The killing of several persons in the Akshardham temple in Gujarat has shocked people in different parts of India. In what was an attack calculated to numb and terrorise people, two or more gunmen started firing indiscriminately at ordinary people assembled at the temple. Speeches by politicians and newspaper articles link the timing and focus of the attack to the elections in Jammu and Kashmir. Some of them traced the events to a Pakistani hand without providing any evidence.

Such killing of innocent persons has been a regular feature of our polity. Regularly attacks take place in the Kashmir valley, targeting innocent civilians in buses, houses and other areas. The number of such persons killed has crossed a thousand over the past few years. Other attacks have taken place in Delhi, Coimbatore, Mumbai, Kolkata, Jammu also in the recent past. In most of these cases, the public has no clue about the identity of the person or groups who masterminded these attacks. No punishment has been meted out to the guilty who include leaders of big political parties and the law enforcers themselves.

Who has stood to gain from these attacks? In almost all instances following such attacks, tightened security and preventive arrests have taken place. In Gujarat for example, security has been increased in several public areas and places of worship. People wonder if, when and where the next attack may take place. We have a right to know who was behind these attacks; we also have a right to demand that people be allowed to live with a sense of security. The feeling of insecurity created by the riots in Gujarat is not very different from the sense of insecurity created by the Akshardham attacks.

Statements such as the one offered by the Prime Minister that "terrorism is on its deathbed" do not explain why such attacks against the people are increasing day by day. We cannot allow those in power to whip up frenzy against Pakistan and against the Muslims living in this country. The communal violence organised after the Godhra massacre was widely reported in the press and television as state organised. Is there a reason then to believe that the Akshardham killings and events following it now are being organised by a foreign hand?

The ruling circles are in a severe crisis today. This is evident in the contradictory stands they are taking on various issues such as privatisation of oil companies, removing restrictions on FDI, pushing through the labour law reforms, elections in Gujarat and so on. The mounting protests of the people against the policies of the ruling elite have had no small hand in deepening this crisis.

In times of crises, it has been the policy of powerful interests to sow discord between various sections of the people, organise communal and caste violence, terrorise the people to stay at home and push through reforms, legislation and policies that give them unencumbered rights to lord over the people.

The repeated gruesome tragedies taking place in Gujarat only emphasise that there is something terribly wrong with the present system where a few political parties, who work for the interests of the rich, hold the people to ransom. The people remain helpless spectators unable to even defend themselves when they are attacked.

These incidents have again brought the issue of people’s empowerment to the centre-stage of political debate in the country. Only when people are genuinely empowered can such killings and massacres be stopped. This requires a thorough-going renewal of the political process, a clean break with the existing political institutions and dispensation of power. It requires, in particular, changes in the political process whereby the people who vote will enjoy the right to have a say in the selection of candidates for election and also the right to recall elected representatives at any time. Therefore, the urgent need today is to build the broad political unity of people around a program to end the disempowerment of the people and create mechanisms by which people can effectively rule themselves.

Issued by Lok Raj Sangathan (11 October 2002)

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