Oct 17, 2008

Columnists - Rajdeep Sardesai;Otherhood of man (V.G.Read)

All over the world, a killer is a killer and a rapist is a rapist. Only in India do criminals have religious and caste identities. They are either Hindus, Muslims or tribals — each with their own political protectors and detractors. Terrorism all over the world is a law and order and policing issue; only in India it is about competitive identity politics. Now, as we enter election season, bombs are being wrapped in party manifestos.

The stands of political parties on bomb blasts don’t focus on ensuring fair and just law and order, rigorous investigation and tough impartial policing. Instead ‘terrorism’ is all about how well we understand the Quran and how many times we visit the masjid. At a time when many thinking Muslims are trying to distance themselves from terrorism, politicians, by contrast, are forcing the dialogue backwards. They are determined to make religious identity the sole definition of those knocking up lethal mixtures of ammonium nitrate and ball bearings. Is it not a supreme condescension of the Muslim community to assume that they will vote for politicians who do not believe that bombers need to be brought to book?

Both ‘secular’ and ‘communal’ parties are repeatedly confusing criminality with religion. It is only a tough fair-minded cop who will catch the criminal. A political-ideological netaji, both saffron and secular, will only succeed in making the ‘terrorist’ more powerful than he is. Bomb blasts must be left to the police and to the investigative agencies. Politicians must stay firmly out of conjuring up identity politics from the smoke of ammonium nitrate.

Samajwadi Party’s Amar Singh was the first off the mark. First, he demanded a judicial probe into the Jamia Nagar encounter and then called for a ban on the Bajrang Dal, all with his eyes on the party’s traditional Muslim vote in Uttar Pradesh. Forget the Indo-US nuclear deal; Singh knows that the real battle is for the Muslim vote on the street, which in 2007 showed signs of drifting towards Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati. Instead of demanding an impartial police investigation, Singh believes this is the time to show he is the protector of Muslims. If Singh were a true friend of the community, he would assert that a criminal deserves no religious identity.

On the other hand, the BJP too is sensing a momentum shift. In a period of double-digit inflation and bomb blasts, what better way to win over that lost voter than focus on his sense of economic-physical insecurity? For the BJP, the word ‘terror’ means Muslim, ‘terror’ is a word that taps into the age-old subterranean suspicion of the mussalman that exists and is growing in sections of the Hindu electorate. If the sub-text of Singh’s campaign is to suggest that ‘Islam khatre mein hai’, the BJP seems determined to prove that ‘Islam is the danger’. Both are two sides of the same coin, both confusing a law and order issue with a political-ideological one.

The Congress is equally confused. A section of the party, also fearing for the Muslim vote, is engaging in competitive politics with Singh. While some senior Congress leaders insisted on a judicial inquiry into the Jamia Nagar incident, an embarrassed Home Ministry says it’s important not to undermine the police. The Congress is demanding the dismissal of the Orissa government over anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal, without realising that this could spark off similar demands in Congress-ruled states too. Instead of contributing to a siege mentality, the UPA needs to sound a little more like a government; it needs to clearly state that every effort is being made to keep citizens safe, that there is no question of targeting a community, but at the same time a tough and fair police is on the job to catch those who believe killing children is a means to a political end.

In a sense we are being pushed back to a 1984-like scenario when scare mongering became the basis for vote gathering. In the backdrop of the assassination of Indira Gandhi, scorpions, daggers and acid bulbs became symbols of the Congress campaign, a barely disguised attempt at warning the voter of the dangers of ‘Sikh terrorism’. Twenty-four years later, the fear factor is back in Indian politics. Parties like the Sp and the RJD want votes by ‘scaring’ the minorities into believing that a BJP-led government would consign them to being second-class citizens.

The BJP wants to ‘frighten’ the electorate into believing that the ‘terrorist’ (sorry, Muslim) could strike at any time. A section of the Congress wants you to believe that the Bajrang Dal is preparing for an ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the minorities.

The high-pitched voices are guilty of confusing ideology with criminality. Muslim community leaders must take the lead in this pursuit of law. When young Muslim men are accused of terrorist acts, community members must begin to ask where political ideology ends and criminality begins.

Sure, there have been instances of wrong people being identified and this resulted in miscarriages of justice. But are we to believe that every single police officer from Maharashtra to UP has caught the wrong person? Holding political opinions about Islam is not a crime. But bombs in the name of Islam need to be condemned vociferously by every Muslim. Similarly, can the activities of sword-wielding Bajrang Dal activists be seen as part of a harmless anti-conversion campaign? What kind of bestial perverts will rape a nun as a matter of religious duty? The parivar says no legal help must be given to terror suspects; then why did the VHP give legal aid to Dara Singh, indicted for killing the Staines family?

Politicians — ‘secular’ and ‘saffron’ — this is a time when you must answer the call to the noblest urges of your chosen profession. Politics is not just about winning elections; it’s about moral leadership of people. One man is the inspirer of our nation, a man who cared nothing for votes or for the paltry trappings of power. Today, politicians are playing with fire in election season because they know it is always someone else who will burn and from the burning ruin of Indian society, they will extract those wounded blood-stained votes. But every politician must remember the Mahatma and ask a question he would have asked: are votes and seats worth the lives lost, the children killed and nuns raped?

Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, IBN network

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