Politics, Media, and Terrorism: Understanding the Discourse Surrounding the 2001 Attack on Indian Parliament

Shweta S. Suryawanshi
Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts


This study explores how the threat of terrorism was perceived and portrayed in the media in context of the 2001 attack on Indian Parliament. A close examination of speeches made by political leaders as perceived and portrayed in the print media articles via the lens of securitization theory has facilitated a richer understanding of the discourse around terrorism in the country. The 2001 attack led to the promulgation of important laws such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) which was designed to combat possible terrorist threats. To study how the Indian government justified its actions to the public, it is imperative to study how the terrorism discourse operates in society.  Furthermore, terrorism is a major threat to the stability of countries in South Asia and as acts of terrorism increase, debates about security have been brought to the forefront of the political landscape. In that context, this study is relevant because it explains how the threat of terrorism was portrayed in the Indian context by political leaders and the media in the aftermath of the 2001 attack on Parliament. Discourse analysis facilitates a deeper understanding of the securitization of issues related to terrorism and helps to contextualise the response of the Indian government to the 2001 attack based on the prevailing discourse surrounding terrorism in society.


It has been an attack not just on a building but on what is the very heart of our system of governance, on what is the symbol and the keystone of the largest democracy in the world. (Ministry of External Affairs, 2001).

On 13 December 2001, five terrorists entered the premises of the Indian parliament grounds in Delhi and attempted to carry out a suicide attack. The aforementioned quote has been taken from the text of the Cabinet Resolution adopted following the terrorist attack on the Parliament. This act of violence resulted in increased attention to the terrorism issue rise depending upon the prevailing narrative of terrorism in India at the time. The chief focus of the study is to explain how the threat of terrorism was perceived and portrayed by India’s leading English language newspapers in the context of the 2001 attack on the Parliament. An analysis of the discourse will contribute towards a better understanding of the portrayal of terrorism and contextualises India’s reaction to the perceived threat.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack on Indian Parliament, Indian officials immediately linked the attackers to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad. Thereafter, the Government of India blamed Pakistani intelligence for sponsoring terrorism to pressure India on the Kashmir issue. The 2001 attack on Indian parliament was the first direct attack on India’s political establishment and this marked a turning point in the discourse of terrorism in India. Home Minister L.K. Advani described the December 13 attack as “the most audacious and most alarming act of terrorism in the history of two decades of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in India.” (Lakshmi, 2001). Experts in the fields of defence and security were quick to support these observations. For example, noted defence analyst Brahma Chellaney argued that “Nothing will harm India more than inaction at this moment,” (Lakshmi, 2001).

Five days after the attack, India called for a general mobilisation of troops and launched Operation Parakram (Nayak, 2011). Campaigning for state elections held in March 2002, leaders of India’s governing coalition focused on the terrorism issue and Pakistan’s complicity (Dugger, 2002). A 10-month standoff ensued and this period has been described by Nayak (2011) as “The Twin Peaks Crisis” (p. 13) which was defined by the first attack on family members of Indian troops in Jammu and Kashmir and followed by the parliament attack of 2001. The 2001 attack led to important laws and policies that affect civil liberties to this day. For example, it was after this attack that the Indian central government, in March 2002, passed the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) to enhance India’s ability to crack down on possible terrorist threats (Krishnan, 2004).  It would be useful to understand and explain how the terrorist attack of 2001 was securitized by political leaders and the media. the discourse around terrorism in the country can be better understood via a close examination, via the lens of securitization theory, of speeches made by political leaders and print media articles. Additionally, research about how the threat of terrorism was securitized has been less common in the Indian context. Therefore, this paper focuses on the  research question , “How was the threat of terrorism perceived and portrayed in the context of the 2001 attack on Indian parliament?”

Securitization literature highlights the role of language in the construction of social reality. Foucault and Wittgenstein believed that language is a constitutive component of the social world (Chouliaraki, 2008). Therefore, according to Febrica (2010), “A securitizing actor articulates an issue in security terms through the language he or she uses to persuade the domestic audience of its immediate threat” (p. 571). Sinclair and Coulthard (1975) studied reflexive language use and discourse analysis. When they studied speech acts with respect to discourse analysis, speech acts were defined “in the sense of real communicative acts, but they still interpret these discourse units according to illocutionarily based categories.” (as cited in Lenz, 2007). For the purpose of this study, I have utilised the term “speech” or “speech acts” according to the framework proposed by Sinclair and Coulthard (1975). Balzacq (2005) posits that securitization is a “situated interactive activity” (p. 179). Therefore, discourse analysis is the best option to explain the aforementioned research question because it aids in a better understanding of how the threat of terrorism was securitized via speeches made by political figures and articles published by the media. What constitutes a successful speech act is dependent on how it was received and it is important to explore how speech acts as portrayed in the media were used to convince people of the actions undertaken by the government. Further, the securitization framework could be utilized to understand other underlying objectives that prompted particular responses after the 2001 attack.

Media serves as a link between leaders and civil society. Securitization theorists have only very recently called for exploring the role of media with regards to research related to terrorism (Frensley and Michaud, 2004). Media is the actor that facilitates the medium (speech acts) and controls how it is conveyed to the public A study of the discourse explaining how the threat of terrorism was portrayed in the context of the 2001 attack is significant because this event and its portrayal affected the notion of security for the Indian government and its people.

