A Recipe for Civil War
Published: August 4, 2011 - 14:59
Why should sinister forces who incite organised violence be allowed to escape the long arm of the law?
Tanweer Fazal Delhi
Perhaps what distinguishes terrorism from all other mass-murders, annihilations and carnages is the alacrity with which guilt is assigned, sometimes even prior to the actual act of terror. In public memory, the individual terrorist is a nameless, faceless person, but it is his/her cultural affiliation, ethnic and blood ties that make a permanent imprint. Reactions to the bomb blasts in Mumbai could have marked a shift had the initial restraint displayed by police and political establishments been adhered to. Instead, unsubstantiated half-truths and speculations have begun circulating.
Jehadi terrorism, Lashkar-i-Toiba, Indian Mujahideen (IM), SIMI, Harkat-ul-Jihad have once again found their pride of place in media reports. Organiser, the RSS mouthpiece, followed suit with its favourite aphorism — minority appeasement. In the cacophony, politician Subramanian Swamy’s prescriptions (DNA, July 13 2011) on how to combat ‘Islamic terrorism’ has created a certain hysteria, not for the merit of the argument, but for the brazenness with which it seeks to disseminate hostilities. This moves in symphony with the abjectly xenophobic Hindutva mindset, untouched by knowledge systems, human decency, social sensitivity or logical rationality.
The desire that Hindus should unite and rise against purportedly Islamic terrorism serves the very raison d’etre of terrorism than actually challenging it. For all that terrorism aims to achieve is maximum mayhem through the few acts of stealth that they can manage. To this end, none of these acts of terror — Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad, or for that matter, Ajmer, Hyderabad, Samjhauta and Malegaon — have been able to secure the sanction of faiths and communities on behalf of whom they claim to have acted.
Neither has the supposed IM’s declaration of jehad and call to all Muslims to unite and answer “the irresolute kafireens of India” enthused any Muslim organisation worth the name, nor have Sadhvi Pragya and her ilk been able to fire the imagination of the Hindu youth and draw their admiration. Thus, the failed project of terrorism could have sought succour and solace only in the divisive statements of Swamy’s kind.
The call for vengeance is also bound to fail for two clear reasons. One is the distinctly Indian unease with extreme ideologies and thought patterns. It is this prevailing ethos that has relegated formations such as Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, Abhinav Bharat, Hindu Munnani, the militant Mann faction of the Akali Dal, and the violent Babbar Khalsa, Jamaat-e-Islami and SIMI (even before its castigation as illegal), or the various extremist organisations of secular hue, to the margins of politics. Their days of splendour, if at all in the past, have usually been short-lived. This collective resilience reinforced Madani’s Muttahida Qaumiyat from which Indian Muslims have derived their meanings of existence, much as it was celebrated by Gandhi’s Sarva Dharma Sambhav. Subramanian Swamy, Pravin Togadia, Ashok Singhal, and their chums, of course, read these as signs of ‘Hindu meekness’.
The second reason springs from this blinkered comprehension that relishes in putting Islam, Muslims and terrorism in the same analytical basket. For ordinary Hindus and Muslims, it’s a much wearied inference that betrays history as it unfolds. For who would accept that religious motives propel acts of retribution when the raging battle within Islam has led to innumerable deaths in neighbouring Pakistan; when an apparently ‘secular’ LTTE could carry out the maximum number of suicide operations with a great degree of precision; when an irreligious ULFA stands accused of massacring Bihari labourers, Bengali Muslim settlers and tribal tea-workers alike.
There are multiple fallacies that Swamy cherishes, including his misreading of reports of riot inquiry commissions that are cited as evidence of Muslim culpability in communal violence. This common identity of the perpetrators makes communal violence of the past analogous to the terrorist strikes of the present times. Surely, the myth of the Muslim aggressor is oft-repeated (remember Narendra Modi’s deployment of the Newtonian principle during the State-sponsored Gujarat carnage in 2002), but rarely presented with such appalling inaccuracy. On the contrary, the archetypal Hindu-Muslim violence that emerges from a reading of these reports is one ignited and engineered by Hindutva groups.
As early as in 1970, the Madon Commission held the Rashtriya Utsav Mandal, an affiliate of Bharatiya Jan Sangh (the former incarnation of BJP), responsible for riots in Bhiwandi. Vithyathil Commission (1971) traced the beginning of the communal tension in Telicherry to the opening of RSS and Jan Sangh units in the region. Closer to our times, the Srikrishna Commission castigated the Congress government and the Bombay police for dragging its feet against top leaders of Shiv Sena (BJP’s ally) directly active in the 1992-93 Bombay pogrom against Muslims. The presence of such fire-igniters is critical in the emergence of ‘institutionalised riot systems’ in certain violence-prone cities, social scientist Paul Brass contends. The way ‘Friends of Swamy’ would react to such indictments is anybody’s guess.
A note of caution is important. The reference to specifically Hindutva groups does not deny the presence of radical tendencies among certain sections of Indian Muslims. The gradual radicalisation of SIMI, for example, has been observed by many commentators. It has been made to pay heavily for it, though, and continues to do so — it’s a banned organisation and its former members are arrested, often without substantial evidence.
On the contrary, few would disagree that the impunity and influence that militant Hindutva has enjoyed remains unparalleled. Much of this has happened through blame-displacement and prejudicial profiling of the perpetrators — both by State functionaries as much as by their votaries in the media and civil society. Such religious profiling has only proved to be counterproductive — shoddy investigations resulting in frame-ups which serve to add to the list of complaints that minorities nurse against the majoritarian impulses of the State.
Hyderbad’s Mecca Masjid and Malegaon blast cases are two such concrete examples, with parallels to the Alfred Dreyfus affair of late-19th-century France in which the false incarceration and life imprisonment of a Jewish artillery officer sowed the seeds of alienation and disaffection among European Jews. (Great French writer Émile Zola wrote an open letter (January 13, 1898), published on the front page of the liberal L’Aurore. Addressed to French President Félix Faure, the letter accused the government of anti-Semitism, judicial fabrications, and illegal imprisonment of the young official. The letter created a storm in France and abroad. Zola was charged as guilty of libel in February 1898. To avoid imprisonment, he fled to England, returning home in June 1899. In 1906, Dreyfus was exonerated. He was taken back as a major in the French Army.)
The absence of a vertical unity among Hindus — blinded to caste, class and regional cleavages — is what RSS-VHP ideologues as well as Subramanian Swamy and his fellow travellers so deeply lament. But where this unity would be anchored is the moot question — in the thoughts of the Shankarcharyas and those derived from the Dharmashastras, or the one enshrined in the writings of Jyotiba Phule, Dr BR Ambedkar and Periyar? Should it be based on the philosophy of the Vedas or in the materialist thoughts of Charvak and Shramanism?
The Hindutva ideal is Sanatana Hinduism that idealises the varna/caste hierarchy. Hindu unity then — as such ideologies seek — is essentially construed upon ‘anti-minorityism’ and xenophobic jingoism.
The smoke between patriotism and mischief needs to be cleared. Jingoism and chauvinism could be the distant cousins of patriotism, but mischief has no sibling. Calling to arm 120 crore Hindus against Muslim citizens, provocations to demolish 300-odd mosques, and threats of disenfranchising non-Hindus are not innocent utterances. Swamy’s prescriptions are a recipe for civil war, genocide and fascism.
Free speech is often the disguise for hatred and prejudice, but as the Declaration of Rights of Man clearly stated, “every citizen may speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law”. Why should Subramanian Swamy’s mischief be allowed to escape the long arm of law? Or, that of his sinister friends, with or without their masks?
The writer teaches at Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi