Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Regional Plan and Terrorism

Goan Activists will be the likely target for the proposed ATS

A certain sense of jubilation accompanied the reporting of the proposed establishment of an Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in the State. “The state could have its own anti-terrorism squad in a short while with the police almost finalizing a proposal for the same, said police officials on Sunday” read one newspaper reporting this imminent occurrence. One can almost hear the anticipated gushing response from the reader. “What! Our very own ATS! Wow! Fantastic Man! Hurray!”

Those excited by the prospect of an ATS in our own State need to take a sober view of the whole issue. They need to inquire into what exactly the ATS will be used for, and what is the exact form of this terrorism that we are being is told is “likely” to target our home state. What we should not forget in the euphoria of setting up of the ATS, is that surveillance and increased security measures and forces invariably mean the reduction of democratic space within the State, increased control over the citizenry by the State and a reduction of normal processes of law to give extraordinary powers to the police, very often allowing a free hand for human rights abuse.

“Terrorist groups have targeted the nation and this probably forced the state police to ask for its own ATS” reads the same report on the squad. Let us ignore for this moment the entire discussion possible around the bogey of (Islamic) terrorism in India, and train our sights a little closer home. I refer you to page 79 of the Draft Regional Plan. On this page the Draft Regional Plan reads “growing organized activism typical of a small but well-informed state and also more than a normal share of VVIP movements add to problems in policing....Thus Goa has as large a range of crime typologies as Mumbai or Chennai”.

The Regional Plan is effectively equating the “growing organized activism” emerging from a “small but well-informed state” as a policing problem! In other words the Goan citizen-activist is an embryonic criminal/ terrorist! It is here, in the pages of the supposedly pro-people Regional Plan that we should locate the possible reason for the setting up of the ATS in the State.

Given that activism in Goa is blocking the irresponsible deployment of significant amounts of capital, especially in the mining and real-estate industry; we should not be surprised that industry and state have begun to consider the activist a criminal and incipient terrorist. The signs of course have been in the air for quite some time now. The harassing of activists, and the more recent physical abuse that some of them have had to encounter. The framework has already been set in place with the political elite drumming out the refrain that the Goan has become negative. To explain away this negativity, they are denying the fact that it is the average citizen who is standing up and protesting. They deny this fact and go on to indicate that it is the activist who is leading the people astray.

I had earlier pointed out that increased security measures and forces invariably mean the reduction of democratic space within the State. It is this situation that I am referring to. The justified concerns of the people are not being addressed, on the contrary, they are being targeted as terrorists, and this targeting has in fact already begun. The ATS will just be icing on the cake.

The comment in the Regional Plan also drives home another truth regarding the war on terror; terrorists are produced as a result of not addressing the valid issues of the people, and also by actively labeling activists as terrorists. When they eventually do take up armed revolt, it is entirely the result of frustration with a non-responsive State. Else, you just find someone who is annoying you, squat them down like they were a fly, and justify your irritation by calling them terrorists. The fake encounters in the Batla House case are a perfect example. The boys killed in the ‘encounter’ were shot at point blank range, hardly an encounter killing.

What is more troubling though is that this errant phrase in the Regional Plan seems to have slipped in without the awareness of the experts on the Task Force. I had occasion to raise this issue in a public forum where one member of the Task Force, and one bureaucrat intimately involved with Regional Plan were present. Both of them were blissfully unaware of the presence of this phrase in the Regional Plan!

Now this means one of two things. Either these two gents did not read the Regional Plan cover to cover and blindly affixed signature to the document; or that they did read the text, and thought nothing of labeling the Goan citizen-activist a possible criminal. In the case of the first scenario, one wonders how much of the Regional Plan is just a result of blind copy-pasting, and how much the result of application of mind and debate by the Task Force members. On the other hand, if the Task Force members have in fact read the document from cover to cover, perhaps they will provide the people of Goa with written justification as to why they have treated the Goan citizen-activist with such total contempt? If they are unable to do so, then what is called for is an immediate retraction of the errant phrase by the State, and a public apology to the people of Goa. Nevertheless with every reading, the Draft Regional Plan sinks into further disrepute.

In the context of the Goan upheaval, that shows no sign of abating thanks to a largely silent and criminally-complicit political class, the setting up on an ATS in the State, in the background of the national environment (where innocents are branded terrorist) and statements in the Draft Regional Plan, does not augur well for the state of democracy in Goa.

(Published in the Gomantak Times 19th November 2008)

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