Sunday, February 24, 2013

Victimisation bogey eroding India's peace

By Swapan Dasgupta

It is probably absolutely grotesque to even suggest that any Indian, apart from a handful of the totally demented, would derive satisfaction over the blasts in Hyderabad that killed 15 people on Wednesday evening. Yet, at the risk of sounding wilfully outrageous, I would venture the suggestion that there exists a band of people who will argue that “the country had it coming”.

Such a perverse response had, in fact, been articulated by some ultra-radical and ultra-liberal European and West Asian intellectuals after the 9/11 attacks. To them, the world was shaped by a clash between a series of Muslim grievances (that, apart from Palestine and Bosnia, also included Kashmir) and the smugness of the West-Zionist alliance. India, predictably, was lumped with the latter.

We are yet unclear as to whether the terrorist module that carried out the bombings was driven by the determination to extract revenge for the execution of convicted terrorist conspirator Afzal Guru. If the ever-smiling Home Minister’s suggestion that certain cities had been alerted to the possibility of a terrorist attack after Afzal’s hanging is true, it would seem that the likelihood of the Hyderabad attack being a tit-for-tat incident should not be entirely discounted—at least at this stage of the inquiry.

Whenever an incident like the Hyderabad bombings take place, the political class and the voluble media rush to point an accusing finger at flat-footed policemen and an over-politicised intelligence apparatus. The exasperation with the state apparatus is perfectly understandable. There is enough evidence to indicate that India’s policing priorities are horribly skewed. There is an over-emphasis, for example, on VIP security which leads to police deployment in all the wrong places. There is also a needless preoccupation with political intelligence, including election management. And finally, there is the preoccupation with using the police and intelligence agencies to settle political scores—the latest being attempts to ‘fix’ Gujarat politician Amit Shah and the bid to manufacture an imaginary phenomenon called “Hindu terror” that can be used as a stick to beat the BJP with.

That these distortions need urgent correction is by now well acknowledged and even appreciated by police officers, including those who grudgingly dance to the tune of the ruling dispensation for the sake of career advancement. Leader of Opposition (Rajya Sabha) Arun Jaitley made a passionate plea in Parliament last Friday of the importance that must be attached to the de-politicisation of the police, particularly the wings that are involved in counter-terrorism. It is hoped that he plays a role in incorporating the promise to professionalise the law and order machinery in the manifesto of the NDA for 2014.

A series of incidents, including terrorism, the safety of women and investigations of financial crimes, have served to place police reforms on the political agenda. However, the battle against terrorism isn’t merely about having alert beat constables, tech-savvy officers and a single-minded determination to get to the bottom of each and every terrorist crime. The term ‘roots of terrorism’ has been discredited by the inclination of do-gooders and human rights entrepreneurs to locate terrorist motivation in the imagined sense of hurt of the perpetrators. Yet, if the baggage of indignation is removed from the need to also explore the larger environment, there is a case for understanding why a city such as Hyderabad has become a breeding ground for every conceivable act of treachery.

Assume, as is being hinted, that the initial finger of suspicion points to the Indian Mujahedeen, it is important to understand that the rebellion of a small section of Muslim youth has its origins in the political mindset of separatism that is so widespread in the ghettos. The political ideology of IM that prompts it to take recourse to exploding lethal bombs to cause maximum hurt to the ‘other’ didn’t emerge in a vacuum. It was an inevitable consequence of a rhetoric (and we have seen enough evidence of that in recent months) that seeks to distinguish Muslims from ‘Hindustan’. Some of it is born of plain nostalgia for a time when Moghuls and their successors ruled the state. But the poisonous element is injected by the invocation of victimhood—the preposterous claim that the Indian state is driven by a single-minded desire to beat the Muslim community into submission.

The political use that has been made of the Batla House encounter in various Muslim-dominated localities around the country is an example. Egged on by radical human rights activists and even Vice Chancellors who have donned a political mantle, this incident has been used to fuel the impression of institutionalised targeting of Muslim youth. Read with the unexpected mob fury that was witnessed in Mumbai as a reaction to the clashes in Assam, the victimhood syndrome is contributing to a steady deterioration of inter-communal harmony all over the country. Even West Bengal, which has been relatively spared of the sectarian virus for decades, witnessed belligerent attacks on Hindus in South 24 Parganas.

In the case of West Bengal, the media was forced to take note of the destruction of nearly 200 homes by a mob after social media took up the cause relentlessly. But this ostrich-like behaviour isn’t going to make the problem go away. There is a need to first sensitise Indians of a disturbing phenomenon. The ways to cope with it emerge in due course. Denial is exacerbating the problem. 

Sunday Pioneer, February 24, 2013

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