Fuse of self-destructive terrorism gets shorter – By M. J. Akbar

Indian Muslims are outraged by recent events of bombings and police ecounter of innocent young students. They are in a state of complete denial about both involvement of Muslims in terror bombings and the convoluted highly worked up accounts of police justifying hauling up of Muslims. An overwhelming majority is of the firm opinion that Hindutva forces, determined to snatch the next election from Congress, are systematically organising bomb blasts to polarise the people into voting the extremist Hindutva fascist to come back to power, which they had lost to Congress five years back. Muslims are being made scapegoats.

However, given the most blatant and ham handed handling of the events by Indian National Congress insiders with their dual loyalties, more and more people have gathered courage and are willing to say it publicaly that Muslims are not to be blamed for this orgy of violence and they are more sinned against than sinning.

M. J. Akbar is a liberal writer who wears his Islam rather lightly. However, he is one of few that had now realised that it is time to say a spage, a spade.

Following are his two articles that should open eyes of the world, as to where India is poised to land, if its pandering of fascist forces is not brought to a decisive end.

 

Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai

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Fuse of self-destructive terrorism gets shorter
By M.J. Akbar September 28, 2008

Governance is the easy part of being in power. You govern through systems. Systems are protected by institutions. Institutions grind their way forward on hierarchy, oiled by memory or precedence. When there is need for innovation, change is sifted through a time-consuming committee. The end product may not be brilliant, but it comes with minimal-risk insurance: it will not do damage, and might even do some good.

India’s bureaucracy may not be the steel-frame of old. Corruption might have left it a brittle plastic. But it serves. Very often the difference between a good and a bad Minister — the titular head of the bureaucracy — is no more than his or her ability to leave well enough alone. Lalu Prasad Yadav has created a favourable reputation by the ingenious tactic of non-interference. He lets the Railway Board get on with the job and only appears on the scene when it is time to take credit. Give him full marks. More has been destroyed by the deadly combination of ego and incompetence than has been achieved in Government through genius. As the Railway Board has proved, India could be much better off if Ministers left Government on auto-pilot while they concentrated on what they know best: spilling each other’s blood.

The difficult part of power is leadership. Any term of office is divided between phases of placidity and the roils of turbulence. If turbulence is not calmed it develops quickly into a storm. Terrorism has become a raging hurricane. The statistics are well known. There is no point wasting space on them. But there is no leader who can challenge this storm, manage its fallout and restore some balm to the jangled nerves of the nation.

Dr Manmohan Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi have, at best, the most banal phrases to offer. We do not need a Prime Minister to tell us that terrorism is a grave threat. That much wisdom is available from any taxi-driver, the familiar source of political perspicacity sought by a visiting journalist anywhere in the world. No one has yet written a speech for Mrs Sonia Gandhi that takes us anywhere near a remedy to this terrible disease.

An answer must begin with a question: when did terrorism begin? Too long ago. India is unique. Every faith has delivered its quota of terrorists. The Nagas who challenged Indian unity were Christians. The sister-regions of the Northeast gave us Hindu terrorists. Sikhs rose in Punjab, and Muslims in Kashmir. The overwhelming majority of Naxalites are Hindus.

And now some young non-Kashmiri Indian Muslims are playing with dynamite. Some three years ago, when President George Bush visited India, Dr Singh proudly told his American mentor that Indian Muslims did not believe in terrorism. As evidence he pointed to the absence of any Indian Muslim name in the rolls of Al Qaeda.

If this was true, then what has happened in the last three years? India has not been ruled by any party that Muslims consider hostile to their interests. Congress has been in power in Delhi. In fact, Indian Muslims believe that if they had not mobilised to an unprecedented degree the Congress would never have got enough seats in the last general elections to cobble together a coalition. Indian Muslims claim a sort of ownership of the UPA regime. Why have Dr Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi been unable to prevent a spurt of despair within the community?

