bajrang Dal and the BJP to terrorist organisations like the SIMI. He said that the Congress party and the pseudo-secularists wanted to debate terror whereas the BJP was dedicated to fighting it and that this was the fundamental difference between the Opposition and the Government.
Javed Akhtar shot back saying, "You need to be objective. Any Muslim who thinks there is nothing wrong with Muslim community is wrong. And any person who thinks only Muslims are wrong is also wrong. I am not defending SIMI but Mr Rudy is defending Bajrang Dal. That is the difference."
The entire Congress party systems in a sense was based on Hindus and Muslims being seen as a part of an umbrella system. But there are worries now that there may be a breakdown in trust.
To this, Jayanthi said, "The fact is that far more terrorist incidents happened – almost 3,600 - during NDA regime than during the UPA reign which numbers to around 2,400. I think it's correct to say that act activities of Bajrang Dal are to be taken seriously. We all know what's happening in Orissa. I'm astonished that Rudy is only talking about Islamic fundamentalism. We need to know what the BJP state governments are doing."
STAIN ON KHAKI?
According to the poll 87 per cent of the people in Mumbai, 67 per cent people polled in Chennai, 28 per cent people polled in Hyderabad and 12 per cent people polled in Ahmedabad said the police was communal and that this was a worrying lack of faith in the men in Khaki.
Forty-six per cent of those polled said that the police department was equipped to tackle terror, while 54 per cent disagreed.
M N Singh defended his ilk saying, "It is totally wrong to say police forces in India are communalised. Observation is created by flimsy perception which in turn is created largely by the media. It is the police alone that is fighting the menace of terrorism. There may be some bad eggs but in my opinion they are secular."
"There are some exceptional police officers but by and large the police have been polluted. I don't blame them. You have not given them proper education, guidance. Who am I to disagree with so many judges who have sat in different commissions after the communal riots? Every judge without exception has indicted Mumbai Police," Akhtar added in empathy to M N Singh
"There have been attempts by certain political parties to influence the mind of the police forces and for a certain time they did fall under the spell. I would like to appeal to all political parties to not vitiate the atmosphere because other people would lose their faith in the police force," Singh said jumping back into the fray again.
At the end of the day if you don't allow police force to be totally independent particularly in Tamil Nadu where the figure are very high of police being seen in negative light, investigations will never take place in a fair manner, he pointed out.
Meanwhile, Jayanthi Natrajan expressed her astonishment at this bit of the survey saying, "This is certainly not my perception. I agree in part with Javed that there are some bad eggs. For example that police officer from Gujarat who under Mr Narendra Modi pulled out a Muslim couple from a bus and killed the man Sohrabuddin Sheikh who was under investigation and the state government went to lengths to protect him."
She added that the Congress Government would certainly not permit this vendetta against a particular community.
"I think it would be wrong to perceive police as communal," she opined.
The BJP has always spoken about having a stronger police force, of giving the police more power. However, now that the public confidence in police force is going down, there seems to be no point in giving more power to the police.
Rudy contested this point saying that the only revelation that has come out of the survey is that in Maharashtra - which has a Congress- led government - the police force is more commualised.
"But despite all that, it's not fait to put the police in this debate, because even if it is well-trained, it is not equipped law for logistics," he said.
Javed Akhtar hotly debated this point saying, "I don't have any faith in the police department. I feel there's a lot left to be desired. In the Congress manifesto, you had promised that you would prosecute those police officers who had been indicted by the Shri Krishna Committe, but after four years you have not and as a matter of fact, some have been promoted. So on the ground level, there is really no difference between the Congress and the BJP as far as these things are concerned."
GOVERNMENT'S RATING ON TERROR
During the survey when people were asked if the UPA Government been successful in controlling terrorism, only a tiny six per cent said yes it had been very successful, 48 per cent said somewhat successful, 29 per cent said not successful and 17 per cent said not at all successful.
The poll showed that between the NDA and the UPA Governments the 28 per cent said NDA controls terror better, 26 per cent said UPA controls terror better, while a whopping 46 per cent said neither.
Of those who were surveyed, 90 per cent said that India needed much tougher laws to tackle terrorism, while only 10 per cent said we did not need tough laws.
"There's a difference between the present Government and what the BJP had done. The BJP talked of demolishing terror. Congress talks about debating terror. We are answerable and have pointed out to the nation that situatation is going from bad to worse. It's not international but domestic terrorism, which is taking shape now," Rudy said defending the BJP.
Jayanthi Natarajan jumped into the way to protect the Congress saying, "All the laws that have been taken and put in the Unlawful Activity Prevention Act. What was the NDA doing when their foreign minister escorted Masood Azhar in a special plane? We believe there will be no POTA again. We believe certain sections of POTA were draconian and misused against minorities. That's not vote-bank politics. Vote-bank politics — and I directly charge BJP and their sister parties — is when they create an atmosphere of insecurity around the minorities before the elections."
POLITICAL BATTLE WEAKENING FIGHT AGAINST TERROR?
It seems as if India's resolve to fight terror is weakening because of the kind of political battle Indians are witnessing.
M N Singh agreed with this saying that the public at large was worried about this scenario.
"There is no doubt that we need stronger anti-terror laws, but to say that all terror problems can be solved by that would be incorrect. The problem of terrorism can only be half solved by law enforcement and half by the society and the Government, because it's got to do with ideological aspect of terrorism, which has to be tackled by the Government and society where police have no role to play," he said.
Javed Akhtar had the last word, saying, "Whatever I heard has depressed me because even in such bad times we are thinking in terms of parties. We have to rise above these petty prejudices and interests. It's a national issue so let us think like Indians. As long as people will keep defending their constituencies and their vote-banks, it will not help. India is more important than these vote banks. We are Indians; there should be some kind of consensus across parties, forgetting politics. As long as you don't stand up against bomb-related terror, mob terrorism or state terrorism, you can't pick and choose terrorists. You have to oppose all that. Please don't defend SIMI. Don't tell me that you are secular so you don't want any ban on SIMI. Don't tell me that Bajrang Dal is not a terror outfit."