Episodes like that of Ishrat Jehan, especially if they are media sensationalized, hurt India's rise. This is how.

This writer has long argued that counter-terrorism action should not be politicized. Terrorism must be countered with as much integrity as the state can harness. The ideal hundred per cent integrity can never be obtained, but attempts in that direction should not be abandoned. But meanwhile, however truly a state (which means the Union and the provinces) can fight terrorists, they ought to be fought. There is slippage in the integrity principle when the state becomes judge, jury and executioner, which results in, among other things, what is commonly known as "encounter death".

Ishrat Jehan and three others who were killed with her were not the first suspected terrorists to die in a police encounter. (This writer is not making a judgment whether Ishrat [a woman's death always saddens] and her associates were terrorists or not, although at that time, both the Centre and the state government were tracking LeT terrorists in Gujarat, and the LeT website did mention Ishrat as its "martyred" fighter.) Police encounters were common in Punjab during terrorism because terrorists got bail faster than the police could catch them and this was also true in the initial phase of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. This writer speaks from first hand experience having covered both states during heightened terrorism as a reporter.

But whereas the integrity principle should not be abandoned as far as possible (except in extreme cases like Punjab and J and K long ago, when choices were few), even where it is adhered to, there is no guarantee that state counter-terrorist action will be appreciated. The Batla House encounter is a classic example. Sections of the Congress party questioned their own government, unable to curb their animal-political instincts. They were joined by Muslim MPs of other parties. Then there is the infamous example of A.R.Antulay, suspecting the 26 November 2008 LeT attack on Bombay, trying his best to link it to Hindu elements being investigated for the Malegaon blasts.

So what happened? When all the world had condemned the Bombay attack, China took Pakistan's side (predictable enough) with an unpredictable line. It hinted at the involvement of Hindu groups. It said some of the terrorists wore red wrist threads and, therefore, they were Hindu and not Pakistani LeT terrorists. That's the Antulay effect for you. Now China won't go along with the rest of the UN big powers to ban the JeM terrorist leader, Masood Azhar. During the Malegaon blast investigation, media sensationalists, presumably on the briefing of the SIT, sought to draw links to the Samjhauta Express blast, and the Haryana police establishment, eager to please Congress bosses, quickly joined in the insinuation. That was just the opening Pakistan needed. In the post-Bombay-attack heat, Pakistan demanded hand over of a Malegaon blast accused to investigate Samjhauta, and the Centre had nowhere to hide its blushes. That's called being hoist with your own petard. It needed the US to finally pin Samjhauta on Pakistani terrorists.

The point is this. While terrorists have to be fought, and fought with the integrity principle, any deviation (if at all) should not automatically be given political and sectarian colour. Veerappa Moily, the Central law minister, has shot off his mouth on the Ishrat Jahan case, without ascertaining the role of the Union home ministry. And now the Union home ministry, scenting Narendra Modi's blood, is trying to downplay its past involvement in the case. Not only is this irresponsible, it hurts India's national interest, and provides just the chink our strategic rivals need to prevent our rise.

Where did the Chinese analyst get the idea to Balkanize India with "borrowed knives"? Competitive Indian politics, which knows no bounds and won't accept any, and the sensationalist media, provided the Chinese analyst the fodder. And judging by recent events, there is no end to this feed.