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Monday, August 11, 2014

The resounding silence on majoritarian extremism

Majoritarian terrorism: The resounding silence

Milligazette: 16-31 August 2014, p. 5


Shri NN Vohra delivered the first Jasjit Singh memorial lecture last month. Listing non-state groups that threaten internal security, he said,
Another phenomenon, relatively more recent, relates to the emergence of certain radical counter-groups which have been organised with the primary objective of countering the Jihadi terror networks. It needs being noted that the activities of such counter groups have the potential of spreading disharmony and divisiveness which could generate wide spread communal violence and result in irreparably damaging the secular fabric of our democracy (http://www.idsa.in/resources/speech/FirstJasjitSinghMemorialLecture.html).
Among the groups he lists are proxy war groups in J&K, the Indian Mujahedeen, Left Wing extremists, North East insurgents and Sikh militants. Since these are spelt out, it is curious that the hon’ble Governor leaves out mentioning who is the one he is referring to in the extract above.
The groups with no name are majoritarian supremacists. Terming them in this way one can get round the use of ‘hindu’ such as enters into ‘hindutva group’ or hindu extremists. Dragging the word ‘hindu’ into describing them is injustice to the religion they answer to. (Appending ‘Islamic’ and ‘muslim’ to counterpart groups is however now par for the course.) A value neutral term is better than one that defiles one of the great world religions, Hinduism. It is hoped that analysts would reciprocate in not using jihad and Islamic in describing extremist Muslims groups.  
Mr. Vohra says the unnamed extremists are a ‘recent phenomenon’. As home secretary in the early nineties he is well aware that their existence is not ‘recent’. He says their primary objective is to counter jihadi terror networks. The presence of the majoritarian extremists who date to the first quarter of last century with the formation of squads of ‘Khaki chaddis’ aping the brown shirts of the Nazis and Mussolini’s storm troopers, are a pheonomenon that outdates minority extremists by at least three quarters of a century. Further, it is arguable if at all there is this ‘network’ given the evidence that the hype surrounding minority extremists is just that, hype, some of which is through ignorance, some through peer pressure, but much more due to motivated commentary. At best, the so-called ‘sleeper cells’ that form this ‘jihadi network’ can be be dated to the Gujarat carnage. After all, if the state abandoned its responsibility of protection of all communities with such impunity as to send the chief minister to become prime minister, it would be very foolish indeed for any community to trust such a state without reservations. Self-defence is part of human life, and if mohallas have acquired a local body of youth to defend them in such extreme emergencies, they cannot be called sleeper cells. Quite clearly such groups must not substitute the state nor be vigilantes. But they are liable to be called up to serve the community in case the state is subverted and does not do its duty. There has to be some other term for such groups, formed in face of an emergency and for defensive purpose only. Therefore, this network is a recent anti-supremacist phenomenon such as it is, rather than the other way round.
Mr. Vohra clear-sightedly spells out that the threat from the unnamed groups thus:
‘(they) have the potential of spreading disharmony and divisiveness which could generate wide spread communal violence and result in irreparably damaging the secular fabric of our democracy.’
This echoes the wikileaks revealed take of Rahul Gandhi on these groups. Now that Mr. Gandhi is in the political doghouse, he is no longer fashionable to quote. However, if the princeling has one reasonable quote to his credit then it is this one. But Mr. Vohra’s silence can be taken of a piece with the otherwise resounding silence surrounding triumphalism of militant Hindutva groups in the wake of elections. The prime minister is under question for his silence, almost reminiscent of the Manmohan era. It is true that Mr. Modi’s silence is across the board and seemingly to do with his marshaling of his time for his developmentalist governance tasks. However, the fact is that since the right wing, believing that they own the space now that he is in power, require to be disabused of this notion. This is something only the PM can do. But then, non-recognition that a problem stares India in the face is what this article has been about. It’s about a problem that dare not speak its name.
The expectation is that the prime minister may with a diktat bring majoritarian extremists to heel. The expectation is that now that he has promised an inclusive developmentalist state, he would use the opportunity to tune down his support base and demonstrate he is PM of all-India. This would be good. However, there are draw backs. Firstly, it would be authoritarian and reinforce a wrong tendency in government. Secondly, it may lead to the government saying something and doing something else less overtly. So the majoritarian agenda may be progressed without the noise that is currently attending it and drawing it into question. This will then proceed surreptitiously, but surely, and, therefore, more dangerously.
Clearly, there is a case for giving Mr. Modi his honey-moon period, a period he claims he has been denied. He can yet be taken seriously on his development agenda. However, his resounding silence that now echoes in the words of the likes of no less than Mr. Vohra recounted above is not helping his agenda any.
Finally, a word on Mr. Vohra’s recommendation, that has found mention in the many reports that he is credited with, namely of a core national security cadre in the bureaucracy. This is to control the home and defence ministries with bureaucrats who would know something about national security. As with any good idea, this too has an underside. If such a core cadre was to be captured by an ideology or a political formation, then it would be capable of controlling the state. For instance, the right wing has had a problem taking over the Indian state owing to India’s diversity. However, it may try to gain control over such a core bureaucracy and thereby achieve what is denied to it democratically. Take for instance the manner certain elements in India’s intelligence apparatus have been suborned by right wing ideology. Consider the manner the Gujarat police and its home ministry bureaucrats have been subverted. This means that it is better to have India’s diversity inform its administrative system rather than create conditions for short sighted reasons for a takeover of the system from within by extremist forces.

Therefore, Mr. Vohra’s speech has unintendedly served a useful purpose of enabling the discussion here. It was a speech befitting the first memorial lecture in memory of an eminent security analyst but not in the manner Mr. Vohra imagined.   

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