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The error of terror

There is no room for partisanship of any kind in the war against terror. The challenge is to rise above religious prejudices and revisit our pre-conceived notion of just who is a terrorist. Rajdeep Sardesai writes.

columns Updated: Jun 06, 2011 10:17 IST
Rajdeep Sardesai

If chain SMSes are a measure of the 'national' mood, then it's clear what the popular opinion has been after every terror attack in recent times. "Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but every terrorist is a Muslim" was a familiar SMS after every incident. But now, with Swami Aseemanand, who ran an RSS affiliate outfit, reportedly 'confessing' to the involvement of Hindu groups in many terror strikes over the last decade, there could be a twist in the tale. "If every terrorist is a Muslim, has Swami Aseemanand converted to Islam?" is the new counter-SMS.

The SMS wars might be dismissed as trivial if they weren't a pointer to a dangerous polarisation of minds. While Aseemanand's 'confession' per se needs to be corroborated with independent evidence for a successful prosecution, it does indicate a troubling trajectory of terror that goes well beyond the stereotype. So far, terror was seen either as a cross-border phenomenon or part of a larger 'jihadist' mindset. Now, if investigators are to be believed, there are at least a dozen terror incidents, across several states, which have been masterminded by terror groups inspired by Hindutva.

Unfortunately, instead of facing up to the national security implications, the reactions of the political class to the terror revelations have oscillated between denial and demonisation. The Sangh parivar, be it the RSS or the BJP, has chosen to live in denial, labelling the accusations as a Congress 'conspiracy', driven by a government which seeks to deflect public attention from corruption. While questions can be raised over the timing of the 'leaks', a strident defence of the accused is misplaced and only serves to undermine the credibility of the country's investigative agencies in fighting the war on terror.

On the other side of the divide, anti-Sangh groups have used the Aseemanand 'confession' to question the nationalistic credentials of every individual associated with the RSS. Demands have been made to re-investigate every recent blast case and release the accused from the minority community. While in some instances there has been a genuine miscarriage of justice, to suggest that Muslims have been victimised in every case is to reveal a lack of faith in the judicial process, one that can only widen the communal chasm.

Not surprisingly, Pakistan has chosen to exploit our embarrassment for its own propaganda purposes. By seeking more details on the Samjhauta train blasts, Pakistan wants to get its 'revenge' for being charged with failing to act against the 26/11 conspirators. Since the Samjhauta attack was officially described as the handiwork of the Lashkar, indications that it could have been done by Hindutva groups have provided Pakistanis ammunition to question our credentials to prosecute terror in a credible and non-partisan manner.

The truth is that partisanship of any kind must have no place in the war against terror. When a Rajnath Singh as BJP president visits Malegaon blast accused Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and claims she is 'innocent' and is being harassed by the state government, he is taking a political stance incompatible with the rule of law. Has he, or any BJP leader for that matter, attempted to empathise with innocent Muslim youth who may also be facing similar charges? Similarly, when senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh attends the release of a book on 26/11 that describes the attack as a RSS-Mossad-CIA 'conspiracy', he is only legitimising the forces that choose to see terror through a prism of religious hatred. Why doesn't he unambiguously reject such elements rather than flirt with them?

By politicising terror, our netas are guilty of doing grave disservice to our anti-terror investigative agencies, which need to desperately function independently of the political class. When a Bal Thackeray launched a scathing criticism of Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare for arresting Sadhvi Pragya, he was only reinforcing his image as an extra-constitutional Hindutva demagogue. Likewise, when a leader of the stature of LK Advani also chose to attack Karkare, he exposed himself to the charge of being a leader of a saffron brotherhood — not of the nation.

The challenge is to rise above religious prejudice when confronting terror. There must be a realisation that there are individual hotheads and organised groupings in both communities who are seeking to settle scores through mindless violence. In many instances, they prey on the fears of their co-religionists, creating a sense of 'victimhood' and a desire for 'revenge'. The worst thing one can do is to tap into these feelings of hatred by provocative acts of any kind. But that is precisely what happens when we seek to defend our 'own' even at the cost of the truth.

Which is why the Aseemanand 'confessions', if backed by scientific evidence, could prove to be a much-needed wake up call. For much too long, we have been defensive in using terms like 'Hindutva terror' even while openly identifying Islam with terror. The hypocrisy underlying these contrasting responses will no longer suffice. There is no point rationalising the activities of groups like Abhinav Bharat by suggesting that they represent 'fringe' elements. Fringe elements don't bomb places of worship or kill innocent civilians.

Equally, we need to recognise that the Indian Mujahideen is not a figment of imagination of the Intelligence Bureau but a dangerous, well-organised terror group that needs to be sternly dealt with. Most important, we need to start revisiting our pre-conceived notion of just who is a terrorist. How about a chain SMS that finally accepts that a terrorist knows no religion but the cult of violence?

Post-script: At a recent TV discussion, I asked terrorism expert, B Raman what advice he would like to give our politicians in combating terror. His no-nonsense response: "They should just shut up and let the investigators do their job!"

Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, IBN 18 Network. The views expressed by the author are personal.