The next section contains a review of literature relating to the discourse of terrorism. First, I examine the literature that explores the nature of security as a contested political concept . Thereinafter, I have provided a brief overview of literature that explains securitization as a concept. Furthermore, analytical studies about securitization with respect to terrorism have been explored. In addition, I have examined studies on terrorism in the Indian context to understand how terrorism, especially the 2001 attack has been studied. However, a close analysis reveals that the current studies in India have not explained how issues with respect to terrorism may get securitized and an understanding of how the terrorist threat was portrayed to the public is lacking and this research seeks to fil this gap. Also, since this study seeks to examine speech acts as portrayed in media articles. I have also critiqued literature relating to securitization through speech acts and securitization as facilitated by the media.

The Research Design section seeks to explain the chosen methodology of the study i.e., Discourse Analysis and how it has been operationalized. The next section presents key arguments that contribute towards an answering of the research question. Speech acts of politicians and coverage by the media in the aftermath of the 2001 attack has been analysed to identify how the issue was securitized. Further, a detailed analysis helps to explain how the threat of terrorism was portrayed as exceptional necessitating an urgent response such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act which was passed on 26 March 2002.

Literature Review

Security as a Contested Concept

This section will try to provide a brief review of literature relating to securitization, role of the media, political actors and the manner in which scholars have studied terrorism in India. In order to gain a richer understanding of the research question, i.e. “How was the threat of terrorism perceived and portrayed in the context of the 2001 attack on Indian parliament”, it is necessary to understand the conceptual terms and context of the discourse of terrorism. A terrorist act or threat of terrorism questions the dynamics of the security of a nation-state operating in the international system. Fierke (2015) wrote that security is a contested concept and one “…that generates debates that cannot be resolved by reference to empirical evidence because the concept contains a clear ideological or moral element and defies precise, generally accepted definition.” (Essentially Contested Concepts section, para. 1).

Exploring Securitization Literature

Buzan, Wæver and Wilde (1998) provide a more precise definition; they write that “‘security is the move that takes politics beyond the established rules of the game and frames the issue either as a special kind of politics or as above politics.” (p.23). Buzan et. al. (1998) also suggest that any issue can be located on the spectrum of non-politicized to politicized and securitized. An issue is said to be securitized when “…the issue is presented as an existential threat, requiring emergency measures and justifying actions outside the normal bounds of political procedure.” (Buzan et. al., 1998, p. 24). The purpose of securitization, according to Wæver (2015) is to displace disproportionate power held by the state and transfer the power of decision making to the citizenry, to decide what issues merit securitization. Zwitter and Wilde (2010) support the claim that as a domain of study, securitization with respect to terrorism receives disproportionately more attention in contrast to other issues such as traffic accidents which cause more harm. This is because issues such as terrorism which are a threat to national security may cause emergency measures to be undertaken by the government as an immediate response to an attack.

Studies on Terrorism in the Indian Context

While writing about the nature of terrorism in India, Sakhtivel (2010) observed that, “Before terrorist attack on Indian Parliament in 2001, terrorist attack was confined only with Jammu and Kashmir…But after 2001 almost all the states…became prone to terrorist attacks.” (p. 155). Sasikumar (2010) and Mahadevan (2017) explain the 2001 attack in the context of the September 11 attacks in USA and ensuing global war on terror. Further, both authors explain India’s response to the 2001 attack in the context of bilateral India-Pakistan relations. The latter point is reinforced by Kapisthalam (2003) who explains how due to “…American diplomatic pressure and Indian military threat that Gen. Musharraf was forced to ban Jaish and Lashkar.” Sasikumar (2010) observed that after the 2001 attack on Parliament, “India gained world sympathy, especially as the assault came only months after 9/11.” (p. 635) 

The stance adopted by the Indian government indicated that it would retaliate against nations that exported terrorism and according to a statement issued by India’s then External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh, Pakistan ought to have been included in the “axis of evil” (Suroor, 2002). Thereafter, Jaswant Singh also declared that “…India had a better case for initiating pre-emptive action against Pakistan, than the US had against Iraq. The US was forced to explain, somewhat unconvincingly, that the cases could not be equated.” (as cited in Sasikumar, 2010, p. 635). Ganguly (2008), Sasikumar (2010) and Biswas (2018) also advanced the nuclear deterrence argument to explain India’s cautious stance after the 2001 attack. While these studies explained the consequences of the attack, they did not discuss how the threat of terrorism was perceived and portrayed.

Mahadevan (2017) finds that Pakistan’s “duplicity vis-à-vis the West” and US intervention in the 2001 parliament attacks may have limited India’s scope to effectively deal with the crisis. While Mahadevan’s (2017) study provided a context to the explanation of New Delhi’s history of coping with terrorist attacks, including the 2001 attack, it does not explain how the discourse around terrorism was perceived and portrayed by the media during that period. Scholars have also explained Pakistan’s futile efforts to combat terrorism. Sakhtivel (2010) observed that following diplomatic pressure from India and the international community, Pakistan placed restrictions on terrorist groups but the LeT resumed its operations under a new name (p. 158). The study by Kapisthalam (2003) effectively highlights the “bogus crackdowns” on terrorists by explaining the legal proceedings that unfolded in Pakistan after the attack on Indian parliament. While this study contributes to an understanding of the changing perception of terrorism in Indian context, it does not explain how the 2001 attack was perceived by the media and how speech acts of political figures were portrayed by the media.

Noor (2007) argued that even though terrorism may be seen as a fallout of adversarial relations between India and Pakistan, in recent years, terrorism has emerged as a separate bilateral issue between the two countries (p. 65). Desai (2002) further extends this argument by writing that with respect to the war on terrorism, the conflict between India and Pakistan will remain unresolved until the issues concerning partition are resolved. Save for mentioning that India’s stance with respect to terrorism changed after 2001 (Noor, 2007), the author does not comment about the 2001 attack . The focus of the paper lies in trying to decide whether the core issue between India and Pakistan relations is Kashmir or terrorism (Noor, 2007) but it lacks a detailed explanation of how terrorist attacks, especially the 2001 attack, changed the manner in which terrorist attacks were examined thereafter.

Swamy (2002) argued that 2001 was a paradoxical year for India in the domestic and international sphere. While the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could retain its coalition, foreign relations, especially bilateral relations with Pakistan were deeply impacted due to the terrorist attack in 2001. Purushotham, Puroshatham and Prasad (2009) argued that in order to avoid devastating effects of past terrorist attacks, including the horror of 2001, India needs “…a global counter-terrorism strategy” (p. 553). Thus, the aforementioned studies about the securitization of terrorism and related issues in the Indian context principally provide explanations for the causes, discuss consequences of terrorist attacks in India and provide suggestions for policy related issues that the government ought to adopt in the near future.

Understanding How Terrorism is Portrayed in the Media

Some studies provide a better understanding of the usefulness of the conceptual framework of securitization to understand the discourse about terrorism and how it is portrayed in speech acts or communicated by the media. Eroukhmanoff (2018) claims that “Securitization theorists determined five sectors: the economic, the societal, the military, the political and the environmental sector” in which referent objects can be targeted. Referent objects are those for which an issue is securitized. For the purpose of this study, the referent objects are the citizens of India for which the 2001 attack was securitized by political figures and the media. In a securitization move, an actor, through speech acts shall ensure that the referent object is accurately framed in the context of the issue. Moreover, speech acts ensure that the issue is elevated from a politicized position to a securitized status wherein the attack can be framed as an existential threat. After an issue is framed as an existential threat, it is portrayed as one requiring an action which will aid in mitigating or eliminating the threat. This study aims to study both, securitizing actors (politicians) and their speech acts as well as the functional actor (media) that circulated the speech acts to a larger audience.

A plethora of literature exists on securitization, politics, media and terrorism on attacks that occurred in the USA and EU, respectively. Messina (2014) investigated the role of mass media following 9/11 and the potential of media as a securitization agent. Karyotis and Skleparis (2013), Jackson and Parkes (2008) and Munster (2009) investigated the securitization of immigration. While the aforementioned research studies examine the role of media in different contexts, detailed studies about public discourse on terrorism as portrayed by the media in the context of securitization for Asia are rare.

According to Rychnovská, (2014) it is crucial to bear in mind overall context and the exact place while studying security issues. Hussain and Bagguley (2012) argue that media play a crucial role in defining issues and shaping connotations as well as meaning. According to Buitrago (2013), the self-image and created image of a country could be altered on the basis of how an issue is portrayed by the media. Udupa (2009) and Manchanda (2010) have critically interrogated media-mediated public discourse on terrorism. While Udupa (2009) analysed how the media coverage of the terror attacks in Mumbai (2008) were criticised, Manchanda (2010) analysed the media coverage of four terrorist incidents i.e., terrorist attacks in Madrid (2004), London (2005) and Mumbai (2006 and 2008). Similar to aforementioned studies, the notion that the media response to terrorist attacks is to remind the masses of a “war on terror” by highlighting previous events has been reinforced. Regime type and susceptibility to terrorist attacks could provoke or necessitate securitization of terrorism. In this regard, Kydd and Walters’ (2006) analysis suggests that “…democracies are more likely to be…under greater pressure to ‘do something’.” (p. 80)

In the domain of media studies, Sreedharan (2009) has pursued an analysis of conflict coverage in Indian and Pakistani newspapers with special focus on reporting on Kashmir. While Sreedharan’s (2009) analysis of media at war confirmed that news presented to both nation-states was “…government led and intensely ‘negative’ ” (p. 2), it does not explain how the threat of terrorism in particular has been portrayed in journalistic writing across both nations. While the aforementioned studies highlight the role of media, they do not address how the discourse around terrorism was securitized by media and political actors. This study aims to fill this research gap. This study seeks to effectively analyse how the threat of terrorism was perceived in the context of the 2001 attack on Indian Parliament and will do so through discourse analysis of the speech acts of political actors and a close examination of the role of media.

Research Design

Discourse analysis was adopted as the method of study in order to effectively understand how the threat of terrorism was portrayed in the context of the 2001 attack on Indian parliament. Both, primary and secondary sources have been utilized to provide an explanation for the research question. The transcripts of speeches made and statements issued by important political figures immediately after the 2001 attack have been studied to probe the research question. In order to investigate how the Indian media reported on the responsive measures taken by the government after the attack, I have reviewed English print media articles of the Times of India and The Hindu, given that the aforementioned are India’s leading English dailies with the highest circulation (Audit Bureau of Circulations, 2018). This research design using discourse analysis of political speeches and media coverage is helpful to answer the research question.

