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Monday, August 10, 2015

A Viewpoint: Home Minister Brings ‘Saffron Terror’ Back on the Agenda

10 August 2015

Pakistan is at the cusp of an official response on the dates of its National Security Adviser’s visit to India consequent to the agreement at Ufa between the two prime ministers that the two NSAs meet. What is troubling the Indian side is Pakistan’s stated intent to bring to the table what it sees as a Indian hand behind some of the terrorism it has been subject to. 

Pakistan can be expected to be on the offensive, so as to deflect India from raising its own list of grievances against Pakistan, most evident in the two recent incidents, one of a terror attack in Dinanagar and the other an attack on a Border Security Force convoy in Udhampur. India’s list will be topped by its complaint against Pakistan’s ‘go slow’ in the Zaki-ur-Rahman conviction. 

It is in the context of the NSAs’ agenda that the recent fulminations of the home minister in the parliament must be seen. In a debate, he raised the issue of ‘Hindu terrorism’, excoriating the opposition for coming up with such a label in its previous tenure. He took care to direct his ire against the use of the pre-fix Hindu, since obviously a religion cannot, and should not, be tagged to terrorism. 

However, that was no one’s case to begin with including Mr. Sushil Kumar Shinde, the previous home minister, who is credited with conjuring up the term. He was referring to ‘saffron terrorism’, a term that acquired currency on account of its accuracy and use by Mr. P Chidambaram, his predecessor. 

What Rajnath Singh was perhaps riling against was that in directing attention to terrorism perpetrated by Hindus, that alternatively goes by the term ‘saffron terror’, India had in his view diluted its case against Pakistan. The timing of his remarks suggests as much, since Pakistan could well say that at least a proportion of the terror India claims Pakistan as origin is homegrown, of Indian provenance. India’s charges of being subject to Pakistani terror by proxy will be less credible. 

Pakistan’s ammunition on hand will be its claim of Indian inspiration behind some of the terror it has been subject to, seeking to establish that it is a worse victim of terror, exacerbated by Indian intelligence operatives. 

Pakistan has been seeking such endorsement. At Sharm el Sheikh it succeeded in getting Manmohan Singh to put this into the joint statement. The equivalence it establishes will help it obfuscate its own policy of terror by proxy and proxy war. It will help rationalize such terror by making it appear as though it is part of the intelligence game the two sides indulge in and is not policy as such. 

India for its part has been attempting to downgrade the terror perpetrated by majoritarian extremists of the Abhinav Bharat variety. As seen its doing so has utility in India’s case of cornering Pakistan. Showing up Pakistan as state sponsor of terrorism can help deter it, place it at odds with world opinion, under-cut support of its allies and create divisions within Pakistani polity by pitching the civilian political domain with reservations against such terrorism against the ISI and military that back it. 

However the foreign policy angle only partially explains Rajnath Singh’s attempt to becloud terrorism perpetrated by Hindutva extremists. Singh’s concerns were less foreign policy or Pakistan strategy driven, even if these led up to his recent remarks. More importantly, the attempt must be seen for what it is. Foreign policy angle merely provides a rationale.

The actual impetus is to obscure that some of the terrorism India was subject to since mid 2000s was by majoritarian extremists. Not only were they responsible for some of the blasts directly, but indirectly in setting up a chain of revenge attacks with minority extremists, added to the terrorist incidents and charged atmosphere of those years. While already implicated directly in the more obvious attacks such as the Mecca Masjid, Malegaon and Samjhauta Express one, at least some of the less prominent attacks presently attributed to Muslim extremists must be laid at the door of these elements. 

This possibility is important to acknowledge in order that, firstly, the truth is not swept under the carpet, and, secondly, at sometime in future the cases can be reopened to implicate not only who perpetrated these attacks, but to gauge if those who stood to gain politically had any connection with the handlers. 

The actions of state agencies as revealed by prosecutor Rohini Salian in respect of the National Investigation Agency and the letting off of the likes of DG Vanzara and PP Pandey suggest these cases are being put off. The alacrity in pursuing the likes of Yakub Memon, Atif and Afzal Guru, has been sorely absent in punishing Sadhvi Thakur, Major Purohit, Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi. Instead, the unashamed hounding of Teesta Setalvad suggests that the aim is to silence not only that doughty lady and her NGO, but anyone seeing her as a model. 

Clearly, all this is not merely to bolster foreign policy. If these were only rogue elements, the state could well allow justice to grind on. Instead, the criminal-politician connection is clear, but one more salient and damaging than earlier ‘Congress era’ versions restricted to corruption and money making. This time it is a more significant and dangerous terror-political connection with subversion of democratic politics. 

From the manner the saffron terror campaign played out to implicate the minority, it is apparent that it was to create a vote bank of the ‘besieged’ majority, besides showing up the ruling UPA as weak and offering up a ‘strong’ alternative. This possibility as a linkage needs to be kept alive as a direction of investigation once the majority realizes it has been duped. 

Minister Rajnath Singh has inadvertently drawn attention to India’s domestic underbelly. The foreign policy implication is relatively insignificant. While India can rightly point a finger at Pakistan for several major terror attacks it has been subject to and be demanding of Pakistan, scoring on foreign policy cannot be at the cost of pursuit of justice, truth and democratic principles

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