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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 46

Face of the Danger


Tuesday 4 November 2008, by SC

As we go to press, news has just come of fresh terror strikes—this time in Assam: nine synchronised, high-intensity blasts, all within a span of 30 minutes, this morning killed as many as 61 persons and injured over 350 others in crowded areas of four places (Guwahati, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon and Barpeta). Judging from the scale and magnitude of the serial blasts, official sources suspect the hand of the Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami (HuJI) in these explosions and they feel the HuJI in all probability carried these out in collaboration with the ULFA outfit (seeking Assam’s secession from India) as a retaliation against the recent killing of Bangladeshi immigrants who died in clashes with the Bodo tribals in Udalgiri and Darrang as well as to take revenge following the security forces’ crackdown and liquidation of several of its operatives in the country.

Whatever the reasons behind such acts, the renewed terror strikes once again expose the utter inability of the administrations both at the Centre and in the States to cope with the situation on this front. What must be clearly understood is that this is not the first time that Assam has experienced such blasts though this time the kind of sophistication displayed by terrorists (who used timer-equipped explosive devices packed with RDX) and the striking similarities of the blasts in Assam with those that have taken place elsewhere (including Bangalore and Ahmedabad) in recent times link the explosions there with the terror acts in other parts of the country of late. However, despite the PM’s assertion that the UPA Government was not soft on terror and assurances to the effect that lacunae in the intelligence apparatus would be removed to tone up the system (he made these pronouncements quite sometime back) the Union Home Ministry has done precious little to demonstrate its readiness to meet the terrorist challenge. That the Assam Government was caught napping is also evident from the manner in which the terrorists struck with impunity. The public outrage in Guwahati was, therefore, legitimate though its expression by setting even fire brigades ablaze cannot be condoned in any way, let alone endorsed or approved.

While India continues to be a soft target of terrorists, the myth, assiduously propagated by the forces of Hindutva, that terrorism in this country is linked to a specific minority community, has now been shattered with the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) detaining several Hindu extremists, including a sadhvi and a retired Army officer, for their alleged involvement in the Malegaon and Modasa bomb blasts. This has definitely jolted the Hindutva elements compelling BJP chief Rajnath Singh to come out in defence of the sadhvi and even going to the extent of giving a clean chit to “anyone believing in cultural nationalism” since, in his opinion, such a person “cannot ever be a terrorist”. (He has conveniently forgotten the role such standard-bearers of “cultural nationalism” played and continue to play against Dalit Christians in Orissa’s Kandhamal district or perhaps he feels that their acts do not come under the purview of terrorism!) This offers a measure of not only partisanship but also rank communal prejudice. All of us know that a terrorist has no religion. Terrorists belonging to the ULFA in Assam or the outfits operating in Manipur are not Muslims but Hindu even if they get generous assistance from the DGFI (the Pakistani ISI’s counterpart) in Bangladesh. In the light of unfolding events it is becoming increasingly transparent that terrorism of the saffron variety and that of the Islamist brand are two sides of the same coin; so those trying to draw a distinction between the two are in effect engaged in a futile exercise.

The incidents of the last few days illustrate the surge of terrorism (of both the Hindu and Muslim types as well as that indulged in by the Maoists in the poorest regions of the country) and violence stemming from religious fanaticism (as witnessed in the anti-Christian depredations in Orissa and Karnataka in particular) as also regional or linguistic chauvinism (as seen in Raj Thackeray’s pronouncements and activities that are actually an extension of what his uncle practised in his hey-days). In the face of such a challenge the Indian state is exhibiting callous inactivity and passivity, if not pusillanimity. The Indian polity too has been overwhelmed by such acts, at least for the present.

This week we mark the twentyfourth death anniversary of Indira Gandhi, our first PM to fall a victim of terrorism, a fate that also tragically befell his elder son seven years later when he was out of power. In these 24 years terrorism in the country has grown by leaps and bounds thereby undermining the very edifice of our democratic Constitution. At the same time violence born out of fissiparous trends (reflected in the Hindutva forces’ attack on Christians on the one hand and Raj Thackeray’s instigation of his followers against north Indians in the country’s commercial capital on the other provoking similar violence in other regions as well) has come to occupy the centre-stage in today’s India. All these pose an imminent danger to national unity.

Unless all of us unite for a concerted political offensive against the divisive forces out to weaken democracy, secularism and national integration (that has to be qualitatively different from the knee-jerk executive or administrative measures employed by the organs of state power in reaction to such depredations) it is just a matter of time before the nation’s balkanisation becomes an irrevocable reality.

October 30 S.C.

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