• kewal sethi

Terror – the only answer

admittedly a rambling note which is contradictory at times but it was a blast from the past which i thought should be shared

Terror – the only answer

(an article written in 1970)

(note – please bear in mind that word 'terror' has different connotation in different parts of the write up. the context would describe the difference.)


On the night of August 15, 1970, while the people of India were still listening to the news of celebration of Independence Day, a tragedy was overtaking a large number of pilgrims on way to Amarnath. The place was Sheshnag, 26 KM from Pahalgam. By the time it was over, 15 persons had lost their lives. 6,000 persons had no shelter while a handful of men made business (sic) out of it. The restaurants and hotels charged as much as Rs. 50/- for a sitting place inside the tent near a fire. The price of kerosene was Rs. 5/- per litre and they had to pay Re. one for a glass of water. Those suffering from exhaustion or cold paid as much as Rs. 10/- for a spoon of brandy. The pilgrims were unanimous in their complaints against the authorities, who were supposed to look after their comforts. Even the policemen exploited the situation by charging them for providing shelter.

All this tragedy has raised no protests, no sharp words from anyone except those who were involved. The Press has merely reported the events. No sympathy except for the lip sympathy, has been offered. The Chief Minister, Mr. G. M. Sadiq confined himself to expressing 'the profound grief over the loss of life that had occurred during the Amarnath pilgrimage'.

Whom do we blame for the tragedy? All the pilgrims, 6000 of them were without shelter. Not one of them could inspire them to force the traders, the petty civil servants, those persons who gave ponies for hire as per their duty. Not one of them could strike a light to enable these 6000 persons to get their due. I would have liked to see 15 traders and policemen dead rather than 15 pilgrims.

But the pilgrims were just the same dumb people who have been suffering for the last many centuries like the dumb driven cattle who have no past to think of and no future to look forward to, and whose present holds no light of hope. We want better organized men than these Indians.

Frankly then. I am pleading for violence. But my violence is not the violence of the naxalites or of the terrorist. It is something different. In fact, I am of the view that violence of this naxalite type would not be able to shake the stupor of this nation. We, who have been slaves for countless number of centuries, beginning from hoary past and going up to the modern rulers, we can not do anything worthy of a nation unless we have determined to change the attitude towards life and the events.

Terrorism is a must. We must live in terror if we want to be vigilant. We must be constantly in fear. Only then we can be alert. Only when every moment can be the last moment, can we appreciate the value of a moment. When death hangs over with a sword hanging by a thin wire, the life takes a different shape. It is not surprising that great love stories have always have fear in the background.

To preach terrorism in this century is not an easy matter. The law comes down heavily upon it but that must be taken for granted. It is much more difficult to convince the ordinary person that terrorism is not such a terror after all. Or if it is terror, let it be for both sides, not only for the side which is more powerful, has more resources at its command.

Terror has two aspects, or we can say, it takes two forms. One of them is the terror generated by the government. The terror of the secret police, concentration camps, the prompt justice and speedy execution. The other terror is that of the civil war and guerrilla action. I do not believe India is ripe enough for the second type of terror. It is all right for Vietnam where the farmer by day is the terrorist by night. [I use the word 'terrorist' not condemning the activity of the terrorist but just to describe the action.] The terrorism can be manifold. It can be nationally inspired, be an economic necessity or just plain crime. The examples of the three are Viet Cong, the dacoits of Chambal Valley and the gangsters of West End, New York. vietcong is fired by nationalism. the Chambal Valley violence is born out of economic disparity and sustained by the sharp ravines and thick jungles which afford a great sanctuary. It is different for Chicago or New York where the honest employee's son can form a gang with other like minded youth and yet have a home, a hearth and some sweet dreams. But chambal valley violence can not apply to the plains of Ganga and Yamuna where for miles together, there is no sanctuary . It might be argued that guerrilla activity has roots in the popular discontent and every village can provide a bastion for such revolt. I do not agree. The history belies it. It has been found that there should either be a safe territory behind one's lines or that an area exists which can be made impregnable with such effort. The Long March in China points this out. The Vietnam struggle against the Americans proves this. But Telengana, Srikakulam and now even naxalism are the proofs against isolated terrorism. No matter how widespread the discontent is, it needs more than that. The terrorism in Srikakulam (Andhra Pradesh) has now gone on for three years. The naxalism in West Bengal has not been able to last for even one year. All the major leaders except Charu Majumdar are behind bars or dead. But I do not consider it to be a failure. It is said that 'failures are the pillars of success'. Ajitha of Kerala, Satyanarayanan of Srikakulam, Kanu Sanyal of West Bengal, have not sacrificed in vain. At least I do not believe that they have done so. They have merely taught us some basic laws. If we profit from them, we can still make terrorism a success.