The Congress will not even admit this question, so it is difficult to see how it can introspect its way towards an answer. There are two principal reasons for the renewed rise of Muslim despair. First, the community has not got the justice it expected from the Congress. One fact will illustrate. While those found guilty of terrorism in the Mumbai bomb blasts of 1993 have been, rightly, punished through the legal process, those found guilty of crimes against Muslims in the preceding riots have been left untouched. The constables found guilty of state terrorism during the awful riots in Mumbai after the Babri episode in the report of the Justice Srikrishna Commission are wandering around, free. Dr Manmohan Singh, Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Mr Sharad Pawar cannot “find” them.

The second major reason is a sense of helpless hopelessness. The history of economic deprivation long precedes the UPA Government, but its mistake was to believe that it could fudge through its term as its predecessors had fudged through theirs. Dr Singh should never have asked Justice Rajinder Sachar to find out the truth if he wanted to do nothing about it. The truth has become the ultimate betrayal, for the report is a devastating indictment of Congress neglect of its most loyal constituency. Muslim youth watched as Mr Arjun Singh reserved even more jobs for others, and maintained an ultra-secular silence on reservations for Muslims. As I have written before, other communities got jobs under Congress; Muslims got enquiry commissions.

This was fuel for a fire that could so easily mesh into an international conflagration. The memory of riots, particularly in Mumbai and Gujarat, was equally incendiary. Indian Muslims have had apostates and middlemen as leaders. In the vacuum, a number of youth found it easy to drift towards the malevolent attraction of evil. They convinced themselves that virulent hate mail and unpardonable killing of innocents was the means to display a destructive strength. This terrorism, of course, is already hurting Indian Muslims far more than it damages their avowed targets.

The Congress is twisting this damaged psyche further with its cynical response to terrorism. There is a suspicion, bordering on conviction, among Indian Muslims that the Government of Dr Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi has offered scapegoats in the form of students of the Jamia Millia University to appease majority anger after the terrorist attacks on Delhi. We do not know the full truth, but there is enough that is murky in the events of 19 September when Delhi police surrounded and killed two students of Jamia at Batla House, while two others apparently escaped. There are questions galore, not least being the manner of the “escape”: if there was only one entrance, how could the two “escape”? Police have shifted their version after every question. The “escape” now is meant to have been through the rooftop. Did anyone see them in the daylit skyline? Nor does anyone believe in the version offered of the death of Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma. It was first put out that he had been shot in the stomach. Then pictures were published of him walking after being shot, with no evidence of a stomach wound. The latest theory is that he died of a heart attack following loss of blood. One TV station claimed that the autopsy report showed he had been shot from the back, hinting at what is known as “friendly fire”. The UPA Government then sought to demonise the community when they covered the faces of suspects with the red, patterned, Arab headdress instead of the black cloth normally used. Who got these headdresses from the market? Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who claimed that he had personally supervised these operations? Was he telling India that these suspects were linked to Arab terrorism?

The questions grow each passing day, each one another fuse for anger.

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THE SIEGE WITHIN

Is it really Muslims whose credibility is at stake?



    There is nothing more subversive than the alternative narrative. A parallel version of the Godhra incident and riots sabotaged the re-election of the NDA government four years ago. A subaltern variation of the police operation at Batla House, near the Jamia Mil
ia Islamia University on 19 September, is undermining the credibility of the Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi government today. It cannot undermine the credibility of home minister Shivraj Patil because he has none.

 
    The first doubts began to circulate 
even while Patil, wearing a very self-satisfied expression on his face, began to congratulate himself in front of television cameras for delivering bullet-justice to two young men living in a small apartment of this building. He had, he said, personally supervised the encounter, presumably without taking any break whatsoever for fresh laundry.
 
