Our terror, their terror – By Vir Sanghvi – Hindustan Times

http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/Print.aspx?Id=127e1ae8-03bb-4bd3-ab47-9fe29fb3980f

Our terror, their terror

Counterpoint | Vir Sanghvi

Hindustan Times (Nov. 22, 2008)

Shortly before LK Advani spoke at the HT Summit on Friday, I was
chatting to Ajit Doval.  Though he is not yet a household name, Doval
is a former director of the Intelligence Bureau who was close to
Advani when the latter was Home Minister and he will probably be
National Security Advisor if the BJP comes to power.

As Advani has – by his own admission – been reluctant to say very much
about the allegations of terrorism against various militant Hindus, I
asked Doval how he viewed the arrests and the claims made by the Anti
Terror Squad (ATS).

Doval’s response was that the term ‘Hindu terror’ worried him. There
were, he said, two dimensions to any battle against terror. The first
was law and order. You should treat all terrorists as murderers
regardless of their religions, ethnic origins or whatever.

But the second one had to do with their cause. You always avoided, he
said, any nomenclature that helped terrorists broaden their
constituencies. So, in the 1980s, you never ever used the phrase ‘Sikh
terrorists’ no matter how many bombs exploded. And in the 21st
century, care was taken to refer to ‘Jehadi terrorists’. If you said
‘Muslim terrorists’, you suggested, however subliminally, that the
terrorists represented all Muslims – which of course, they do not.

It was a perceptive point and one that Advani also made in his speech
at the Summit. Though he refused to be drawn further on the subject –
despite an excellent question from an IBN7 correspondent – Advani said
that he was unhappy with the phrase ‘Hindu terrorists’.

I have no real problem with Advani and Doval’s position. The bombers
do not represent Hindus, and yes, there is a danger that Hindus may
subliminally feel that the terrorism was conducted on their behalf if
we refer to those accused of the killings as Hindu terrorists.

But listening to Doval, I got to thinking about the extent to which
the allegations of ‘Hindu terror’ have changed all the rules.

I have always been suspicious of the claims advanced by various police
forces about their successes in the fight against terror. One simple
fact should illustrate why I believe my skepticism is well-founded:
the police keep changing their minds about who is behind the blasts –
and yet, each time they claim to have cracked a case, they advance
these claims with an air of certitude.

Take the Samjhauta Express bombing. When it took place, we were
assured with great authority that the bombers were jehadis, acting
under instructions from Pakistani terror outfits. Now, we are being
told that they were the Hindus who the ATS has in custody.

To go from blaming Pakistani jehadis to pinning the blasts on militant
Hindus is a 180-degree about-turn. Yet our security services show no
embarrassment about the complete shift in stance.

Or, take the example of the last spate of bombings. Four different
police forces have arrested four different ‘masterminds’. Men who were
described as being in the Osama bin Laden league are suddenly not
talked about at all.

All this is indisputable. And if you enter the more controversial area
of encounters, the police come off even worse. Nobody seriously
disputes that many of the people killed in so-called encounters have
actually been shot in custody. The dispute is over whether they were
ever terrorists to begin with. Once a suspect is dead, the police
don’t have to bother with evidence. They make whatever claims they
like and when you challenge these, they resort to the obviously bogus
explanation: “If he was not a terrorist, then why was he firing at the
police?”(Which, of course, he wasn’t….)

There’s more. None of us doubts that torture is routinely used to
extract information from suspects. And, by and large, this practice
has widespread public support.

Consequently, when any of the suspects or their lawyers or human
rights organisations protest about torture, we pay no attention. Of
course, the police are going to use third degree methods, we say. It’s
a question of saving lives.

Such is the attitude of many of India’s politicians – and especially
those in the BJP – that to raise even the most obvious questions about
claims advanced by the police, is to act in an ‘anti-national manner’.
How dare we demoralise our security forces, we are told.

I know this from personal experience. Every time I have raised
questions about encounter-killings or excessive claims made by police
forces, I have been roundly condemned.

The most notorious instance was the famous Ansal Plaza encounter where
the police took two suspects to the parking lot of a shopping mall and
shot them. Then they announced that they had foiled a terrorist
strike. Advani was Home Minister (and Doval was number two in IB) and
he congratulated the police and associated himself with that ‘triumph
in the war against terror’.

When the HT queried the police version, even those BJP leaders who
should have known better called us anti-national and questioned my
patriotism.

We do not know yet whether the recent Batla House encounter was
conducted in the way the police claim it was. But given that there
were legitimate questions to be raised, and given that the police have
a record of lying, it was entirely understandable for people to ask
for explanations. But even then, those who raised questions were
called unpatriotic.

I was reminded of all this while listening to Advani and Doval because
the Sangh Parivar has now conducted a 180 degree about-turn on the
police version of terrorist arrests. Worse still, the BJP now says
that the Anti Terror Squad frames innocent suspects.

To recognise how astonishing the BJP’s about-turn is, think of it this
way. Suppose those accused of terrorism were not Hindus but Muslims.
Suppose it wasn’t a sadhvi but an imam.

How would the BJP have reacted?

First, it would have emphasised the ‘jehadi conspiracy against India’
angle to make Hindus insecure. Then, it would have condemned those of
us who questioned the arrests as traitors.

Assume now that Muslim organisations had banded together to attack the
police in the way that the Sangh Parivar and assorted sadhvis and
sants recently did. We would have been told how shameful it was that
Muslim leaders had ‘communalised’ the situation. The BJP would have
suggested that the Muslim leadership actually approved of the
terrorism. And it would have been said that the spectacle of mullahs
and politicians coming together to question the institutions of a
secular state demonstrated that Muslims had no real loyalty to India.

And yet, the way in which the BJP has responded to the arrests goes
far, far beyond anything that Muslim organisations have done or said.

If it was anti-national to question the Ansal Plaza encounter, then,
by that same yardstick, Rajnath Singh is a traitor for running down
our anti-terrorist squads.

Even Advani, who clearly recognises that there is a double-standard
involved, has written to the Prime Minister complaining about the
torture of one of the suspects. But if a Muslim politician had
demanded that the Delhi police do not torture a Muslim blast suspect,
the BJP would have vilified him.

It is not my case that the Hindus accused of violence are guilty –
they are innocent until the police can prove otherwise in a court of
law. But the BJP cannot take the line that when the cops arrest
so-called Muslim terrorists, they are never to be challenged.

It’s only when they arrest Hindus that we can accuse them of framing
the suspects!

That shameful double-standard exposes the hypocrisy and prejudice at
the root of the BJP’s approach to terror. The party is not really on
the side of the police at all. All that sanctimonious nonsense about
how it is ‘unpatriotic to question our brave security forces’ is
quickly forgotten the moment Hindus are arrested.

We can now see what the BJP’s message to the police really is: arrest
all the Muslims you want; we will back you unthinkingly. But if you
dare arrest a Hindu for terrorist violence, we will attack you from
the highest platforms.

So yes, Advani and Doval are right. We should not use the phrase
‘Hindu terrorists’. But that’s because we shouldn’t communalise
terror. Not because no Hindus are terrorists. Or because all Muslims
are.

And one more thing: now that the entire Sangh Parivar says it is our
patriotic duty to claim that the police tell lies, frame innocent
people and fabricate cases, can all of us who were called
anti-national for merely raising a few questions get an apology
please?

It’s the least Rajnath Singh can do.

— counterpoint@hindustantimes.com

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