The study undertook a close examination of the transcripts of speeches of political figures, express statements or briefs issued after the attack via official government channels such as the Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Defence or statements issued to the press before and after parliamentary sessions. I have examined speeches made by leaders such as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who said that India would wage a “do or die” (“Parliament suicide attack stuns India”, 2001) war against terrorism. Also, the statements made by Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, Minister of External Affairs Jaswant Singh and statements made members of the opposition party, Congress (I) in response to the attack on Parliament have been examined. Additionally, the POTA was passed by the government in 2002 to enhance India’s ability to crack down on terrorist threat (Krishnan, 2004). Therefore, I have examined statements issued by political figures for the time period before the Parliament passed the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

I will refer to multiple sources in order to fill the research gap about the discourse around terrorism and how it was securitized in the context of the 2001 attack. Therefore, an investigation of the speech acts of politicians and analysis in Indian media is well suited to answering the research question. The focus of analysis has been to investigate how the 2001 attack was dealt with in the media and through the speech acts of political actors through the discourse analysis approach.

Analysing the Discourse on Terrorism

This section presents the key arguments that contribute towards an explanation of how terrorism was securitised in the context of the attack on India’s Parliament. First, I have provided a brief explanation of the discourse of terrorism in India. After providing a global and regional context to the 2001 attack, the discourse analysis of speech acts of politicians and coverage by the print media has been presented and securitization moves identified.

Terrorism Discourse prior to the 2001 Attack on Indian Parliament

This section explains the evolution of the discourse of terrorism after the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 in the United States of America. Uhlig (2015) posits that, “Ever since 9/11 terrorism has been a topic all over the world.” (p. 9) While most scholars agree that the global war on terror (GWoT) called upon by the Bush administration signified shifting the focus of security studies, a few scholars such as Cole (2006) refute the claim. Cole (2006) argued that, “… the 9/11 attacks left untouched many of the underlying forces and persistent tensions that shape international politics.” (p. 26) However, it would be useful to consider the concept of macro-securitisation as introduced by Buzan and Waever (2009). Macro-securitization entails that one large event can constitute within itself numerous smaller securitization measures on a related issue. Similarly, the global order may have one major conflict with other securitization measures embedded within itself. According to Buzan and Waever (2009), “At such times a higher order of securitization embeds itself in such a way as to incorporate, align and rank the more parochial securitizations beneath it.” (p. 253) Further, Buzan and Waever (2009) posit that “After September 11th 2001 (9/11) the Bush (and Blair) administrations tried to do something similar (securitise the issue) with the so-called ‘Global War on Terror’…” (p. 254)

Prior to 9/11, the discourse of terrorism in India and the perception of terrorist events was chiefly associated with “provocation” and “state-sponsored terror.” For example, the Minister for External Affairs, Jaswant Singh in a lecture on 17 October, 2001. suggested that 9/11 had “…redefined dimensions of inter-state dynamics in terms that go beyond existing paradigms of geo-politics, of the post-Cold War determinations, indeed of international affairs, in almost their entirety.” (The Event section, para. 1)

 In an immediate response to the September 11 attacks, the Prime Minister of India expressed his sympathies in a letter to President Bush stating, “We stand ready to cooperate with you in the investigations into this crime and to strengthen our partnership in leading international efforts to ensure that terrorism never succeeds again.” (Ministry of External Affairs [MEA], 2001). In the following month, India faced two terrorist attacks before the attack on Parliament in December 2001.

Internal Political Scenario

Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s first term as Prime Minister in 1996 lasted for 13 days. During his second term as Prime Minister, the government led by him lasted for 13 months. According to BBC (1999), Vajpayee’s coalition was “…plagued by factional infighting…” and was condemned by the international community for the nuclear tests conducted during the previous year. The government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee collapsed when the AIADMK, the second largest coalition partner withdrew its support over the removal of India’s navy chief (BBC, 1999). During his second tenure as Prime Minister, Vajpayee sought to ease relations with Pakistan by organizing the Agra Summit in July 2001. However, the summit failed as the Indian side wanted to discuss economic possibilities and Pakistan was focused on the Kashmir issue (Sarma, 2001). On 1 October 2001, terrorists attacked the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly and a second terrorist attack took place on 3 October 2001 wherein there was an attempted hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft by Pakistan-based terrorist group(s). Subsequent to these event, India’s Parliament was attacked in December 2001. As an immediate reaction to the terrorist attack on Parliament, the government led by Vajpayee launched Operation Parakram, promulgated the proceedings of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) and managed to pass the POTA in a historic joint sitting of Parliament.

India has managed to trace most terror attacks against itself to Pakistan and blamed Pakistani intelligence for supporting terrorist activities in the past. Moreover, Behuria (Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses [IDSA], n.d.) argued that Pakistan’s continuous denial of terrorist activities has made it difficult for India to pursue a dialogue on issues related to terrorism (para. 2). Additionally, it cannot be denied that since 1998, India chose not to respond aggressively to the terrorist attacks due to nuclear deterrence.

Evolution of the Prevention of Terrorism Act

The Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) was first introduced by the NDA government because it believed that a law which constituted tougher norms than the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) was required to prevent terrorist activity in the country. Moreover, the NDA government introduced an ordinance because it lacked majority support in the Upper House in contrast to its confidence that POTO would be passed in the Lower House, where it enjoyed majority support (Ramachandran, 2002).

