What has long been suspected is now in the open. How will mainstream politics deal with Hindutva terror?, asks an EPW editorial.
Terror strikes, which randomly kill people who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, unhinge all reason. They breed intolerance and create conditions under which ordinary people are willing to abandon common sense. Part of the intent of terrorism is that it creates the conditions in which “quack” remedies gain legitimacy. This comes in part from the seeming simplicity of these remedies, as also from their conformity with an existing template on terrorism.
That template was created in India soon after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States. Though various authors have contributed to the master-narrative, none has left as distinct an imprint as Narendra Modi, then the principal spokesman of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Yet to become chief minister of Gujarat and with the horrors of February 2002 still a distant glimmer, Modi pronounced the mantra that has seemingly become the catechism for all official investigations: even if all Muslims are not terrorists, all terrorists are Muslims.
This is the template that was broken late in October by the discovery of an elaborate network of terrorism involving the faithful of the Hindutva flock. The plot began to unravel with the arrest of a retired army officer in Pune and a woman from Bhind in Madhya Pradesh, who was once active in the students’ wing of the BJP before she assumed the title of sadhvi. To great consternation all around, the investigations soon identified a lieutenantcolonel working with military intelligence and stationed in Jammu as a key player in the network. And as the investigations progressed into the bombings on 29 September, in Malegaon in Maharashtra and Modasa in Gujarat, another saffron-robed religious preacher, normally based in Jammu, was arrested from a village of Kanpur district in Uttar Pradesh.
The Hindutva political fraternity, stung to the quick, reacted with allegations of a frame-up. Modi joined the fray with dark imprecations about a plot to undermine military morale. Propagandists for Hindutva in the media in turn have sought to draw a distinction between “terrorism” and “vigilantism” – the one born in the stated desire to destroy the nation state, the other spawned by the growing sense of frustration among the righteous majority at the State’s failure to safeguard lives and liberties.
What all the sophistry fails to cover up is that the reflexive belief – those of the Islamic faith alone are responsible for terrorism – has created a cloak of impunity under which every manner of atrocity has flourished. It is conveniently overlooked that places of Islamic reverence have often been targeted in lethal bomb attacks – as with the cemetery adjacent to a mosque in Malegaon in September 2006 and the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad in May 2007.
These incidents have been easily subsumed within the masternarrative of jihadi terror by invoking the visceral animosity that adherents of Wahhabi Islam supposedly harbour towards the syncretism of subcontinental religious practice. Police investigations, guided by this quack diagnosis, have targeted innocent Muslims by the scores. As recently as 4 November, four suspects held for varying lengths of time for supposed involvement in the Mecca Masjid bombings were acquitted by a Hyderabad court of all charges. They narrated sordid stories of torture, forced confessions and finally, of trials that were they not so tragic, could only be described as farcical. Similar stories of arbitrary arrest and torture have emerged from Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Malegaon, Mumbai, Varanasi and Delhi, to name only a few cities that have witnessed terrorist atrocities in recent years.
In few cases have the investigations into jihadi terrorism managed to produce credible evidence that will stand judicial scrutiny. In virtually all of them, the police have brought charges and pressed for conviction almost solely on the basis of confessions obtained in highly questionable circumstances. This includes the many charges brought against the alleged perpetrators of the acts of terror organised by the “Indian Mujahiddin”.
These new expediencies in investigation need to be read in the light of the growing clamour from Hindutva political forces that a law specific to the menace of terrorism needs to be brought in, which would make confessions in police custody admissible as evidence in court. They need to be seen in conjunction with the weak-kneed and amoral response of the editorialists and the liberal fringe in politics: that the Indian people should be prepared for an abridgement of their rights to defeat terrorism.
Few have so far paused to question why the Indian people should surrender the freedom of which they have so little. But with the discovery of Hindutva’s terrorism link, there is a possibility, though still remote, of a paradigm shift in perceptions – a shift of potentially far-reaching benefits for all. Needless to say, this is a possibility that will only be realised if the political apologists for Hindutva are subjected to the processes of accountability demanded by the rule of law.