THE blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad once again would generate a largely futile debate about the internal security scenario in India. Political parties will fling charges of incompetence and ineffectiveness at each other. Calls to revive draconian laws such as POTA will grow louder. Very few voices will dare suggest that beyond questions of administration and policing lie larger issues of politics. And beyond the arena of politics are issues of whether we are any longer capable of living together in peace as civilised people. The BJP has always advocated special laws in order to tackle terrorist acts, a demand that loses its legitimacy at the very threshold of its ideological stand on minorities, and more so its recent record in a state like Gujarat. Administrative and police reforms make sense only when they go hand in hand with political and electoral reforms. Generating hysteria about the state of India's internal security often is a way for arguing that we become a surveillance state, more or less on the lines of Israel, a country that the Sangh Parivar greatly admires. Neurosis of the kind that Israel harbours leads to mindlessness of a high order, as was evident last May during my trip to that country.
The El Al security staff at Mumbai airport were not only suspicious of my beard and less than comforting looks, but also were greatly concerned about the fact that I was going to make a " presentation" at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem without a computer or any slides or charts or graphs to show. I did not even have a pen drive in my possession to prove that I was indeed going to give a lecture at a university in Israel, for which I had a bonafide invitation. Worse still, the stamp of my visa, which read, " Invited by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem" was not good enough for the national carrier of that state. The security officer, then, proceeded to ask me why I taught political philosophy, and I was asked to give a small " presentation" on what I understood by political philosophy. Further, having noticed a copy each of my recent books in my hand luggage, the security officer proceeded to ask me what these books contained. I tried to give a gist of what they said. On hearing me, she asked, " Are you a Hindu?" I said I was a Hindu. " Why do you, then, write against Hinduism?" When I refused to answer such inane questions, she demanded that I present before her a gist of the paper I was going to present at the conference in Jerusalem. Had I agreed to do so, it would have made some sense to her because I write about contemporary India. But what if I was a scholar of Panini's grammar or of the philosophy of Bhartrihari? This wasn't enough. She demanded to know why I had recently switched from being a journalist and gone back to being an academic. None of this has a bearing on whether I was a potential terrorist or whether my tract on Hindutva was good enough, in itself, to blow an aircraft in mid- air. But the hysteria about security, which feeds on stereotypes, is also about proforma driven mindlessness. As I tried to contend with the security officer, who happened to be Indian, I wondered whether she might also be a sympathiser of the Shiv Sena or the BJP. Working for the Israeli national carrier and her own political affiliations, perhaps, had come to a happy and diabolical synthesis.
In Israel itself, the suffocating preoccupation with security is alarming for someone who still manages to live in relative freedom, where one does not have to go through innumerable checks of identity and person to enter a university or a restaurant. The surveillance and security mechanism in that country is today independent of the democratic process and feeds on systematic brutalisation of everyone alike who refuses to participate in the Zionist nationalist vision. One has to go not too far from Jerusalem to see what the Israeli state has done in the name of security and demography to the many villages scattered in South Hebron. In this instance, the Israeli state has actually legitimised the Jewish settlers in Palestinian territories to oppress and dehumanise an entire population, the more malignant version of our own Salwa Judum. Of course, none of this helps in the long run. There is nothing one can do to prevent a suicide bomber from carrying out an attack and every bit of the oppressive security mechanism comes tumbling down with every such instance of gratuitous violence. The residual effect of this endless preoccupation with guns, closecircuit cameras, X- ray machines and identity cards is the creation of a Humpty Dumpty state and society, utterly vulnerable and beyond repair. Once such a state is created, the silent and disapproving majority goes into sullen silence and seldom questions the ways in which a democratic state argues in the name of saving human lives and protecting its citizens. This silence is the victory of the state as well as the terrorist. Caught between the two are ordinary human lives, insecure and vulnerable, and ready at all times to surrender liberties in the name of preserving the fundamental unit of existence, life itself.
On the flight back from Israel, the scene at the airport was no different. But the security officer, a lady, was less aggressive and less self- righteous. She too asked me questions about the conference paper I had given in Jerusalem as well as the lectures I had delivered elsewhere. The joy of returning home made me summarise for her a talk I had given at the Haifa University. I told her that there was a man called Gandhi in India. He was of the opinion that fear leads to force. But the initial application of force, if it is not legitimate and ethical, leads to greater fear. Greater fear, in turn, leads to reliance on greater force. It is a spiral that has no end and leads to destruction, brutalisation and annihilation. The security officer was a bright young girl. She smiled and let me go. The message had hit the target. Of course, I did not have the heart to tell her that I was carrying with me vivid memories of witnessing a brutal police reaction in South Hebron to a joint Israeli- Palestinian peace demonstration, and also had in my much searched and X- rayed bag, a documentary about the moral bankruptcy of the Israeli state, that was far more explosive than anything they could have found in the bag of a potential terrorist. What I could not tell her was that I live in mortal fear of my own country turning out this way.
The author is professor of politics at University of Hyderabad