 POTO evolved into POTA when the President called for a joint session of both houses after the 2001 attack. After the 2001 attack, there was renewed interest in introducing the earlier POTO in the Upper House and passing it as the POTA. Ramachandran (2002) posits that earlier opponents of POTO such as the National Conference (party of Jammu and Kashmir) supported POTA in the joint session. I argue that the promulgation of POTA was a securitization move. The securitizing moves of the actors and the resultant effects of the promulgation of POTA have been discussed in the following section.

Discourse Analysis of Speech Acts

The development of the discourse after the 2001 attack and the ensuing securitizing moves have been explained through an analysis of the speech acts of the politicians. The securitizing measures and the problems related to the promulgation of the POTA have also been discussed thereafter. Securitization theory explains the existence of referent objects, securitizing actors and functional actors. For the purpose of this study, speeches and media articles have been studied to observe all three factors of analysis. According to Uhlig (2015), “Referent objects are those that are threatened in their survival and are to be protected…” (p. 22) and in this paper, the referent objects for both, the speeches made by politicians as well as media articles are the citizens who belong to the democracy of India.

In their speeches delivered in Parliament immediately after the 2001 attack, Prime Minister Vajpayee and L. K. Advani repeatedly mentioned India (and therefore the people that constitute India) as requiring protection (MEA, 2001). Prime Minister Vajpayee repeatedly used the terms “the nation” and “the country” in his speech given to Doordarshan (in Hindi) to address the issue of terrorism by articulating phrases such as “the nation accepts the challenge.” The Prime Minister echoed the sentiments expressed in the Cabinet resolution adopted by Parliament during an emergency meeting on 13 December 2001 immediately after the terrorist attack. During his speech, the Prime Minister first identified that the attack was not merely targeted towards the parliament but towards “the whole nation.” Thereafter, he articulated that the government had accepted the “challenge” and also mentioned that “…during this difficult time, the whole nation stands together.” In referring to the issue, the speech was repeatedly punctuated with “us” and “ours” to emphasise the collective identity of the nation. In his concluding statement, the Prime Minister suggested immediate action supported by everyone mentioning that “together we all will counter the challenge posed by terrorism. Nobody should have any doubt in their mind in this regard.” (MEA, 2001) According to Buzan et. al. (1998), successful securitization includes “…emergency action” (p. 26) among other existential threats as articulated by the actor, in this case, political figures.

Multiple factors may merit securitization. Firstly, Theiler (2010) and Schulze (2012) argued that the securitizing actor ought to “…have enough authority and the necessary legitimacy to perform a securitization move.” (as cited in Uhlig, 2015, p. 29) Secondly, Theiler (2010) also argued that fear must exist in the mind(s) of the audience and thirdly, “…the basic values of the audience should not be violated with the securitization move.” (as cited in Uhlig, 2015, p. 29) Finally, Buzan et al., (1998) argued that “…certain features of the threat may hamper or facilitate securitization.” (as cited in Uhlig, 2015, p. 29) I have utilized the aforementioned observations recorded in the order proposed by Uhlig (2015) in order to explain how issue of terrorism was securitised.

In this context, actors identified had the authority and legitimacy to perform a securitization move. The Prime Minister and Home Minister are authority figures and speeches made by them in the aftermath of the attack has the potential to persuade the audience . As noted above, India had faced two terrorist attacks in the two months prior to the attack on Parliament i.e., in October 2001. Further the world had witnessed the horrors of the 11 September 2001 attack. These existing fears within the minds of the audience may have caused them to accept the issue as an existential threat. In response to the third factor, it is apparent from the speeches made by the Prime Minister that the basic values of the audience were not violated but reemphasised with the securitization moves. The language used by the Prime Minister indicate a sense of unity, which is the primary value of a nation. Finally, a feature of the threat that merits securitization could be explained by tracing India’s previous efforts to prove that Pakistan was a state-sponsor of terrorism. According to Mahadevan (2017), “New Delhi’s previous failures to respond militarily to cross border terrorist attacks have been interpreted as weakness by both Pakistan and the wider international community.” (para. 1) The previous failures combined with the portrayal of an existential threat could merit securitization moves in the context of the 2001 attack.

To further elaborate on the discourse analysis of speech acts, the former Minister of External Affairs, Jaswant Singh, while answering a question in Parliament about the measures taken abroad with respect to raising awareness about counter-terrorism in the aftermath of the 2001 attack, replied that, “In the post September 11 period, there is increased acceptance that terrorism is a global phenomenon; its destructive reach and lethal potential has been enhanced by global networks of illicit trafficking in drugs, money laundering and arms smuggling.” (MEA, 2001) The rhetorical structure of his speech and usage of words such as “global phenomenon”, “destructive reach” and “lethal potential” highlight the attack as an existential threat. This was followed by the mention that as a part of India’s efforts to combat terrorism, India had circulated a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism amongst UN member nations “to plug the loopholes and gaps that arose from the sectoral conventions on terrorism.” (MEA, 2001), thus highlighting an example of an action undertaken by the Indian government to combat the terrorism issue. Words such as “destructive” and “lethal” evoke a sentiment of threat to survival. In this manner, the issue was portrayed as not only a grave security issue but also an existential threat. In his speech, the Minister of External Affairs also mentioned that the Convention “called on all States” to address the problem of terrorism, thus portraying a sense of urgency. The Minister also mentioned the informal consultations conducted by the UN Secretary General “to ensure expeditious finalization of the Convention” (MEA, 2001). This further adds to a sense of urgency and allows for securitization moves, other than the Convention, which the government would adopt thereafter. The cabinet reflects the will of the people and since the ruling party also enjoys a majority, any resolution reflects the will of the securitizing actors mentioned in this study. In the Cabinet resolution taken immediately after the attack, the word “measure” was used to signify the extent of the threat and indicated that India ought to confront the terrorism “challenge” with an exceptional response.

