Thursday, February 22, 2007

GUJARAT: LOOKING BACK

http://www.saag.org/

By B. Raman

It is five years since the brutal massacre of a group of Hindu pilgrims by some members of the Muslim community in the Godhra railway station in Gujarat and the violent Hindu-Muslim riots that followed. There has so far been no objective account of the incidents of 2002 in Gujarat. An unfortunate attempt has been made by the so-called secular elite of the country to create doubts in the minds of the people about the facts relating to the carnage at Godhra. The use of force by the Administration to bring the resulting law and order situation under control has also come in for criticism from this elite. Among the criticisms made by them are that the force used was excessive and disproportionate; that it was mainly directed against the Muslim community; that there were many atrocities committed against the Muslims; that it was politically orchestrated etc.

2. Such a campaign to play down the culpability of minority communities and to direct the attack against the administration, particularly the police, and the majority community is nothing new in our history since 1947. This has always happened after every communal riot. Whenever some Muslims take the law into their own hands, it is always the police which is criticised for acting against them. The secular elite rarely criticises the Muslims, who violated the law in the first place, and rarely calls for action against them. The voice of the secular elite will carry greater credibility if it modifies its present position that "the Muslims can do no wrong" and that it is always the Hindus and the Administration who are responsible for anything going wrong, which affects the interests of the Muslims.

3. If there are signs of an emerging divide between some sections of the Hindus and Muslims, the so-called secular elite cannot escape a major share of responsibility for this. Its compulsive habit of justifying every cause and complaint of the Muslims---whatever be the merits--- and its repeated failure to articulate the feelings and sense of anger of the Hindus are creating an impression in the minds of growing sections of the Hindus, who constitute 80 per cent of the population of the country, that for the secular elite only the rights of the Muslims count and not the rights of the Hindus. One finds this particularly in the case of the youth.

4. One talks often of the spreading radicalisation of the Muslim youth and of the need to address the root causes of their anger and to appeal to their hearts and minds. This is very important. I have myself been advocating it since the Mumbai blasts of March, 1993. But, we should also take note of the emerging radicalisation of sections of the Hindu youth and of the need to address the root causes of their anger and to appeal to their hearts and minds. The Government will be committing an error of judgement if it fails to take note of the feelings of concern and hurt in the minds of large sections of the Hindu youth. They have many reasons for their concern---- the perceived softness of the Government in dealing with jihadi terrorism; its repeated admonition of the police for trying to do their duty while investigating terrorism-related cases; its action in playing down the role of Pakistan and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in sponsoring jihadi terrorism in Indian territory; its secret talks with Pakistan on sensitive issues such as the future of Jammu & Kashmir and the Siachen glacier without taking the Indian public into confidence; the attempt to bulldoze the public and the bureaucracy into implementing the recommendations of the Sachar Commission etc.

5. The Muslims are the rightful citizens of this country. We are proud of them. They have every right to enjoy the benefits of our Constitution and the fruits of our economic development and to expect that the Administration, including the Police, will protect them. I was more critical than anybody else----when I was in service and after my retirement---- about the failure of the Narasimha Rao Government to protect the Babri Masjid, about the failure of the Mumbai Police to protect the Muslims in the communal riots that followed and about the failure of the Narendra Modi Government to protect the Muslims after the Godhra carnage and about some of his crazy ideas on counter-terrorism. I have been more lucid than anyone else in drawing attention to the fact that there was no jihadi terrorism in Indian Territory outside J&K before the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December, 1992. There were communal riots, but no jihadi terrorism.

6. At the same time, I have also been pointing out that the Muslims too have obligations like any other citizen, whatever be his or her religion----like the obligation to observe the law; not to look beyond our frontiers for ideological and religious inspiration; to condemn the resort to brutal terrorism by members of their community; and to help the police in dealing with this terrorism. They also have the obligation to try to achieve their legitimate political and economic objectives through legitimate means and not through intimidation. Recently, a highly-respected intellectual of Delhi told me of his sense of shock when he heard some leaders of the Muslim community warn at a meeting convened by one of the Ministries of the Government of India that there would be more jihadi terrorism in India if the Sachar Commission report was not implemented in toto.

7. What is this but an attempt at criminal intimidation? Doesn't the Government have the obligation to put down such attempts? Doesn't the public have the right to protest against it? If a Muslim leader resorts to intimidation, one dismisses it as an instance of understandable anger. If a Hindu protests against such intimidation, he is demonised as communal, anti-Muslim, anti-Islam etc. These double standards have to go if we have to strengthen national harmony and integrity.

8. Since 1947, India has faced many mutations of terrorism---ethnic, ideological and religious. It has reasons to be particularly concerned over the persisting menace of jihadi terrorism and the role of Pakistan in fueling it. The jihadis wish ill of India. They want India to break up. They want to "liberate" the Muslims of India, create "Muslim homelands" in our territory, which would ultimately form part of the global Islamic Caliphate, which Osama bin Laden wants. The jihadis use force ruthlessly. The State has the right and the duty to resort to the use of the legal force of the State against them. Whenever a State has lacked the will to act firmly against them, they have thrived.

9. The fears one had in 2002 that the anger in the Muslim community over the perceived sufferings of their co-religionists in Gujarat might result in a wave of acts of reprisal terrorism have not come true. We saw more instances of reprisal terrorism by the jihadis after the demolition of the Babri Masjid than after the Gujarat riots--- the Mumbai blasts of March, 1993; the simultaneous explosions on board trains in the North in December, 1993, coinciding with the first anniversary of the demolition of the Babri masjid; the acts of violence of the Al Ummah in Tamil Nadu, including the serial explosions in Coimbatore in February, 1998 etc.

10. There have been many incidents of jihadi terrorism in different parts of India since the Gujarat riots. Of these, only one---the attack on the Aksherdam Temple in Ahmedabad in September, 2002---- could be attributed to this anger. The rest of the incidents in Mumbai, Delhi, Varanasi, Ayodhya and Bangalore were not committed in a moment of uncontrollable anger. These were coolly and carefully prepared and executed acts of terrorism by some members of our Muslim community, who have joined hands with the pan-Islamic jihadis from Pakistan and its ISI. Their target is not just Gujarat. Their target is India and its economic prosperity. Their anger is not just against the Gujarat Government. It is against India and its people for refusing to let themselves be intimidated by the terrorists and for continuing to make rapid economic progress and showing signs of emerging as a major power despite their acts of depredation, sponsored by the ISI. Nothing less. I am not commenting on the latest incident at Deewana, near Panipat, because all the facts are not yet in.

11. We owe it to our Muslim co-citizens to see that their lives and property are protected, that they have the same opportunity for economic advance as the members of the majority community, that there is no discrimination against them---political, economic or social, that they are able to observe their religious practices as they wish so long as they observe the law of the land. At the same time, in our necessary attempts to win the hearts and minds of our Muslim community and redress their grievances, we should not under-emphasise the need to root out jihadi terrorism and the mind-set behind it from our territory. We should not project Pakistan as a born-again saint. It is not.

12. Five years after Godhra, there is a need for an introspection---by the Muslims and the secular elite of the brutality of those responsible for Godhra and by the Hindus and the Administration of how the subsequent riots were handled. If instead of doing so, we continue the national pastime of scoring points against one another, more acts of jihadi terrorism and more incidents of communal violence are waiting to happen.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: itschen36@gmail.com )

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