With the Centre flirting with the Narendra Modi model, don't rule out the possibility of bombs, masterminds and encounters fuzzing the distinction between ‘secular' and ‘communal' parties in the days to come
Hardnews Bureau Delhi
On August 17, Gujarat's pugnacious chief minister, Narendra Modi, found a willing audience in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Modi got 20 minutes with the PM to explain to him the threat Islamic terror represented by the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and its alleged new avatar, Indian Mujahiddeen (IM), posed to the nation. So enthralled and impressed was the PM with Modi and his information about the shadowy world of the Mujahideen that he summoned National Security Advisor (NSA) MK Narayanan to join him.
A triumphant Modi later told the media that he had used this meeting to caution the PM of the looming threat of terror attacks in other Indian cities and the compelling need to first pass the Gujarat anti-terror act and later to replicate it all over the country. The NSA became an instant convert to Modi's prescription to enact a tough terror law in the country. Terror was militarising mindsets and the country's first cop was the first to fall for it.
Subsequently, Modi also informed that he had cautioned the PM about the impending terror strikes in Delhi and other areas. So when the bombs
blew up in Delhi killing 25 people and maiming scores of others, a pumped-up Modi had a reason
to claim vindication.
Although it is fine if there is intelligence and wisdom-sharing among politicians, what is really bizarre is the manner in which Modi emerged from the meeting with the impression that his intrepid police had cracked the nation-wide terror network and he had been able to achieve more than a foundering Central government could ever dream of. Nothing could be further from truth.
The arrest of Azamgarh-based Mufti Abu Bashir and ten others was not just the enterprise of the Gujarat police, but it was facilitated by the intelligence provided by central agencies (read the Intelligence Bureau (IB)). What is really intriguing was the manner in which Modi was allowed to put his stamp on the terror probe and reinforce his image as the alpha male capable of saving the god-fearing Hindus from the fangs of Islamic terror. No one would really own it up in the central government, but Modi was given legitimacy for his past and present actions that had not been given before.
What does this really mean? Is Manmohan Singh playing smart politics by deepening the cleavage between BJP's prime ministerial aspirant, LK Advani, and the new mascot of aggressive nationalist Hindutva chauvinism, Narendra Modi, by giving the young pretender greater attention and respect? Or is there more to it than meets the eye?
The truth is that Islamic terror is re-shaping alliances, both geo-politically as well as domestically. It is allowing people like Narendra Modi, trashed for many years for his dubious role during the Gujarat carnage, to repackage himself and step out as a strong leader whom the country awaits. What we are also witnessing in a certain way is the firming up of alliances between the ruling elite within the country as well as outside to take on what are perceived as forces of social disruption. The recipe for countering these forces is use of more police, strengthening intelligence network and tougher terror laws rather than strengthening law-based institutions that dispense justice fairly and objectively. Also, such a strategy does not include attempts to bring about inclusive development in society - a fact so glaringly brought out by the Sachar Committee report.
The acquittal that the Nanavati Commission has given to Modi for his alleged role during the post-Godhra killings is yet another move to give greater acceptability to him as the BJP prepares for elections. The allegations of criminal complicity in the Gujarat genocide that were cramping him from pursuing national ambitions would become meaningless due to the Nanavati report.
This vulgar cooption of Modi by the establishment represents a bizarre twist to politics as well as the way it wants to fight modern day terror. Clearly, the UPA government, which rode to power after projecting itself as a counterpoint to the politics of hate pursued by Modi and the BJP and which was backed by the ‘secular' Left for most of its tenure to block the "communal BJP" is having a rethink on how it should countenance the minorities and their increasing angst towards an unjust State. There is a manifest shift in the way the Centre wants to take on the threat from the IM and other clones.
The fact is that the Congress-led UPA government wants to use some of the methods that were used in Gujarat by Modi - that drew a leaf from the way the Israelis have been fighting Palestinians in the occupied territory. In Gujarat, the police and administration, during the post-Godhra rapes, arson, violence and killings, allegedly behaved as the arm of the Hindutva forces and hammered the minorities in a manner not noticed in post-independent India. It was this approach that coloured the investigation of the police into the Gujarat killings - a fact that has provoked a strong censure from the Supreme Court.
Interestingly, this approach is slowly gaining public acceptance due to the serial bomb blasts that took place in Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, and now in Delhi. There is apparently a clamour in the middle class for a strong government that deals with terror. Before Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil acquitted himself after the arrest of some IM's alleged operatives, there was a demand that he should be jettisoned in favour of someone more proactive and robust within the Congress. It was from this standpoint that Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who once held the internal security portfolio at the Centre, was recommended for this important job.
The convergence of views at display between Modi and a section of the ruling law enforcement establishment stems from an important recognition that non-statist Islamic outfits are subverting democratic institutions and they have to be fought and defeated if a civil democratic order has to survive. Bombs are reshaping thinking and politics in the country and the neighbourhood like never before. The BJP realises that the next assembly elections could be fought on the issue of internal security and hence are repeating it ad nauseum from every fora. They are pumped up because they see a bounce in their fortunes after the government allowed the Amarnath issue to fester in Jammu and Kashmir. They believe that the upper caste middle class in the urban areas would crave for a strong party in the next parliamentary elections and their search could just end with them.