Home Minister L.K. Advani’s speeches have specific reference to the ISI. According to Wibisono (2015),

“In contemporary events of acts of terror, mastermind discourse appears in public when the catastrophe of the act is perceived to be unprecedented. In such cases, mastermind is an ideational association to a figureless higher power that employs disparate individual perpetrators.”(p. 164)

In the speech made by Shri L.K. Advani in Parliament after the attack, the words “Pakistan-based terrorist outfits”, “terrorist institution”, “masterminded”, “militant outfits at the behest of the ISI” reflect upon the mastermind discourse as described by Wibisono (2015) and explain how the existential threat may be attributed to a headless figure that participates in careful planning of the actions against the referent object(s). To further magnify the existential threat, the attack was described as “alarming”, “audacious”, one that tried “to wipe out the entire political leadership of India.” The Minister referred to Pakistan as a product of the two-nation theory that was “unable to reconcile itself with the reality of a…steadily progressing India…” and reminded the people that “…the fight against terrorism had reached a decisive phase.” (MEA, 2001). Here, the speech assumes that the audience has accepted the existing discourse when the Minister states that the sacrifice of those who lost their lives in the attack “will not be allowed to go in vain” and that “Those behind the attack on Parliament House should know that the Indian people are united and determined to stamp out terrorism from the country” (MEA, 2001). These words could have been used to justify securitization that would later result in both, Operation Parakram and the promulgation of POTA. However, it is important to note that while this speech act assumes that the audience has accepted the discourse, Buzan et. al (1998) argued that an issue is “…securitized only if and when the audience accepts it as such.” (p. 25)  Thus, the speech acts of L.K. Advani share the sentiments of Prime Minister Vajpayee that the terrorism “challenge” had to be met adequately and proportionately.

The promulgation of the POTA was an important securitization move and is best understood by examining the nuances of the Act and the manner in which it was passed.

There were many concerns with the provisions of POTA . First, the definition of “terrorism” and “terrorist activity” were not been articulated in precise terms. Additionally, an examination of the provisions of the Act revealed that the “…power to determine who is a ‘terrorist’ lies solely in the hands of the police and the political party in power” (“TADA: Hard Law for a Soft State,” 2000). Ramachandran (2002) also observed that according to the provisions of the POTA, high ranking police officials were empowered to extract confessions from an accused and present them as evidence of terrorist activities. Praful Bidwai (2008) argued that Chapter III of POTA does not define “terrorist organisations” but provides a list without explanation. Further, in the original document, POTA listed 23 organizations and Ramachandran (2002) observes that the terms, “terrorist”, “terrorist ideology”, “sympathizer”, “members” have not been defined and have been used arbitrarily.  

Furthermore, L.K. Advani’s speech in Parliament on 26 March 2002 portrayed terrorism with regards to the 2001 attack as an existential threat. While previous laws such as TADA had been designed to “safeguard” (“TADA: Hard Law for a Soft State”, 2000, p. 1066) the Indian people against terrorism, the Home Minister portrayed them as insufficient and lacking. Venkatesan (2002) observed that Home Minister L.K. Advani said that terrorism had become “…a challenge of a qualitatively different nature…” (para. 12) but did not explain how the POTA would help to curb state-sponsored cross-border terrorism.  Instead, the POTA was proposed as a possible solution to minimize the threat of terrorism which was “growing in scale and complexity” (“TADA: Hard Law for a Soft State”, 2000, p. 1066) across the country. The government justified its actions to pass POTA by stating that it was complying with “UN Security Council Resolution No 1373, which requires member states to undertake comprehensive measures to deal with terrorism.” (Ramachandran, 2002)

L.K. Advani made the aforementioned claim and stated that “…insofar as POTA would help secure conviction of the terrorist-accused, it would be a vast improvement over the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), which lapsed in 1995, and whose record in securing convictions was poor.” (Venkatesan, 2002, para. 13) Thereafter, L. K. Advani also compared POTA to the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) and highlighted the possibility of higher convictions that would be a direct result of allowing intercepted communication as admissible evidence in the judicial process, if POTA were to be passed in Parliament. This was opposed by Congress (I) member R.K. Anand as it violated something about Article 21… Venkatesan (2002) also observed that while Law Minister Arun Jaitley reasoned that POTA was better than TADA by equating terrorist crimes with funding of terrorist activities, “…the Law Minister failed to answer the thrust of the Opposition’s complaint that limiting the scope for judicial review of arrests under POTO at the threshold stage would increase the scope for its misuse too, as a few cases in Jammu and Kashmir, where it was invoked, had made clear.” (para. 20) It is clear that the Law Minister was a securitizing actor as his speech act effectively ensured that the threat of terrorism was portrayed as one that merits action. With respect to POTA, the securitizing actors did not consider how it was vulnerable to misuse as this was not indicated in any speech act or articulated clearly. The actors were determined to get the Bill passed, as has been explained by the manner of the joint sitting and the ensuing speech acts. Furthermore, the opposition parties finally approved the passage of POTA because it was agreed that it was necessary to safeguard the country and terrorism was perceived as an existential threat to the security of the nation. In portraying the 2001 attack and terrorism in particular as a threat to the survival of the nation, the securitization moves were successfully carried out.

