In the wake of the Gujarat carnage exactly ten years ago, my debut column in India Together (see this link) addressed the issue of security for India's largest minority. I believe now, as I did then, that the multiple Muslim communities across India's geography can enhance their security, by, among other measures, relying on the state and the vast liberal majority among the non-Muslims. We must be wary of becoming pawns in political games at the subcontinental level, and also pawns of party politics. The only ones who gain when we fail to strengthen our internal conversations are mafia dons, Pakistani intelligence operatives and the propaganda apparatus of the Sangh Parivar.
In light of the events over the past month beginning with the riots in Bodo areas of Assam and culminating in a mass exit of North Easterners from south Indian cities, it is apt to revisit this point, and the larger issues addressed in the earlier article.
The major plank of employment, recommended in the Sachar Committee report, has been stymied by the government's under-prepared brief in the Supreme Court for inclusion of the backward groups of the minority in the quota system.
Muslim India: A security perspective
Headcount: A useful controversy
As apprehended, the Home Secretary confirmed that the ISI has managed to get into the act. Their inflammatory use of social media has been designed to target hotheads in the community. However, this is only one part of the story. The other part is about inciting the perceptions of threats among fellow citizens from the North East. This can only have an indigenous origin.
It is here the conspiracy theory can be given the benefit of doubt. The departure of north-easterners, beginning in Bangalore, spread to Channai and Hyderabad. While the police are investigating the origin of the rumours that instigated the flight, they would do well to include majoritarian extremists in their ambit.
Such groups have profited under the rightist government in Karnataka, evident from periodic reports of depredations ranging from moral policing to more insidious exploits. The alacrity of the arrival of workers of the rightist formation, RSS, on to railway station to 'commiserate' (some of them wielding canes!) with the victims, suggests a potent line of investigation. Their message was no doubt one of religious solidarity with Hindu Bodos, even while deprecating Muslims for being 'just like that only'.
Shifting to the wider issue of minority security, it can be predicted to figure prominently in the long run up to elections two years hence. The first shots have been fired with the Gujarat chief minister unambiguously using the term 'Bangladeshis' in his Independence Day onslaught on the prime minister. The issue of infiltrators has returned. It was last in the news when BJP-ruled Rajasthan rounded up a few in wake of the bomb blasts in Jaipur. Clearly, the land issue in Bodoland will have an all-India resonance, yielding up as it does a stick for the otherwise politically bereft opposition.
It therefore seems prescient on part of the MIM MP from Hyderabad to have led a medical relief mission to the camps of internally displaced people in Assam. Such expression of solidarity is a useful broadcast that Muslim communities cannot be put upon in isolation. It is useful deterrence of another Nellie massacre or Gujarat carnage. While it does give courage to vulnerable communities, there is no call to restrict access to this aid to the minority alone as the MIM at its self-congratulatory best states.
That said, to revert to the theme of ten years back. Is the minority more secure today? Or, to frame a better question: Is the nation more secure today? From the foregoing, it is clear that the dark clouds gathered since the early nineties have not quite dissipated. Inevitably so, since the actions that should have been taken were never taken up.
First, the interest of the global community in the South Asia region during the last decade was an opportunity to resolve the problems between India and Pakistan, with a global 'stamp' to a mutually agreed way forward. But this opportunity was wasted, and now that the West is preparing to exit its war in Afghanistan, the two South Asian countries await the impending departure with bated breath and preparations for a return to rivalry. While the implications for Kashmir are easily comprehended, India's other Muslims too will be affected.
The second direction along which the government was hesitant to proceed was in pursuing right wing terrorists. A significant feature of the past decade was terror bombings. These were popularly attributed, by a media that should have known better, to Muslim perpetrators. Enlarging the line up of suspects to include hyper-nationalists would have helped greatly, but the Centre decided to let sleeping dogs lie. This strategy will probably come home to roost in the run-up to elections. 'Sleeper cells', particularly those with Bengali (read 'Bangladeshi') features, will once again be in the news as fifth column.
The lack of any notable progress in other promising areas keeps the communal scene fertile for disruption. The major plank of employment, recommended in the Sachar Committee report, has been stymied by the government's under-prepared brief in the Supreme Court for inclusion of the backward groups of the minority in the quota system. Second, the RK Raghavan-led SIT has inexplicably made any hope of justice recede. The eventual outcome will be akin to apprehending the sailors on Haji Mastan's ship even as Haji Mastan remains free.
Lastly, recompense for minority members wrongly arrested for terror attacks has only been done in a few cases in Hyderabad. Youth apprehended for the Malegaon attacks are still in jail despite better knowledge of the perpetrators. This brings to fore the fourth and last point, that the wheels of justice have been slow and unsteady in nailing Hindutva-inspired terrorists. Lt Col Purohit is mounting a counter-attack presenting himself as a mole, while a lead conspirator turned approver, Swami Aseemanand, has reneged.
The government, fearing the electoral price of the tag of minority 'appeaser', is unlikely to take any of its own initiatives any further. This may seem politic, but a resulting loss of the minority vote may end up helping its rival to power, bringing back the toxicity of its philosophy and endangering certainly the nation, if not the state.
So to answer the question directly, India is indeed less secure. It is the price of a wasted decade. But two years being a long time in politics, the
government can yet turn to complete its unfinished agenda.