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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Terror: More serious than most know

India is pursuing an initiative to forge consensus on a comprehensive convention on international terrorism. Though terrorism has been in the sights of the international community now for some two decades, the initiative has not got a tail wind yet. Some of this lack of ballast owes to Indian credibility undermined by its own doing.

Take for instance recent headlines in India. Surely foreign embassies would be transmitting back to their capitals that the courts have let off Aseemanand - a self-confessed terrorist - for lack of evidence. Worse, they would also be reporting back that over a dozen Muslim men have been released from prisons since the high profile cases against them for terrorism did not fly.

If India does not itself - back home - take terrorism quite so seriously as to investigate and prosecute sensibly, why would India's diplomats talking of international terrorism in global forums be taken any more seriously?

This begs the question as to how seriously to take India? Taking up a more worrisome and a more important matter may help answer the question: the political use of terrorism and its discourse in internal politics in India.

This is self-evident from the turn the UP elections appear to have taken mid course. Unable to shake off the ghost
 of demonetization, the BJP appears to have got cold feet. The Muslim card has been hurled back
into the reckoning. As if on call, the Khorasan chapter of the ISIS made its appearance. A bomb blast led to
 investigations in a neighbouring BJP-ruled state that in turn prompted a day-long gun battle in a city in the
 state going to the polls against a holed up Muslim 'terrorist'.

Mere reference to Nepal based Pakistan aided Muslim 'terrorists' responsible for an earlier train derailment as
part of campaigning was not thought enough. More hands-on, visible, in-your-face-terrorism, needed conjuring.

Even the ISIS Khorasan chapter could not have thought up such an India debut. It did not have to. Those that keep
 watch on it in India appear to have stepped in on its behalf, providing it the free oxygen of publicity. The timeliness
of the framing of the news brooks no other explanation.

This is of a piece with the over-a-decade long pattern of bomb blasts. Muslims get picked up as suspects; are
prosecuted while being denied bail; are incarcerated; and if lucky, left off a decade on; and if unlucky, killed while
 escaping, such as most recently the unfortunate eight under trials in BJP-ruled Bhopal.

The script won the BJP the national elections. It collapses the 'internal Other', India's Muslims, with the 'external
 Other', Pakistan. Creating the connection was doubly useful. It showed up an India under threat that the
minority-appeasing Congress-led UPA could not possibly counter. Security needed a strong-on-security, BJP, and a
strong leader, Modi.

Though upfront, the BJP had development as its plank, it was one handed to it in the period of paralysis of the UPA II. 
The security plank was the one that was in-the-works over the decade prior. The spate of terror attacks since the
 mid-2000s were attributed to Muslim perpetrators, inspired by revenge for the Gujarat pogrom. Modi was depicted
as a key target, saved by the daring exploits of the likes of IGP Vanzara. Targeting of Akshardham temple placed
Gujarat at the frontline. Muslim perpetrators of terror were allegedly assisted by Pakistan that had taken to keeping
Kashmir quiescent but had expanded its shadow over the Indian hinterland.

This helped Mr. Modi acquire a larger-than-life image carrying him victory in the hustings. Since the strategy is now
tried and tested, the BJP has naturally fallen back on it to ensure like result at what are seen as a forerunner
 to the next national elections. While it is a commonplace that it is not possible to fool all the people all the time, this
has not stopped the BJP from trying. Perhaps the IB has alerted its political master that these are desperate times.

The curious fact is this. Since many Muslims have been let off for terror they did not commit, who has committed
those crimes? Hindutva inspired terrorists - such as Aseemanand, Pragya Thakur and their ilk - come in the
cross hairs. This means that many of the terrorist acts attributed in the popular imagination to Muslims have the
 finger prints of Hindutva votaries behind them.

However, the NIA is known to have asked prosecutors, such as Rohini Salian, to 'go soft' on such terrorists and
the courts are proceeding to give the benefit of the doubt to the likes of Aseemanand, with Pragya Thakur and
Maj. Purohit also reportedly lined up for similar kid-glove treatment.

This indicates either of two things: that saffron-inspired terrorists being of the same persuasion as the ruling
dispensation are let off owing to ideological affinity, or, more troublingly, they were put to it and having done their
bit are being let off.

Though the former possibility is comparatively mild, it puts paid to India's international position that there are no
 'good terrorists' and 'bad terrorists'. It makes clear that India - just as other countries including its bĂȘte noire Pakistan -
has its own set of 'good terrorists'.

The latter - that Hindutva perpetrated terror has political antecedents - deserves pause on two counts. The first
is the effect this had on the national discourse. It made out that the nation was under threat, enabling consolidation
 behind the Hindutva political formations and their champion, Modi.

The second is who were behind the manipulation of the Hindutva working hands. Were they acting independently to
 substitute the intolerable UPA? To what extent was their handiwork known to those so benefiting? And, finally,
 who were they? How did the intelligence establishment under UPA miss out on them altogether?

The last question points to a degree of culpability of the intelligence and policing apparatus. They were complicit in
painting a false image of India being subject to Muslim perpetrated terror to the benefit of the right wing of the political
establishment. Not only did they not collect the necessary evidence to nail actual perpetrators but falsified the narrative
to implicate Muslims. This is subversion of more than mere justice.

The current day episode only deepens this understanding of the terror narrative in India. The sudden advent of the
Khorasan chapter - almost at a centralized will and to the very timely benefit of the Hindutva political formations - suggests
nothing else. If in the UPA period the rule of law apparatus was - as seen - out of governmental control, under the
current regime it is on the contrary completely under control. Not only can it, in full view, kill under trials, but
orchestrate terror acts, manipulate the media and, thereby, influence polls. This is potential subversion of democracy.

'Potential' is used advisedly. The UP results are awaited. It cannot be that the Indian voter cannot see through this
patently false narrative. Even polarization cannot blind so completely. While she may not vote for those who stand to
 benefit by manipulation of the terror narrative on this count - for such manipulation - but by rejecting them, she makes
 such attempts futile. Democracy can triumph yet. It cannot afford not to.

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