But to return to the theme, the second method of 'civil war' terror does not have any chance of success. In India, the only remedy left to us is the organised state terror. This is the terror which made Russia transform from a disorganised, bankrupt, self seeking nation to one of the foremost nations. Stalin was no communist. He was no socialist. He was a Russian. He set out to make Russia great. He realised correctly that in order to do so, the image of Russia will have to be changed. He found out that you can not change the image of a nation without changing its outlook. He set out to do it and from an easy going Russian, we came to look upon a ruthless, determined, unscrupulous Russian. The transformation was all to the good. While fighting as allies, Russians never ignored the future. They never forgot Russia. And the result was a Russia which America feared, which every body feared. Whether the fear was exaggerated or not is not relevant. The great thing was the existence of such fear. But the fear of Russia grew out of fear of the state, the secret informer, the prompt justice, (even if it was rough), and speedy executions. Today we need the same thing in India.

It will thus follow that we have to reject Mao's thesis of the peasants surrounding the cities. We have to forget about arming of the peasantry. We have to concentrate on the cities. Cities are the only mean of initiating quick over turn of power. The need of the hour is to penetrate every walk of life in the city. The armed forces must be infiltrated; the services filled up with those who can bring about the terror. The loyalty to the people will have to more powerful than the loyalty to oneself or to the government of the day.

Here it must be made clear that I am no naxalite or communist. I am not even a socialist. I do not believe in the concentration of economic power in the state or any group of people. I stand for maximum freedom of action in the economic field. I stand for complete freedom for religion, for education of one's choice, for the thousand things of daily activity. But I am definitely in favour of state organization of terror. I will explain the reasons below.


What will be the line of action? Two things are necessary for state terror. The second is to seize power and the first is to have a mess for start of terrorism. Once the terrorism starts, it, like a fire, feeds itself. But something is necessary to start it. The seizure of power can be achieved by any means, legitimate. In Germany, Hitler seized it by elections. In Russia, bolshevik seized it by mass action. In Cuba, it was through a civil war, in Pakistan by coup-de etat. The armed forces can help but the elections are not to be excluded. The goal is clear, the means are only tactical detail.

It is not my purpose to discuss here how to seize power though I recognize nothing can be done without it. It is a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition. Let us see how second aspect of state terror can be met. Before that, it will be necessary to see why seizure of power is not enough.

In Pakistan, we have seen quite a number of coups. Sikandar Mirza, Gen. Ayub Khan, Gen Yahya Khan have successively achieved power by coup-de-tat. It has not helped Pakistan. No doubt, their rate of progress is better than that of India but the gap is not much. And, in any case, more could be expected. It is now acknowledged that all these regimes have failed. After the first acclaim, these regimes have devoted themselves to keeping themselves in power. This is hardly helping the country. Ayub Khan identified himself with Pakistan just as Indira Gandhi is today believing herself to be India. But the regimes failed. The other failures in the field can be seen easily. UAR, Iraq, Syria are the examples of failure. The reason is that in all these, though the people's discontent was there, the background for organized state terror did not exist. The element of hatred was absent. This situation has to be avoided if the seizure of power is to help in making India great. For this reason alone, if for nothing else, no attempt should be made for the present to seize power, even through elections.

