Instead of acknowledging the possibility that some Hindutva elements could be involved in terrorism, the BJP and the sangh have gone on the offensive.
At a press conference held some weeks ago in Delhi, Ravi Shankar Prasad, the amiable spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party, seemed strangely out of form. If this was unusual, so too was the subject under discussion — Hindutva’s terror connection. A veteran of countless television studio debates, Mr. Prasad is well schooled in the art of repartee and rejoinder. Yet here he was, stumbling and stuttering, unable to face the volley of questions on the revelations linking a handful of Hindutva followers to terror attacks in Malegaon and other places.
Asked the hacks: What happened to the BJP’s stand that terrorism brooked no leniency? The BJP had no qualms about labelling every Muslim terror suspect a terrorist; it campaigned for the return of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act, which placed the burden of proof on the accused. Yet it now wanted the presumption of innocence applied to terror suspects from its own fold. Why? The party wanted the maximum freedom granted to terror investigators so that they felt no pressure. Yet it now complained of police excesses. Why?
That was then, in the early days of some Hindutva warriors’ newly discovered terror links. As the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad set off on the saffron terror trail and arrested a gaggle of activists, among them Sadhvi Pragnya Singh and a serving army officer, the BJP seemed in shock. At a loss for a strategy to deal with this unexpected twist in the terror plot, the party lurched from one unclear position to another — from the tried and tested “let the law take its course” through outrightly denying the terror link to urging a fair trial for the accused. Party strategists worried that they had lost the terrorism plank, and wondered how the new revelations would play out in the electoral arena.
Judging by the BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s current aggression, the moment of self-doubt has passed. Evidently, the Hindutva terror angle, which formerly discomfited the parivar, has since become an opportunity to deepen the communal divide. BJP chief Rajnath Singh, who has been photographed with Pragnya Singh, earlier claimed that he was embarrassed to have been found in the same frame with her. Today he is out on a limb to defend her and others caught in the ATS terror ring, going so far as to call their arrests a “ huge conspiracy,” and offering them the full protection of his party.
The RSS’ initial restraint has similarly given way to a belligerence calculated to incite divisive passions. The crackdown on Pragnya Singh and others has sent the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Praveen Togadia into a torrent of abuse and anger. Warning of reprisals against the ATS and the United Progressive Alliance government, he fumed: “They are committing the sin of describing a sadhvi as a terrorist. I promise a political backlash against this.”
This is dangerous talk. Mr. Togadia’s threats aside, Mr. Singh is virtually saying he will not allow the police to do their job in a serious terror case. The BJP and the sangh would have gone ballistic had one of their ideological adversaries or a Muslim cleric used similar language.
The BJP’s other point, that arrests should be based on hard evidence, is unexceptional, though this is an unprecedented first from a party which never before attached any importance to evidence: “The Congress must realise that terrorist investigations can be solved not through propaganda but only through hard evidence and non-politicised investigation.”
A word of caution here for the BJP’s opponents. This is not a moment for gloating or finding satisfaction over the involvement of Hindutva elements in terrorism. Terrorism is serious, whether of the Islamist or Hindutva variety, which is all the more reason to ensure that it does not become a tool for settling political scores or to target the innocent. It can be no rational person’s case that investigation into Islamist terrorism must be meticulous, impartial and transparent but that a wild goose chase is permissible when the suspects are of Hindutva persuasion.
The BJP is fully within its rights to question the ATS on the veracity of its findings. Yet this right by no means extends to threatening the ATS or warning of a backlash. There is also the party’s blatant double standard. When the Delhi police killed two Muslim terror suspects in an encounter at Batla House on September 19, following this up with more arrests from the neighbourhood, the BJP did not wait a second to call all of them terrorists and angrily swung at human rights activists who picked holes in the police version. The party called Mushirul Hasan, Vice-Chancellor of the Jamia Millia Islamia University, anti-national for his offer to provide legal assistance to the terror suspects at Jamia Nagar. It stuck to this position despite a clarification from him that the funds were being privately arranged by the students and teachers of the university. It said this knowing that lawyers in many courts had been physically prevented from representing the Muslim terror accused.
Today, the BJP has promised to arrange the best legal help in the country for Pragnya Singh and others. If this is an irony, so is the fact that every terrorism-related charge the party hurled at its political opponents is now recoiling on it. Terrorism had been the BJP’s biggest plank, topping the agenda at every party meet and providing the basis for its political resolutions. The party contended that it alone had the will and inner strength to counter terrorism, which posed the single most potent threat to the unity and integrity of the country.
From this vantage nationalist position, the BJP attacked its opponents: The Congress and its allies in the UPA were soft on terror because they coveted the Muslim vote-bank. Rights activists and even some within the UPA were openly sympathetic to Muslim terror suspects, offering them legal help, countering the police claims and so on because they looked at terrorism from an anti-national perspective, because they refused to accept that the imperatives of pursuing terror overrode human rights considerations.
Addressing a seminar in the capital as recently as October 4, Lal Krishna Advani, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, summed up his party’s position on terrorism thus: “As far as the BJP is concerned, let me make it absolutely clear that we shall never conduct ourselves in such a short-sighted way that history would hold us guilty of not doing our duty at the right time and in the right manner … Our vision is not limited by the considerations of where our party will be after the next elections. Rather, it extends to caring about where India will be after a hundred years, after a thousand years.”
Has the BJP passed the test of the “right time” and “right manner” set by its shadow Prime Minister? Clearly not. The “right manner” at this “right time” would have been for the BJP to openly and categorically acknowledge the possibility of some extremist Hindutva elements being involved in terrorism while simultaneously stressing the importance of transparency in all investigations. Such a stand would not have tainted the Hindu community. Far from it, it would have strengthened Hindu society and underscored its celebrated openness. Instead, the BJP and the sangh have clung to a single defence: That as nationalist forces they were above board, indeed that Hindus could never be terrorists, much less Hindus who subscribed to cultural nationalism.
This is an absurd claim. Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, was a product of cultural nationalism. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the National Democratic Front of Boroland (suspected to be involved in the serial Assam blasts), are not religious extremists but they would loosely fall in the Hindu category.
For long the BJP and the sangh have lamented the absence of moderate, outspoken voices among Muslims, voices that would frontally confront the reality of terrorism. It is true that Muslims have largely been in denial about Islamist terrorism. But that situation is slowly but surely changing, and the evidence is in the unequivocal condemnation of terrorism by over 6000 clerics at a meeting of Muslim clergy in Hyderabad on November 8. The BJP must follow this bold lead rather than bury its head in the sand and believe in the pristine purity of Hindutva.
There is much that is wrong with our approach to terrorism. Investigative agencies have tended to talk loose and fast, leading to too many quick-fix arrests. Last week, the Andhra Pradesh government announced compensation to at least 15 innocent Muslims who were wrongly arrested by the Hyderabad police and tortured in custody. Cops on the Hindutva terror trail have made many contradictory claims. Television channels that ran defamatory stories about “Muslim terrorists” are now flooding the screens with salacious details of the “sadhvi and the sant.”
For the challenge of terrorism to be squarely met we need investigators who brag less and concentrate more on finding clinching evidence. We need a more responsible media, and finally we need political parties that preach less and have the courage to turn the mirror inward.
6 months ago