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Putting mind over matter

columns Updated: Oct 09, 2009 14:37 IST

Just how many masterminds does it take to run a terror bombing spree? The Delhi police have nominated Mohammad Atif Amin chief of the Indian Mujahideen. Not to be outdone, the Mumbai police have claimed he’s a pale shadow of Mohammad Sadiq Shaikh. And as police forces of other states affected by terror get into the spirit of the thing, perhaps we’ll see even more masterminds being pulled out of khaki caps.

We used to have international terrorists scrambling to claim responsibility after every bombing. “I did it,” crowed Yasser Arafat. “Bosh, it was me,” retorted Abu Nidal. “They’re both impotent liars!” shouted Muammar Gaddafi. “They’re all liars, it was me,” murmured an obscure Punjabi in Toronto. Now, we’re seeing an inverted image of that rivalry in India, with the cops competing with each other to give credit to arrested terrorists. To credit them, in fact, with all bombings in India from the Mumbai train blasts on.

Sure, there is a terrorist network in India. Over the last few years, it’s offered explosive proof of its existence. But the question is, are a few kids from Azamgarh responsible for all this, or are the police building up a case out of proportion with the evidence? The accused have confessed to everything but, given the pressures on them, I’m surprised they haven’t also confessed to complicity in 9/11 and maybe even Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. Of course, these confessions are largely inadmissible in court.

Ah, yes, the court. In our era of conviction before trial we’ve almost forgotten about that grand institution, which alone is empowered to tell truth from falsehood. It was the court, remember, which saved the Delhi University lecturer S.A.R. Geelani from a nationwide lynch mob in the Parliament attack case and put away Gujarat cop D.G. Vanzara for murdering Sohrabuddin in a fake encounter. So maybe we should lay off on trial by talking heads and discourage the police from announcing successes in press conferences, as if they were launching their autumn collection.

Anyway, just how useful is media debate in our political culture? The motive behind the Delhi blasts was visible on the very first day. The Indian Mujahideen email claiming responsibility asked why Sangh parivar action, such as the Gujarat ‘riots’ or the current anti-Christian violence, is treated as a law and order matter while Muslim violence is categorised as terrorism. You don’t have to be a Master Mind champ to figure out that the unequal treatment of communities is a provocation for the terror wave. But how many of the talking heads have even noticed?

(Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine)