India’s politicians seem unable to resist the temptation to politicise terror acts. Soon after Wednesday’s bomb blast near the office of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Bangalore, Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmad tweeted his concern that the terror attack would benefit the BJP in the upcoming Karnataka Assembly election. For a senior politician to think of the possible political benefit or cost of a bomb blast, and not of the innocent victims, is shocking in itself. Worse, he showed no sense of remorse for his insensitivity and lack of political judgment even after his party disowned the remark. Congress spokesperson Janardhan Dwivedi sought to limit the damage by cautioning against framing terror issues in terms of profit and loss, and on behalf of the government, Union Minister of State for Home R.P.N. Singh warned against extracting political capital out of the blast, but Mr. Ahmad was adamant. By way of explaining his line of thinking, the Congress leader referred to a statement by the Karnataka Home Minister R. Ashok that the attack was a terrorist activity targeted at BJP workers. Evidently, calculations of political gain and loss had so blinded Mr. Ahmad that he was unable to see the thoughtless and tactless nature of his own remarks.
With spokespersons like these in the Congress, the BJP needs to say or do precious little in the run-up to the Assembly election. At a time when the BJP was entirely on the defensive after five years of non-performance in Karnataka, this self goal from the Congress must have given it a measure of relief. On their part, the BJP and other opposition parties have also tended to use terrorist incidents as an excuse to pillory the government, citing them as evidence of the Congress’s mismanagement of national affairs. On the whole, the tendency of Indian politicians to try and score political points in such situations stands in stark contrast to the attitude of the political class in the United States. There, in the aftermath of the recent Boston bombing or the earlier terror strikes of 9/11, one has seen none of the tiresome grandstanding that accompanies a terrorist incident. Despite the sharp political divisions which exist on most issues in the U.S. — or indeed in the United Kingdom, which has also experienced terrible attacks — terror is seen as a common threat, a national challenge that requires and demands a unified response. Political parties close ranks during terror attacks and refrain from making divisive and sectarian remarks. Our politicians must learn to wield power and responsibility well, and to be a calming influence at a time when people are feeling vulnerable.