Terror Trails

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After the horrific terror attacks in Mumbai, the international community is leaning heavily on Pakistan to act against forces that have placed themselves outside the pale of  the law but were subsisting mostly because of technicalities, or because the state simply wished to avoid getting into complications.

The prime minister’s finger-pointing at Pakistan – in line with India’s stock response to such tragedies –  seems to have acquired substance in subsequent developments, as New Delhi’s targeting appears to have found its mark, although courtesy the United Nations. The international response this time is markedly at variance with previous occasions, in that earlier Pakistan had escaped opprobrium as the swift and strident demands to get cracking were not forthcoming. Cynics might say that foreign and Jewish victims in Mumbai might have something to do with that. Be that as it may, the “victim-hood” of India has been established, as has been the Pakistani origin of the trouble.        

But the great danger here is that in the flush of self-congratulatory vindication, India may feel tempted to slip into a state of complacence with regard to the numerous sores that have been left to fester within its own territory, and are entirely its own doing. New Delhi’s record in redressing grievous wrong done to minority communities in what has come to be known as “mob terror” is far from glorious. What compounds the enormity is that, unlike in the case of Mumbai, the outrages have not been perpetrated by “non-state actors” but have been actively incited, inspired and directed by organs of the state, not to speak of figures that have gone on to become icons of national pride.  

An entirely new and startling aspect to the terror attacks in India had emerged in the investigations into the Malegaon blasts, amply indicating that dumping the blame on Muslim elements within the country or at forces across the border every time such tragedies hit the land is simply a gross error. Dimensions hitherto brushed under the carpet need to see the light of the day for a credible closure to outrages like Godhra and Samjhauta Express incidents. The revelations about the saffron tinge to homeland terror might have substantiated what many had suspected for long, but the chances of the leads being pursued with any amount of seriousness appear bleak after the carnage in Mumbai, particularly when the man in charge of the inquiry has been fatally targeted.

In the present instance, evidence is said to link the Mumbai bloodbath to origins in Pakistan, which may be plausible because of certain factors. But sight must not be lost of the fact that Pakistan itself is reeling under a spate of terrorist attacks one of which has claimed the life of its foremost leader. And the country is in the throes of a ferocious backlash to its military campaign in the tribal belts bordering Afghanistan. The Pak establishment is combating the common perception of having buckled under US pressure and giving the latter tacit military latitude in its territory, together with having to contend with violence in the heartland – the spillover of its war in the west which it is accused of waging at the behest of the Americans. What lends a degree of plausibility to Mumbai’s claimed Pakistan links could be the desperation of the beleaguered militants on the Afghan border to relieve pressure from the Pak military forces. They could well have gambled on kicking up a nasty situation on Pakistan’s frontier with India by giving New Delhi sufficient cause to activate its western flank, which in turn could have led Islamabad to disengage from its anti-militant campaign along the Durand Line and amass troops to face the threat from across the Radcliffe Line. Well, the gamble has not paid off, so far. Perhaps because of the realization in India that, as the Pakistan president later put it, Mumbai could have been the handiwork of “non-state actors.”  

For India, countering the hydra-headed monster of terrorism begins by looking inwards. The seething mass of discontent and dismay is not a nebulous figment of the apologist imagination but a hard reality that cannot be wished away, or driven away by a witch hunt of convenient scapegoats.  Most of the roots lie in the manner in which the Indian state has handled communal cataclysms like the Babri Masjid demolition, the anti-Muslim riots in Bombay and the Gujarat rapine. The chief architect of the Babri Masjid demolition and the communal polarization caused by the Ram Temple campaign, not to mention the slaughter of Muslims in Bombay in which the administrative machinery, including the police, had an active hand, is today a prime minister-in-waiting. This self-styled mascot of Indian pride single-handedly split the country right down the communal middle and literally waded through blood to the throne.

The Indian state is bringing all its resources to bear to hunt down the perpetrators of the Mumbai blasts of 1993. But what about the triggering factor, the preceding slaughter of thousands of Muslims in the city with the active complicity of the organs of the state, notably the police?  For all the law enforcers have done to indict the culpable, and resolve the victims, the slaughter may never have happened. The riots, and fixing responsibility for them, have totally disappeared from the radar screens of the Indian leadership because the Muslims of India are nothing more than an expendable minority. Had it been otherwise, at least the police officers caught directing blood-thirsty mobs and standing by idly while Muslims were being virtually lynched would have long been unfrocked and punished. And let’s not talk about Gujarat, where that famous champion of the “action and reaction” philosophy has been encouraged to the point of harbouring ambitions for the prime minister’s office.

The unwillingness, nay the inability, of the Indian state to redress grievous wrongs done to Muslims is not likely to foster the faith of the bloodied community in the country’s institutions. There is absolutely no room for self-righteous anger when the sense of rage, accumulated by hurt piled upon hurt, and multiplied by an absolute absence of redress, finds a vicious outlet. In more ways than one, the trails of terror in India point homewards. So long as the likes of L.K. Advani and Narendra Modi go on with impunity, so long as trident-wielding mobs feel free to target defenceless minorities, so long as the victims of majority communalism are left unresolved through justice, there is no chance of the pent-up resentment in Indian Muslims subsiding. When a community is deliberately, and repeatedly, cut off from, and denied, all forms of redress, what is to prevent elements within it to strike out in blind reaction?

As the international screws are tightened on Pakistan, New Delhi must not overlook that people who ought to have been in jail are at the forefront of India’s public life. What signals does that send to the wronged multitude?

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