Mangalore, Bangalore, Gorakhpur and now Indore. Do all these low-intensity clashes add up to something more worrying?
Yes, as a matter of fact they do. The Commission has issued a statement expressing disquiet and concern on this count. When you see them in their totality, you cannot escape two or three impressions. Firstly, we are not a society which is at peace with itself. Secondly, the law and order machinery is failing and what the State is supposed to do —provide protection to its citizens — is not being done. A lot of people absent-mindedly say that instances such as these are occurring because state elections are around the corner, but then that means that the functioning of our democratic system is dependent on such kind of violence. It’s a very disturbing thought.
That logic would only apply to Gorakhpur because UP is going to the polls. How does one explain the violence in Indore?
Reports tell us that it happened because of a Muharram procession. It isn’t that people in this country don’t know what Muharram is all about. It is a solemn occasion. Nobody is in an effusive state of mind, so why should a Muharram procession become an occasion for confrontation? Someone with a demented reason looking for an excuse sees a gathering of people and goes for it.
After Godhra, is this our darkest hour?
There are some disturbing trends and there can be no questions about that. These don’t just need to be monitored but also countered. The government has to — and must — do its job.
When you talk about the government, do you refer to the state or the Central government? The Centre could always say that the police are a part of the state machinery.
We are talking about India as a State. This argument about state and Central responsibility is sometimes used to pass the buck. Maintenance of civic peace is the responsibility of the state and eventually that of the Indian government.
Looking at what transpired in Mangalore and now in other parts, is the Indian Muslim feeling pushed back to the wall?
Civil right groups had anticipated signs of trouble in Mangalore. In the final analysis, it is always an administrative failure, whether it is Mangalore or Gorakhpur. There is a Bill sitting on the table of Parliament to ensure the non-occurrence of communal violence. Bills have to be debated, but sometimes the debating needs to stop and we have to get down and say that these are the rules by which you will play. We aren’t doing it because some people find it convenient not to do so.
Violence is said to have broken out in Bangalore after a few Muslims took out a procession to condemn the hanging of Saddam Hussein. What kind of an impact do international events such as this have on the Indian Muslim psyche?
The invasion of Iraq, in the first place, was illegal. Not that Saddam Hussein was a paragon of virtue, most certainly not. But two wrongs don’t make a right. The manner in which they did it was clumsy. You don’t hang a man on the day of a festival in any part of the world. Having done that, you can say your bit about the wrong of it. What some of the political groups have been saying in India is an exaggerated expression of their anger and their grief because they want local political capital out of this. It’s alright to say that the Americans were wrong or that they are bad but that doesn’t mean that you take out a procession and start pelting shops with stones. So whoever took out those processions was being stupid as far as I can see it. But then how does it get converted into a communal riot?
From what you are saying, would it be prudent to infer that all these clashes occur because some political party or force is desperate to stir things up?
Naturally! It is always possible for two people on the street to break into a quarrel. But for a quarrel to turn into a riot requires someone seeing an advantage in blowing it up.
A fair number of people in India believe that for Muslims, Islam comes before the nation. With events such as the Danish cartoon controversy, this feeling is also gaining currency abroad. Are such stereotypes weighing down the Indian Muslim?
There is a view that you are an entity with a single identity. Your Indian identity subsumes and supersedes all other identities. But the truth of the matter is that we have multiple identities. The decision is mine as to which identity I invoke at what given point in time. So if a Muslim feels that he is connected to co-religionists elsewhere or if a Harvard graduate feels connected to the Harvard alumni, there is nothing wrong with it.
Isn’t there a danger that if not controlled, one of these low-intensity clashes is going to take the form of a full-fledged and national Babri-like riot sooner or later?
Sometime last year, Dr. Manmohan Singh had said something very perceptive. He had said that all our problems are domestic problems. I think nothing is more important than communal and class cohesion. Our social cohesion is what is at stress and we have to sit up and address that problem.