Discourse Analysis of Media Articles

The speech acts of politicians and newspaper articles published in the aftermath of the 2001 attack framed terrorism as a “challenge” which required an immediate and exceptional response. The following sections will describe the role of media in securitizing the issue of terrorism in the context of the 2001 attack. The purpose of this subsection is to examine the public discourses as they shaped the aftermath of the 2001 attack and identify specific connections by the functional actor which gave legitimacy to the securitizing actors. The existing security discourse as extended by the media has been examined via the concept of “framing”. According to Entman (2004), framing “…refers to a process of selecting and highlighting some facets of events or issues, and making connections among them so as to promote a particular interpretation, evaluation, and/or solution.” (p. 5) Additionally, according to Vultee (2011) frames contain a central organising idea, such as the terrorist attack of 2001 in this case, which is influenced by existing social experiences and is used to make sense of events (as cited in Wibisono, 2015, p. 62) Furthermore, Wibisono (2015) explains how texts deliver more than simple data but consist of “signals” to portray information to readers in a particular manner and readers also influence these signals through their interactions with the media via letters to the editor or opinion articles (p. 62). The speech acts in the aftermath of the attack on parliament took place within the confines of the existing security discourse and the following subsections explain how their exceptional interpretation was facilitated by the functional actors.

Immediate Response

During the initial days after the attack, the Indian government adopted frames from the pre-existing terrorism discourse which operated in the public sphere. Media articles referred to the pre-existing tensions between India and Pakistan even before the perpetrators of the attack were identified. On 14 December 2001, the day after the attack, media reported that, “The terrorists brought their decade-old battle against the nation” (Khare, 2001) and portrayed the “…attack as the continuation of the two-decade-old terrorist onslaught against India” (Khare, 2001) after Prime Minister Vajpayee had uttered the words “our fight is now reaching the last stage…” (Khare, 2001). Additionally, with the frame of terrorism as a “challenge”, many in the media also referred to the discourse operating in the global sphere after the 9/11 attacks which took place earlier that year.  Media analysts and editors linked the “urgency to act” frame with the 9/11 terrorist attack and questioned Defence Minister George Fernandes whether India would “…take help from the CIA for identifying terrorists behind the Delhi incident” (The Times of India [TOI], 2001). The Defence Minister replied that the terrorism issue was “no longer confined to killing individuals only, but had also moved to destroy our democracy” (TOI, 2001). Therefore, after portraying the issue as an exceptional threat to the nation, the Defence Minister linked it to the discourse around 9/11 stating that that “challenge” ought to be faced unitedly such as the American example “…when the entire country stood against terrorism after the September 11 attack” (TOI, 2001).

Most media outlets echoed the government’s views that terrorism was a threat to national security and articulated it in terms such as “violent drama”, “a shocking attack in the most guarded five-acre patch in the country” (Khare, 2001) and “cult of violence” (The Hindu, 2001). On the day after the attack, the government argued that the perpetrators were unknown and media sources reported that the “…agencies have some clues and are working on it.” (Khare, 2001; TOI, 2001). In agreement with the government generated discourse, most media reporting adopted the frame that it was important to retaliate in a determined fashion against those responsible and the “…reverberations will be felt for a long time to come.” (Khare, 2001).

The presence of a foreign threat or the assumption that the incident was carried out as a transnational attack was first articulated by the Union Home Minister, Mr. L. K. Advani, who “…told newspersons that as far he could make out, the slain terrorists did not look like ‘Indian faces’…” (Khare, 2001; TOI, 2001). Following the lack of specificity, it was reported that “The unstated inference was that the terrorists were perhaps of Afghan origin.” (Khare, 2001). Nevertheless, the existing frames indicated an urgency to take action. In response to Mr. Advani’s statements about the “misadventure”, Khare (2001) reported that the terrorists would have to “pay dearly” for an attack that would be “condemned by the entire country”. Thus, such frames involved the referent objects in the evolving discourse.

The “urgency to act” discourse was carried forward along with the timing, frequency and repetition of articles which portrayed the 2001 attack as within the global discourse. In both cases, i.e., the global discourse as well as “terrorism as a threat” discourse, the frames signify terrorism as a threat to the referent object, i.e., people belonging to the democracy of India that required protection. Prime Minister Vajpayee had suggested that the attack was “…not a mere attack on a building but an assault on the very nation itself. The media extended the argument that the attack was targeted “…right to the heart of official India” and that “The bloody siege of Parliament represents an attack on the citadel or the very symbol of India’s democracy.” (“Editorial: Ugly Terror Strikes Again”, 2001), thus calling for urgent action. The Prime Minister also said that “a decisive battle would have to take place” (Khare, 2001) and called upon the nation to be united in the midst of crisis. Securitisation of terrorism therefore, was granted legitimacy through frames of “terrorism as a challenge” discourse that merits immediate action. In addition to the presentation of “terrorism as a challenge” and the “urgency to act” discourse which has been discussed in this section, a contending discourse emerged that the attack was “stage managed”. Together with the prevailing discourses, the referent object was framed as vulnerable and POTA was advocated to safeguard the people from such vulnerability.

