25 May, 2010Economic And Political Weekly
Communal prejudices have compromised our battle against terrorism
When the bombs went off at Malegaon in September 2006, killing about 40 people and injuring many more who had gathered for the Friday afternoon prayer at a local mosque, the first arrests were of Muslim men who were supposed to belong to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). The police claimed to have cracked the case. Less than a year later, in May 2007, when a similar bomb exploded in Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid killing nine people, the police claimed that these were "sophisticated" bombs detonated via a cellphone located in Bangladesh and the main culprit was supposed to be a Muslim man affiliated to the Harkat-ul-Jehad al-Islami (HuJI). The police arrested some random young Muslims from the city and tortured them into confessing their "guilt". Six months later, when another bomb went off on the eve of the last Friday of Ramazan, in the Ajmer shrine in Rajasthan, it was again blamed on "jehadi terrorists".
It has taken the courageous, if simple, act by Hemant Karkare, the anti-terrorism squad chief of Maharashtra police, of following the available leads to show the linkages between the Malegaon bomb blasts and Hindutva-linked groups. Without this one single act, all these linkages would, perhaps, have remained hidden behind the lies and half-truths dished out by our security establishment. As is well known now, a group called Abhinav Bharat organised this attack. This group includes some religious figures as well as a serving officer of the Indian Army. There have been other clear instances of Hindutva groups involved in bomb making in Nanded, Kanpur, Bhopal and Goa. Most of these are linked to the Bajrang Dal, which is a front of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). There is now a clear linkage between the RSS and its fronts and personnel and a series of bomb blasts. This is apart from the evidence, much stronger, which links this redoubtable organisation, to scores of communal killings, the Gujarat riots of 2002 being the last of its "big" examples.
If terror derived from religious fundamentalism has one headquarter in India, it is the RSS. Their younger siblings, the Islamic, Sikh or Christian fundamentalists, though dangerous in their own ways, cannot match the organisational network, financial muscle or political legitimacy that the RSS – its affiliates and personnel – possess. After all, India’s principal opposition party is a 100% subsidiary of the RSS and it is the shrill communal politics of this "family" which has created that political climate where any terrorist act could be, despite all evidence, linked to Muslims.
Nevertheless, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism among Muslim communities is a serious issue. It has dangerous consequences, not just for its regressive social and political effects on the Muslims themselves, and needs to be fought with vigour. Islamic fundamentalism has also incubated and nurtured terrorist organisations and initiated violent acts, not just in India but also all over the world. None of this can be denied nor can the guard against Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism be lowered.
However, it is now amply clear that our security agencies, government institutions and ministries, specially the home ministry, are deeply compromised by communal prejudice. In each of the cases highlighted above, and in many more, the prima facie evidence, both forensic and circumstantial, pointed to the involvement of Hindutva groups. Yet, unmindful of all evidence, they refused to follow open, clear leads pointing to Hindutva groups, but rather went around building fairy tales about Islamic terrorism’s involvement, picking up random Muslim men (and some women), torturing them till they accepted their "guilt" and finally claiming success in the case. As late as January this year, when the Hindutva terror link to Malegaon had been firmly established, and the Rajasthan police were already questioning the accused of the Ajmer blasts for their links to the Mecca Masjid bombs, the Hyderabad police was merrily arresting Muslims who, they claimed, were linked to the Mecca Masjid blast of 2007. The complicity of the Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh police in the murder of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife, or the killing of Ishrat Jehan and her friends is now clearly established. There is also prima facie evidence of communal prejudice and wrongdoing in police action in cases like the Batla House encounter in Delhi. Unfortunately, the list of cases where communal prejudice by the police and security establishment is evident is so long that it can fill volumes.
While there has been some effort to recognise and address caste and gender prejudices and discriminations, there has been a certain cussedness about not accepting and redressing the discrimination and prejudice against religious minorities, particularly the Muslims. The present United Progressive Alliance government has taken some commendable steps to address this issue, primarily through reports of the Sachar Committee and the Ranganath Misra Commission. These have opened up space to discuss the structural discrimination and prejudice against Muslims in India as well as the measures needed to redress this. It is also true that the criminal link between Hindutva groups and bomb blasts has come to the fore under this regime. Nevertheless, this is not sufficient; urgent steps are needed to disinfect our security establishment of the communal virus. Whether the present Home Minister P Chidambaram can measure up to this task, and whether the Congress Party can find the political will to take on Hindutva inside the administration and state structures, is an open question.