The manner in which hate-based violence has been organised against minorities in different parts of the country indicates that Hindu chauvinists can smell blood. "Even the violence unleashed against the Christians is meant to convey a message to the Muslims," claimed an observer. This is, however, one part of the story.
The manner in which terror, as an issue, has come to the centre-stage of the national agenda of both India and Pakistan is likely to please some of the western powers who have been insisting that the violence induced by extremist Islamic outfits is the handiwork of global terror networks that are based in the lawless frontiers of Pakistan. These outfits allegedly have been sustained by the infamous
Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of the Pakistani defence forces who are pursuing a deep strategy to prevent India from gaining a friendly toehold
The US government blamed Pakistan's ISI for the horrific bombing of the Kabul-based Indian embassy in July this year. At that time, there were quiet suggestions made by western diplomats that this incident should be reason enough for Indian armed forces to put its boots inside the war-racked country. To the credit of the Indian government, it did not fall for this murderous advice which would have made them fight someone else's war.
However, the US armed forces, fortified by a July presidential order, has been making noisy ingresses into the Pakistani border to tame the independent tribals that live in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) valley. The US army action has led to mass outrage in Pakistan forcing army chief Kayani to order his troops to fire at anyone who dares to violate the country's sovereignty. American pressure to act against militants in Bajaur agency has had murderous and bloody implications. Scores of tribal fighters and groups backed by the Taliban have died in Pakistani army operations, who have hit back by blowing up the heavily fortified Marriott Hotel in capital Islamabad. Pakistan is on the razor's edge, with Asif Ali Zardari looking increasingly clueless about how to manage the situation.
Pakistan's misery is exacerbated by its pitiable financial state. The dilemma for them is that more they are seen to be leaning on the US, more they lose public support, thus allowing the Taliban to gain further control over their urban and rural centres. Not too long back, parts of Peshawar were under the militants sway till they were ejected by the army. To effectively take on the FATA tribals, Pakistan needs to shift its divisions from the Indian border towards Afghanistan. Barack Obama, during his visit to Afghanistan, had said that the US could give guarantees that their borders with India would remain secure if they shift their troops from one sector to another. These guarantees are unlikely to work between deeply suspicious nations.
Hate has defined the politics of both the Hindu and Muslim extremist organisations. There are domestic compulsions driven by internal fundamentalist forces and the politics of xenophobia. Recent terror attacks could engulf this region with another round of mindless war. This is notwithstanding all the confidence building measures (CBMs) announced by the two governments in New York.
Even Manmohan Singh, in the immediate aftermath of the Delhi bomb blasts, had blamed Pakistan-based terror outfits, but expressed anxiety over the local roots that terror had struck in the country. By this statement, the PM made it amply clear that Pakistan remained the epicentre of terrorism even if its government was not involved. During his visit to Havana in 2006, the PM had made it clear that Pakistan, too, was a victim of terror. His remarks came under a lot of flak from the BJP then, but this provided a substantive breakthrough in restoring some kind of civility to the dialogue that was taking place between the two countries.
Earlier, whenever there was any terror strike in India, the police routinely blamed the ISI. The two governments also put together a mechanism to share evidence of terror strikes. The blasts at Samjhauta Express was the test case, but the Pakistani side claims that Indians have not been able to provide quality evidence to nail the ISI hand. On the contrary, there are rumours that Indian authorities blanched when they found footprints of some Hindu outfits in the blast. It is reliably learnt that the involvement of Hindutva outfits in some of the blasts is likely to emerge shortly.
This differently layered violence-ridden politics is getting distorted, as elucidated above, by law enforcement agencies that are using communal profiling to crack some of these blasts cases. The recent encounter in Delhi is a case in point. According to intelligence sources, while some of those killed and arrested in Jamia Nagar encounter may have been involved in the Delhi blasts, the manner in which the police has gone about its job has incensed the entire Muslim community. What disturbs many is the manner in which the entire community has been tarred with no political party really standing up to say that the police needs to be careful and meticulous, before jumping to any conclusions.
The origin of terror in India has little to do with Al-Qaida. The criminal justice system has failed to haul up criminals responsible for the pogrom in Gujarat and Mumbai where ordinary Muslims were systematically targeted and butchered. On both counts the Indian State failed to assuage the hurt feelings of the bloodied minorities in Gujarat and Maharashtra. Many of those who have been arrested in recent times in different parts of the country have been indoctrinated by watching the Gujarat genocide of 2002.
Surely, if the UPA government had taken action against Modi, the police, and his Hindutva cohorts who organised the massacre in several places with the help of the police, rather than choosing to mollycoddle him, the country would not have gone through this relentless bloodletting. Also, it would not have created a fertile ground for Islamic hotheads to pick up new recruits for their diabolical cause - even while the entire Muslim community gets demonised by State terror and the media. Indeed, with Modi and his perverse brand of sectarian politics finding favour with the present dispensation, expect India and the region to seethe with hate, violence and rage. While ordinary citizens across the class, caste and religious spectrum will be hit with this tragedy, that injustice, and general violation of fundamental human rights. Surely, from this twilight zone of fear, helplessness and uncertainty, till the general elections are held next year in India, don't rule out the possibility of bombs, arrests of ‘masterminds' and encounters fuzzing the distinction between ‘secular' and ‘communal' parties.