The death of Hemant Karkare, the chief of Maharashtra’s Anti-Terrorist Squad, in the battle against jihadi terrorists in Mumbai, puts the recent squabble over the term ‘Hindu’ terror into perspective. The alleged involvement of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Lt Col Purohit and Swami Dayanand Pandey with the terrorist explosions in Malegaon had lazy journalists using the term as a kind of tabloid short hand.
Spokesmen for the BJP and commentators sympathetic to the Sangh Parivar objected to the use of Hindu in this adjectival way and they were right. To assimilate a large law-abiding community to the violence of a few bigots is not just politically incorrect, it is dangerously polarising. Hindutva or Hindutva-vadi terror is more accurate and more appropriate, just as the term ‘Islamist’ is used to distinguish violence by jihadi Muslims from Islam in general or Muslims as a community.
But the Sangh Parivar’s objection to the term doesn’t spring from such intellectual scruple. It is born of the need to deny that Hindus can be associated with terror at all. For L.K. Advani and Praveen Togadia, the offence lies in the suggestion that there can be any equivalence between violence by Muslims and violence by Hindus. The reason Hindus can’t be terrorists is that in Hindutva lore, Hindus have historically been victims and victims can’t be perpetrators.
This, however, was not something that could be categorically stated in a situation where Anti Terrorist Squads, hitherto notable for their pursuit of Muslim suspects, had begun to brief the press about the evidence they had accumulated against the Sadhvi, the Swami and the Colonel. Notorious as Indian police agencies are for their inability to make prosecutable cases against alleged terrorists, the chance that they did have the goods on the Malegaon suspects forced the Sangh Parivar to make its case for blanket Hindu innocence in a more roundabout way.
The opening gambit was to say that justice should take its course and the guilty ought to be punished. This was read by some to mean that the BJP and the RSS were distancing themselves from the more extreme Hindu groups like Abhinav Bharat, which have been linked by the police to the Malegaon suspects. But after a momentary hesitation when the story broke, the Sangh Parivar embraced the accused.
The BJP announced its intention to provide them with legal aid (this after becoming apoplectic when the vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia extended the same facility to students arrested for an alleged involvement in terrorist incidents), it accused the ATS of torturing Pragya Singh Thakur, it criticised Karkare for doing the bidding of his Congress masters, it lobbied for the case to be removed from the jurisdiction of the ATS and called for a judicial investigation.
The next rhetorical move was to argue that unlikely though it was that Hindus could be terrorists, even if it were allowed (for the sake of argument) that the suspects had been responsible for setting off the Malegaon bombs, the context of their actions absolved them morally, or, at the very least, mitigated their guilt.
This context was, of course, the historically constant state of victimhood in which all Hindus lived. It followed, then, that if Hindus were guilty of terror, it was terror of a lesser order, it fell under the category of ‘understandable’ violence. One commentator even found a term for it: ‘retributive terror’. From ‘retributive terror’ it is a short step to the ‘cleansing violence’ so beloved of ethnic hygienists.
The opportunism, the dishonesty, the moral squalor of this position has been thrown into high relief by the deaths of policemen like Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar. These men who died fighting Islamist terror were the same people who had been investigating the possible involvement of Hindu suspects in terrorist explosions in Malegaon and elsewhere. For this they were pilloried by the BJP; now the leaders of that party are queuing up to hail them as Indian heroes, as martyrs in the war against terror. Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi decided to visit Karkare’s family to offer his condolences and a crore of rupees. The ATS chief’s widow didn’t meet him and refused to take his money.
A party that condemns policemen one day for investigating terror suspects and then commends them the next day for dying while fighting the good fight against terror (because it sees Hindus as intrinsically innocent and Muslims as congenitally guilty) is unfit to rule. To defeat terrorism India needs intelligence that’s gathered and acted upon by clear-eyed, even-handed policemen. The last thing we need is to have these policemen bullied by politicians who are blinkered by prejudice and made stupid by bigotry.
Mukul Kesavan is the author of Secular Commonsense.