    Ironically, doubt needs the support of evidence. If it is mere partisan belligerence, it will last no longer than a puff of acrid smoke. Some things did not quite add up in the official story. It was, to use a phrase familiar from the Sherlock Holmes oeuvre, the dog that did not bark that raised the first question. You rarely slip on hard concrete; it is generally the banana skin that turns a measured tread into a painful fall. The Rashomon effect, where the same event induces sharply different perspectives, can make for intriguing fiction; in real life, it can rip up communication lines carefully planted by a government trying to sell a fable.
 
    The first question, followed by two photographs, began to dilute the triumphalism of the Delhi police even during the early phase of its self-glorification. The authorities noted, with satisfaction, that two ‘terrorists’ had been killed. They added that two had escaped from the rented urban cage where they lived, which was all they could afford. The deaths were explicable; the escape was not. The building had only one entrance, and hence only one exit. It was 
surrounded by policemen. How could the two escape?
 
    When the murmur became a buzz, the police attempted damage control with a weak suggestion. The two could have escaped through the roof, hopping across rooftops. But it was daytime. The roofline was surely as closely monitored as the roadline. Neighbourhood eyes were tense and alert. Had anyone seen this acrobatic, even melodramatic, form of flight? 
    No.
 
    Two pictures propped up two ends of a growing conviction of foul play. One showed Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, who lost his life, walking towards something, presumably the car that would take him to hospital, supported by two colleagues (one in a tie, the other in a T-shirt). His gunshot wound was obvious. There was a heavy patch of blood on the upper part of one arm, and only a faint discoloring on the lower front of his bush shirt, near the abdomen. Police had said that Sharma had died from a bullet in the stomach. The picture proved that the bullet had not hit the stomach, and that Sharma was able to come down four flights albeit with help. A bullet in the stomach would have left him a stretch
er case, and caused far more blood loss, particularly through the exit wound.
 
    The official story changed. The selfacclamation had been blared over media, the change was released discreetly, through a plant that said that he died of a heart attack caused by blood loss.

    The questions multiplied: was Sharma hit by what is known in military parlance as ‘friendly fire’?
 
    The police would have been far more comfortable about their theories if some intrepid photographer had not snapped Sharma. The second picture, however, was part of their public relations offensive. It showed three suspects, Zia ur Rahman, Saqib Nishad and Mohammad Sha
keel. As is usual in the case of suspects being put on display, their faces were covered with cloth: the police are gracious enough to disguise the identity of suspects for they cannot be deemed guilty until a court has passed judgment. But there was significant departure from normal practice. These three had been shrouded by Arab-style headdresses (made famous by Yasser Arafat, and now a staple of Arab identity in countless TV images) instead of the anonymous black cloth used by police.
 
    Who had decided that these three suspects should be given an “Arab” identity? Was this a not-so-subliminal message to even the densest in the audience about the nature of the “enemy”, that the headdress was a signature of “Islamic terrorism”? Did this brilliant idea emerge from the home minister, now the handson commander, or did it emerge from somewhere lower down the food chain?
 
    Indian Muslims did not need to open a political dictionary to gauge the meaning of this forced symbolism? They knew that it was an attempt to stigmatize the whole community and link terrorism in India with an international conspiracy, with an implied hint at Osama bin Laden, 
the most famous Arab terrorist.
 
    If the purpose of the UPA government’s officialdom was to intensify fear of Muslims among non-Muslims, then it succeeded. Indian Muslims are used to being fearful ― of riots, police prejudice and arbitrary authority. They have learnt to temper their response with realism. They believed in the government of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, if only because they reassured themselves that they had been primarily responsible, through intense electoral mobilization, in adding the crucial 20 odd seats to the Congress that enabled it to become the largest single party in the last general elections. That perception has been shifting slowly, almost reluctantly, because Muslims had no other national political anchor. The Jamia incident has become a wake-up call. The growing perception is that the UPA government has deliberately killed innocent men to satiate the demand for action against terrorism.
 
    Is that the truth? I have no idea, because the truth is privy only to those who control the guns ― on either side of the divide. But this much I do know. In public life, perception becomes the operative truth.

M J AKBAR


 
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