On the evening of 15 September 2008, Delhi witnessed serial bomb blasts. The then home minister Shivraj Patil took the time out to rush to the scene, assuage the pains of the victims, offer support, and to show solidarity. But, during these visits, a peculiar behaviour of his that displayed seeming insensitivity, caused a huge uproar. In the two hours between 6.30 pm and 8.30 pm, when he visited hospitals and blast sites, Patil squeezed in time to change his shirt thrice! Patil, a longtime Congressman, a Gandhi family loyalist, signified, perhaps ironically, how the party approached terror attacks – devoid of empathy, bordering indifference. A few months later, 26/11 followed, and eventually, Patil had to resign. Yet, the perception that the United Progressive Alliance was weak on terror, stuck.
Given the high-pitched rhetoric surrounding terrorism in the lead-up to 2014, this may be a good time to ask if the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) really performed better than the UPA in tackling terrorism. Based on the trends, that indeed seems to be the case.
Let’s begin with some simple statistics: The number of terror attacks in the eight most populous Indian cities (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Pune) during the rule of the two governments.
In the 10-year rule of the UPA, that number is 18. In the four-year rule of NDA, it is one. (source Wikipedia)
Of course, what happens in the Indian metros, important as they may be, cannot be used to extrapolate to the rest of the country. The following data, (in all the charts, 2018 numbers are extrapolated based on current figures) gives the list of nationwide fatalities in terrorist activities throughout the country.
The average number of civilians killed in terrorism per year, during the UPA was 757 vs 241 during the NDA - a difference of 516 civilian deaths every year!
A cursory glance at the data also shows a couple of other interesting points. First, even during the UPA rule, there is a distinct drop in 2009 – the year when P Chidambaram took over from Shivraj Patil as home minister. Second, the number of terrorists killed during the UPA rule seems much higher especially between 2005 and 2010. However, the UPA average of the ratio of terrorists killed to security personnel martyred is 2.77 vs 2.58 of NDA. The two numbers are close enough to conclude there being no appreciable difference between the ratio of terrorists to security personnel in either regime. But, the average ratio of terrorists killed to civilians is 1.25 for UPA vs 2.01 for NDA. That is, regardless of whether you look at the absolute numbers or the ratio of terrorists killed per civilian, NDA outperforms UPA.
A reasonable argument, based on the downward trend post 2009, would be to compare the forecasts according to the trend versus the actual data. A picture below for civilian deaths shows that even there we see a clear break from the trend in reducing the number of civilian deaths.
We could similarly use the trends in the number of terrorists killed per civilian deaths under the two governments. That number stays roughly constant around 1.1 for the UPA and takes a discrete jump to around 2.2 for NDA. Below is the forecast based on the UPA trend vs the actual.
One could argue that the all-India story may be misleading for a number of reasons. For one, the above data also includes the victims of various left-wing terrorist groups spread across the country. Below is the data on the left-wing terrorist activities for the same period.
Let us look at the activities of the left-wing terrorists during the two regimes. First, the average number of civilians killed per year due to red terror during the UPA rule is 289 vs 114 of the NDA. It is true, however, that a part of the reason why the UPA average is so large is because in 2010, 626 civilians were butchered by the left-wing extremists. The ratio of the left-wing terrorists killed to civilians during NDA is 1.47 vs 0.86 during UPA and, as seen in the picture below, suggests a clear positive break from the trend even when looked at UPA 1 and 2, together, or only the Chidambaram era.
Perhaps, all this difference may be arising due to some conflict ridden states like Jammu and Kashmir, or some states in the North-eastern region. What would happen if we take J&K, Northeast and left-wing terrorism out to understand how the rest of the country is doing? (I would like to emphasise that this does not mean that I think these regions are less important. The purpose is merely to focus on regions that are relatively conflict-free.)
Looking at that data, we see that the average number of civilians killed per year during the NDA rule is four compared to 101 during the UPA rule.
The NDA supporters will use these numbers to thump their chest about NDA’s superior performance. The UPA supporters could ask two questions: 1. What if the terrorists changed their behaviour when the regimes changed?, and 2. What if the security and intelligence forces had been taken aback by some new methods of terrorism in the early part of the UPA rule and developed methods to combat terrorism that the NDA benefited from. For the first question, reasonable as it may sound, I would view it more as an attempt to obfuscate than to explore. The second question deserves more scrutiny but, it seems that at least on a number of counts, NDA beats the trend suggesting that the difference may not be just due to a better knowledge of anti-terror operations.
On the face of it, there is enough evidence to conclude that the NDA looks after the civilians better than the UPA. While I am not a terrorism expert, I would guess that Ajit Doval’s personal experience in combating terror would have had a role to play in the outcomes. As mentioned earlier, we have moved from about two bomb blasts a year in metros to nearly no bomb blasts. Most likely this has been a result of effective preventive policies, good intelligence gathering and strong political will reflected by acts like the elimination of dreaded terrorist Burhan Wani. Moreover, the electoral equations of the Bharatiya Janata Party also probably align well with having less tolerance towards terrorist suspects making prevention somewhat easier. Of course, these are all conjectures and more analysis should be done to conclude anything with near certainty.
For now, in the politicised world we live in, innovative data analysis tools could be employed to turn this gap whichever way one likes. Perhaps, it may be better to step back and wonder if the life of civilians is cheaper than the joys of winning the political narrative.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.