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S U B C O N T I N E N T A L   D R I F T
Rage of the Impotent
India points fingers to mask its own inadequacies
By APARISIM GHOSH

January 20, 2000
Web posted at 6 a.m. Hong Kong time, 5 p.m. EDT


It's been three weeks since the hijacking of Flight 814 ended, and the Indian government has done little more than point an accusing finger at Pakistan and posture angrily. This is just not good enough. If Delhi does indeed have definitive proof that an agency of the Pakistani state was involved in the hijacking, then the evidence should be presented forthwith before the United Nations and international courts. But the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government seems less interested in proving Islamabad's guilt than in diverting attention from its own mishandling of the hijacking--and from its humiliating surrender to the hijackers.

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The episode was all the more embarrassing because this government has had no successes against which to balance its many failures. The BJP has very little to show for its nearly two years in power. Its running of the economy has been, at best, mediocre: the promised increases in jobs and foreign investment have not materialized. Its disaster management has been, well, disastrous: there are still bodies rotting in the paddy fields of Orissa, scene of last fall's horrific supercyclone. Its handling of foreign relations has been a study in how NOT to conduct diplomacy: the nuclear tests and Defense Minister George Fernandes' rants against China have left India with fewer friends than before. And it has not even taken a half-step toward ending the insurgencies in Kashmir and the northeastern states.

Even Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's moment of glory--last summer's defeat of Islamabad-backed infiltrators in Indian-held Kashmir--looks less and less glorious every passing month. For ordinary Indians, the taste of the Kargil "victory" has soured with every new attack by militants in Kashmir, killing civilians and soldiers alike.

It's even harder to feel victorious now that Delhi has had to release three men it calls terrorists to an Islamic group it claims to have defeated in Kargil. This is particularly embarrassing for a government that takes pride in its supposedly hard-line position on terrorism. By putting the blame on Pakistan and expressing outrage in press conferences, the BJP hopes it can draw the attention of Indians away from the impotence of their own government.

Well, it won't work--mainly because it's too old a trick to fool anybody. The sad outcome of decades of propaganda by hate-mongers (and shortsighted governments) on both sides is that many Indians and Pakistanis now routinely and unthinkingly blame each other for any acts of terrorism. Bomb blasts in Bombay are automatically assumed to be the handiwork of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, and explosions in Karachi are thought to be set off by India's Research & Analysis Wing. So, by fingering Pakistan for the hijacking, the Indian government isn't telling its people something they didn't already suspect. The response from Indians is likely to be: "Sure, the Pakistanis are always trying to do mischief. But why weren't YOU able to stop them?"

(See TIME and Asiaweek's recent coverage of the hijacking's aftermath.)

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