New Delhi: Congress MP Manish Tewari’s book ‘10 Flashpoints; 20 Years: National Security Situations That Impacted India’ stirred up controversy much before its release, after an excerpt shared by the author was seen as an admonishment of the Congress-led UPA government’s response to the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks in 2008.
However, the excerpt is only a part of Tewari’s detailed, no-holds-barred analysis of the UPA’s actions during the attacks, and in the days after.
In a chapter of the book that deals specifically with the 26/11 attacks, Tewari talks about the Congress government’s “hesitancy in communication”, the party’s handling of the media coverage, and the rationale behind the government’s subsequent dealings with Pakistan.
The book was released last week.
‘India’s moment to cash in IOUs for past restraint on Pakistan’
The excerpt shared by Tewari before the book’s release read: “For a state that has no compunctions in brutally slaughtering hundreds of innocent people, restraint is not a sign of strength; it is perceived as a symbol of weakness. There comes a time when actions must speak louder than words. 26/11 was one such time when it just should have been done. It, therefore, is my considered opinion that India should have actioned a kinetic response in the days following India’s 9/11.”
The context for this, as Tewari illustrates in the book, is the dialogue between India and Pakistan between April 2003 and November 2008. Pervez Musharraf was helming both the military and the government in Pakistan for the better part of this period.
The discussions, started by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, were picked up in 2004 by the then PM Manmohan Singh, and made an important part of the UPA’s foreign policy. These talks with Musharraf generated the four-point formula on J&K, seen as a big step down from Islamabad’s usual position on the northern state. However, this era of relative peace between the two countries ended as Musharraf was forced to step down.
“With Musharraf stepping down as president on 18 August 2008, to avoid an impeachment, the unfettered Pakistani deep state fast-tracked a stunning attack that could effectively abort the peace process once for all,” says Tewari in the book, on the reason behind 26/11 and other terror attacks that took place in the country that year.
“However, notwithstanding these grave provocations, keeping the larger objective of peace in the subcontinent, the UPA government kept the negotiations in play,” he adds.
In the book, Tewari says that this lack of “kinetic action”, ostensibly with the objective of bringing peace to the subcontinent, was rationalised by a school of strategists who believed that “more was to be gained from not attacking Pakistan, than attacking it”.
One of these “gains” was that not attacking Pakistan at that point would prevent its citizens from rallying behind the military, which would otherwise undermine the civilian government in the nation.
They also analysed that a direct strike by India would escalate the dispute to international quarters where, in the name of “fairness”, the blame and credit for the conflict would have been distributed equally between the aggressor (Pakistan) and the victim (India), says Tewari.
There was also the consideration that a limited strike (as opposed to an all-out war) would not yield any “substantial gain” while at the same time drain the Indian economy that was caught in a worldwide financial crisis, he adds.
However, the MP argues that such restraint only produces results “if both parties to a negotiation are on the same page and have similar goals”. He says that such a strategy of restraint is counter-productive when the other side, like Pakistan, “continues to have malafide intent” and wants to “run with the hare and hunt with the hounds”.
“If there was a moment to cash in all the IOUs that we had collected from the global community for the restraint that we had exercised over all these decades, by absorbing all the blows that Pakistan had hurled against us through their proxies and semi-state actors, 26/11 would have been the right occasion to do so.”
He also says that “non-kinetic actions” could have been a “well-considered additional response prescription along with kinetic options”.
‘Strange reluctance to communicate in UPA’
Tewari, who also served as I&B Minister between 2012 and 2014 and was a party spokesperson before and after, says there was a “strange reluctance to communicate” in both UPA 1 and 2, “despite having extremely articulate ministers in government”.
He recalls in the book how, during the UPA era, party spokespersons also functioned as de-facto government spokespersons. He thereafter says there was a lack of action from the government as 24×7 media coverage of the attacks made military and government intelligence public, impeding counter-terrorism strategies and rescue operations.
“I wondered why the government was not trying to impose some order on the coverage, including and not limited to a delayed broadcast by at least one hour. I wondered whether there was no SoP which was laid down to deal with such situations. I pondered why the government and, specifically the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, was not reading out the Riot Act to the media,” writes Tewari.
Tewari also mentions a press conference he conducted as the attacks were going on, based on instructions from the late senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel. He says the presser was originally supposed to be conducted by then MoS Home, Shakeel Ahmad, who later took his replacement as “rather amiss”.
Tewari says he was told by Patel that it would be “inappropriate” for a government functionary to conduct a briefing on an evolving situation, lest it be “taken out of context”.
In this particular section, Tewari talks about the presser and how he’d been told that he’d “know what to say”. He says that while he was able to successfully answer, sidestep or deflect most questions, there was one that he couldn’t. This was a question by The Print’s political editor D.K. Singh, then with The Indian Express.
“Why has the Crisis Management Group not been convened?” Singh had asked Tewari.
Later, once the terror situation had been neutralised, Tewari says he’d posed the same question to the then home minister Shivraj Patil at a briefing over breakfast at the latter’s residence.
“The home minister again provided a detailed timeline going back to when he got the first information about the attacks. He further clarified, if I recall correctly, that given the sheer scale of the assault, the response was naturally being handled at the highest levels of government and that, effectively, was the Crisis Management Group insofar as 26/11 was concerned,” writes Tewari.
Tewari also talks about then Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh (of the Congress) and how he’d taken film-maker Ram Gopal Varma to assess the spots where the terror attacks had taken place, in what he calls an “innocuous” but “insensitive” move. Deshmukh stepped down from his role a few months later.
The handling of the 26/11 attacks also saw Shivraj Patil stepping down as home minister later that year, to be replaced by P. Chidambaram.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)