Think, Shinde, think

Shinde must offer evidence, explain why RSS and BJP leaders have not been arrested, why these organisations have not been banned

At the Congress’ Chintan Shivir in Jaipur earlier this month, home minister Sushilkumar Shinde made a reference to terrorism that has evoked heated debate. His adherents and critics alike have sought to expand and, in the case of Congress spokespersons, hijack the debate. Several other issues, many only tangentially connected — if connected at all — to Mr Shinde’s contention have come to be argued over.

How much of this is relevant, which are the key points it raises and which are the inconsequential ones, and what does the entire episode tell us about Indian politics and its response to terrorism? To answer those questions, one needs to begin at the source of the controversy.
Addressing party colleagues at the Chintan Shivir, Mr Shinde accused the BJP and the RSS of running training camps for Hindu terrorists. These terrorists, he said, were responsible for acts of violence such as the 2007 bombing of the Samjhauta Express, the train that links India and Pakistan, as well as the bomb attacks in the Maharashtra town of Malegoan (2006) and the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad (2007). The RSS and the BJP subsequently blamed innocent Muslims for these incidents, Mr Shinde said. Later, the home minister seemed to backtrack a bit. He said his information was based on media reports and that he referred to “saffron terrorists”, rather than “Hindu terrorists”.
These are fairly serious charges. The Union home minister has said the leading Opposition party and a socio-political organisation with a network across the country are training terrorists. He needs to offer evidence; more than that he needs to explain why follow-up measures, including arrests of RSS and BJP leaders, have not taken place and why these organisations have not been banned. Indeed, these questions should form the narrow focus of all conversation consequent to Jaipur.
Reality has turned out differently. Mr Shinde’s party colleagues have been scampering to explain things. Some of them have said that since he is the home minister he must have made the statement with some authority and on the basis of appropriate intelligence that would be shared with the public at the “right time”.
Others, such as Mani Shankar Aiyar, have charged that the BJP and the RSS are getting exercised because of the use of the expression “Hindu terror” and have no such problem when it comes to the use of “Muslim terror”. They do not shed tears either, Mr Aiyar said on a television channel, when innocent Muslims spend months and longer in prison before being exonerated of charges of terrorism. The one thing both the BJP and Congress politicians have agreed on is the anodyne reasoning that “terrorism has no religion,” and “Hindu terror” and “Muslim terror” should both be excised from public usage.
There are three issues that must detain us here. First, contrary to what politically correct folk say, terror may well have a religious adjective, or that of a larger group identity or motivation, attached to it. Rather than hide this, it is crucial to bring it out. A terrorist is motivated by his interpretation of a cause or sentiment; he is not an abstract being. A person who causes random acts of violence motivated by his interpretation of Islam must be called a Muslim or Islamist terrorist. Likewise a person who causes random acts of violence motivated by his interpretation of Hinduism needs to be called
a Hindu or Hindutva terrorist.
It is important to locate the actor and his act, the terrorist and his terror, in the context he is claiming to speak for. Gavrilo Princip was a Serbian assassin, not a Christian or European assassin. Velupillai Prabhakaran was a Tamil extremist, not a Sri Lankan or South Asian extremist.
Why is this name-calling, and it is literally name-calling, crucial? Terrorism needs to be met at various levels — by security forces and the law; by political responses, insofar as these are possible; and by isolating the terrorist from the community he says he represents, and the majority of which may have a different interpretation of the text, the faith, the religion or the larger group identity he uses as his inspiration.
The Khalistan phenomenon was neutralised in Punjab not just by the police but also by ordinary Jat Sikhs turning against the “boys” and seeing their extortion, blackmail, senseless violence and harassment of young women as antithetical to the teachings of the Gurus. If most Hindus and Muslims in India are not terrorists it is not because they are scared of Mr Shinde, his home secretary and his police — it is because they feel that those who carry out acts of violence in the name of Hinduism and Islam are wrong.
Second, if innocent Muslims were indeed accused of terrorism and detained by the police, then it is a matter of shame for every Indian. More than anything else, the government and police that carried out such shoddy and prejudiced investigation need to be asked questions and need to apologise. It is worth noting that of the three incidents Mr Shinde cited, two occurred in Congress-run states (Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh). Perhaps party spokespersons should direct some of their contemplation inwards rather than at the Opposition.
As for the Samjhauta Express bombing — for which the UN Security Council’s Al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee still lists one Arif Qasmani, a Pakistan-based “chief coordinator” of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), as responsible — the government needs to come out with a clear-cut explanation as to what it knows, irrespective of who is to blame, Hindu or Muslim. This clarity has been lacking so far.
Third, the casual and irresponsible manner in which the home minister has spoken — and for which he has been publicly congratulated by LeT godfather Hafeez Saeed — is telling of the regrettable politicisation of national security. After the 1993 Mumbai bombings, Indian diplomats tried hard to convince their international interlocutors that these were acts of terror. The Americans, at least, were not convinced and insisted this was part of the usual communal-riot, religious-disturbance narrative of Indian society. It took years to change that perception. Must Mr Shinde and the UPA government undo it and pretend terrorism is domestic politics by other means?

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