Saturday, April 20, 2013


By Swapan Dasgupta

Judged by the lax standards of India where human life tends to be woefully cheap, the twin blasts in Boston that led to four deaths and many more injured, may have seemed relatively trivial. True, there was considerable admiration for the local police and the federal authorities that pursued the investigations with understated rigour and their success in identifying and apprehending the two unlikely perpetrators of the blasts, but this was offset by disagreeable comments that America “had it coming.” How the spectators of the Boston Marathon were responsible for the problems Moscow has with Chechnya, is a different matter altogether and unlikely to unsettle the pre-conceived theories of those who are relentless in putting their own spin on the so-called ‘roots of terrorism’.

President George W. Bush may well be the target of fashionable derision but it can scarcely be denied that his emphasis on Homeland Security has now become a bi-partisan goal, from which even the relatively more liberal President Obama dare not depart.

Compare this with the farce that was witnessed in India earlier this week over the sentencing of the perpetrators and facilitators of the devastating serial Bombay blasts of March 1992 that killed nearly 250 people and left countless others permanently disabled. The Supreme Court this week, accorded the film star Sanjay Dutt an extra month of freedom to surrender before the Mumbai. The ostensible reason was to allow the Bollywood star a little more time to complete his various shooting engagements, a move that will give a lot of respite to many film producers who had sunk in a great deal of money in films starring Dutt.

Not surprisingly, this generosity by the apex court didn’t go down too well with the great unwashed. It is a cruel fact of life that there isn’t enough justice to go round the world. However, conceding the element of iniquity in the administration of the law, there was outrage over the belief that class bias could be so openly and blatantly upheld. There may be sympathy for the film producers who stood to make whopping losses if Dutt was packed off to jail immediately, but there was little appreciation of the fact that a convicted criminal was being shown extra consideration, not to attend a sick relative or a moping pet dog, but to make some extra money.

True, the outrage over the leniency shown to Dutt resulted in some others convicted in the same conspiracy also getting some extra time to be with their families. But what I found interesting was the nonchalance with which India’s liberals and even representatives of the ruling Congress Party argued for all-round lenience. It was almost made out that some people were being punished for some youthful indiscretion that may have included stealing mangoes from orchards belonging to others. That Dutt and the others had been sentenced for their involvement in a case that resulted in a bloodbath was quietly forgotten. Equally forgotten was the fact that Dutt wasn’t a victim of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and that he knew exactly what he was doing in helping the underworld smuggle deadly weapons to wage against India. Sanjay Dutt was convicted under the Arms Act for possessing illegal weapons. In reality, his offence was more serious, almost treasonable. By modifying the sentence to suit his shooting schedules, the law displayed utter contempt for those who died in the blasts. There is generosity for those who sided with the terrorists and little concern for those who were victims of terror.

The Supreme Court doesn’t set the terms of the political discourse. As such, it cannot be blamed for the onrush of contrived sympathy for those who were convicted and still insist they were innocent. But it can be said that the show of indulgence has created the conditions for viewing the blasts of 1993 as a conjunctural misdemeanour that was now history. From an avowed position of ‘zero tolerance’ of terrorism, the liberal discourse is shifting to a forget and forgive approach. At this rate, Dawood Ibrahim may as well surrender and then approach the court to be given time to settle business affairs that haven unattended after two decades of absence from India. Maybe a Katju-type person may even oblige him and take into account the fact that he has no bank loan, speaks Urdu and probably loathes Narendra Modi.

I am not being facetious. Last week, I read in the papers that one S.M.A. Kazmi, said to be a journalist, who has been charged with involvement in the attack on an Israeli diplomat by Iranian terrorists two years ago, has used his bail period to start an Urdu newspaper that is ironically called  Qaumi Salamati (national security). I am not prejudging either the verdict of the court or the quality of the prosecution’s case. What I found revealing was that the inaugural function of Kazmi’s media venture was attended by the Chief Minister of Delhi, the Chairperson of the Minorities Commission and leaders of at least two political parties. What interests me is that a person charged with having links with terror groups that targets the diplomat of a friendly country, can secure political insurance with such ease.

In Boston, two blasts reaffirm the determination to stamp out terrorism; in India, life is all about connections.

Sunday Pioneer, April 21, 2103

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