It is, of course, correct that that sometimes, the terror can be brought about by creating situations. For example, China tried the excuse of cultural revolution. But it must be remembered that seizure of power in China followed a long drawn out civil war. In India, this situation does not obtain. In Russia, Czar and Lenin had practiced terror in full measure but they could not change the nation as such. Their aim was only to remove the adversaries. As against this, Stalin's aim was to transform the nation. What is the aim of China's cultural revolution is still not clear and hence the failure or success of it can not be gauged at present.

We come now to the question as to how the background for terror can be prepared. We can seek guidance from precedents and see if they are suitable for India. In Germany, the background was created by spreading the hatred for the jews. The jews were rich and they had exploited the Germans for centuries. The hatred was natural and hence a good beginning. No such target group is available in India. The muslims can be identified as a community and attempt can be made to flare up hatred against them. In fact, this has been tried but it did not succeed. The devout muslims are not good material for terrorism. Religion is wearing thin already and Hinduism was always a bad raw material to start with. In Pakistan, I can visualize Hindu hatred being made a medium of starting terrorism but then Pakistan has lost that opportunity since the economic exploitation by the Hindus is virtually non existent today. In India, it can not be a said that there is economic exploitation by Muslims. Economic exploitation is much the simpler form to start with to create hatred. This means, in naked words, the only alternative is class war. If then, it can be given a communal turn, the success is guaranteed. In India, we can not do this. The muslim baiting, though good as a side tactic, can not be the main line of attack. A further illustration of this point will be the anti brahmanism of DMK in Madras. Here is a case where economic exploitation has been coupled with communal hatred and this is what has ensured the success of DMK in 1967 elections. Shiv Sena is trying anti south Indian tactic in Maharashtra but, not with much success since the economic exploitation is absent.

Is the solution then the class war. But in India castes cut across classes. Sometimes, they have been able to achieve isolation as in West Bengal but it is not possible in other states on India.


So I come to the conclusion that the only way in which we can create basis of state terror is to start a campaign against authority. This will seem to be quite a paradox. I plead for strong state action but I argue that means for this is action to bring down state. But a little reasoning will explain the paradox.

India has always been oppressed by the ruling classes. This was so even in the days of Ashok the Great. Despite all his liberalism, Ashoka had no use for the counsel offered by his ministers. One hears of council of advisors for Chandar Gupt Maurya and seeing the account of Chanakya, the advice was accepted. But no one even mentions any such thing in connection with Ashoka. His successors continued the tradition and council of ministers became a defunct tradition. One can follow this through the reign of Gupta dynasty, Harsh Vardhan and the Rajputs, Pathans, Mughals, and the British. Only Shivaji started with a council of ministers but soon the Peshwas replaced Chhatarpati and the council was again defunct. So it has always been a despotic rule in India.

(the papers end here)

The idea was that there should be sporadic action against the ruling class – the politician, the officers, the blackmarketeers. Exemplary punishment should be given by the people's court and there should be speedy execution of the sentence. The Government can do likewise with its officers and ministers. The so called rules of natural justice meant to delay justice should not be tolerated. prolonged trials which rob the impact of punishment are of no avail. if a rape is followed by hanging within a week, it can have a deterrence effect. if the same is done after ten years, it means nothing. i had called this state of terror by the state "white terror".

i had welcomed emergency in 1975 based on the above article. it started well with discipline enforced in offices as well as markets. it created fear of government in people's mind. but unfortunately it quickly degenerated into goons' action with sanjay brigade leading the disruptions. the corruption returned with a vengeance. the patronage flourished. as with all dictatorships, preservation of power became the sole concern of the dictator. the sycophants flourished even leading the dictator to believe in her invincibility. the result – resounding defeat in a hastily called elections. it not only negatived the advantages but also burdened the nation with weak governments who had to indulge in populist measures to get voters' support rather than by decisive action against disruptors. a golden opportunity lost.


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