Media and Prevention of Terrorism Act

The securitisation moves appear distinctly in the need to justify extraordinary measures such as the immediate promulgation of the POTA. This section seeks to explain how the POTA was characterised by mainstream media.  Theoretically, the Copenhagen School argues that securitisation is structured by a power hierarchy of actors where some of them are privileged with a recognition to ‘speak about security’ and others are less so. (Wibisono, 2015, p. 7). Media outlets as functional actors had the potential to amplify issues portrayed by the securitising actors. I agree with the argument presented by Wibisono (2015) to explain the role of media with respect to securitisation of terrorism that the media, “…performs as a ‘testing water’ for the government (the executive) to see if their preferred framing of issue could hold a support in public, for the legislative as well as the public at large to identify the existing frames and make sense of their prevalence over each other. (p. 8)

In the case of the 2001 attack, the event was portrayed as having “cataclysmic potential” (The Hindu, 2001) and the nature of the threat of terrorism was portrayed as “mind-boggling” (The Hindu, 2001). The language adopted in the articles indicated the presence of threat of unforeseen nature and the need to combat a threat that was too large to be understood. Furthermore, frames such as “threat to democracy” and “extreme vulnerability of India” conveyed the message that everything that was once perceived as stable, safe and secure was exposed to violent attacks. Similarly, if an attack was designed to “eliminate the political leadership”, as suggested by Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, it had struck at the core of the nation’s security apparatus and therefore the nation required protection. The phrases “major conspiracy” and “intended to destabilise the whole set-up” created an “us versus them” dichotomy wherein the safeguarding the “self” required resolute action in order to be protected. Mr. L.K. Advani also said that “…the resolution was clear enough” when asked about the retaliatory response to the attack without specifying the nature of the response. News articles also reported that the Prime Minister was “…determined that no punches be pulled in the battle against the terrorists.” (Khare, 2001), thus signifying a willingness of the government to act on behalf of the “urgency to act” discourse.

Critical reflections and opinion articles in newspapers highlighted how “…in terms of purpose, or the sheer audacity of the choice where the outrage was perpetrated, there are clearly no parallels” (“Editorial: Ugly Terror Strikes Again”, 2001) thus extending the “vulnerability” and “challenge” frames. Additionally, a necessary corollary would suggest that since “…the outrage was perpetrated…” at the seat of the democracy i.e., the Parliament that represents the will of the nation, only those persons who assent to suggested measures would constitute the nation. Furthermore, in response to the “threat to democracy” frame, exceptional measures such as POTA were deemed necessary in order to safeguard the “vulnerable” referent objects from the threat of terrorist attacks in the future.

In the aftermath of the attack, the Congress maintained its differing views on the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) which had been in force for seven weeks prior to the attack (The Hindu, 2001). However, the POTA was passed on 26 March 2002 because its essential characteristics were perceived and portrayed as agreeable with the “urgency to act” discourse and therefore the exceptional measure was required to protect “the vulnerability of India”. In conclusion, the securitisation of terrorism in India occurred in the context of the 2001 attack because terrorism was portrayed and perceived as a threat posed by actors who had the intent to cause indiscriminate harm. Such effective securitisation justified measures like POTA as extraordinary but also necessary to protect a vulnerable citizenry.


This study sought to explore securitization with respect to terrorism in the Indian context. The 2001 attack brought to the fore important security concerns in the political landscape that led India to consider new policies and laws related to terrorism. The discourse analysis method was best suited to this study as it could effectively explain how the threat of terrorism was portrayed to the public. In this regard, analysing transcripts of speech acts of political figures and articles circulated by the media have contributed to a holistic explanation for the research question.

In order to understand the immediacy with which the POTA was passed in a historic joint session it is important to consider the prevailing discourse of the time. This study has argued that the promulgation of POTA was a securitization move and the argument has been demonstrated by analysing how the threat of terrorism was portrayed in various frames by the actors. First, the speech acts of politicians i.e., actors who had the legitimacy to persuade the audience of an existential threat have been examined. Thereinafter, it has been proved that the threat of terrorism was portrayed in two frames i.e., terrorism as a “challenge” and terrorism as a “threat to democracy” which according to the actors, merits the passage of POTA. Subsequently, an analysis of print media articles revealed that the threat of terrorism was constructed in similar frames. The threat of terrorism was not only portrayed as a “challenge” within the confines of the existing security discourse but also as an issue which required an “urgency to act”. Additionally, this study has explained the nature of the “challenge” as portrayed by the functional actors to the citizenry. In this study, it was observed that mainstream media sources extended the frames as constructed by the political actors to advocate for the passage of the POTA in order to safeguard the “vulnerable” referent objects i.e., people belonging to the democracy of India from the threat of terrorist attacks in the future.

Finally, the securitization of terrorism occurred in the Indian context because the threat of terrorism was portrayed as exceptional and the immediate response as articulated by the political actors and the media resulted in the passage of the POTA on 26 March 2002. This study therefore, adds to our understanding of how issues related to terrorism can be securitised.


I would like to express my gratitude to Vaidyanatha Gundlupet for his patient guidance and enthusiastic encouragement throughout the research and writing of this paper. I would like to thank Shirish Kavadi and the anonymous reviewer for constructive recommendations regarding this study. Finally, I would like to extend my thanks to the Research Cell at the Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts and the Board of Editors at the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies (JIDS) for their professional guidance and valuable support while completing this project.


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