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Band Aid for cancer

M J Akbar (Byline)
Filed on August 4, 2008

IN THE general elections of 2004 the irrepressible and sometimes irresponsible Lalu Prasad Yadav used to tow around a maulvi when in campaign mode. Nothing particularly wrong with that. Politicians have this tendency to turn mullahs into best friends at election time.

What was the particular competence of this maulvi that attracted Lalu Yadav? Was he a great aalim, or scholar, erudite in the finer points of Sharia? Was he a fine economist with specialised knowledge in the intricate problems of rural Bihar?

The reason was less subtle. He was a lookalike of Osama bin Laden. He even handed out autographs signed "Osama".

Lalu Yadav sent out two unmissable signals with his thoughtless pandering. He told non-Muslims that the true role model of all Bihar Muslims, irrespective of what they said in their politically-correct avatar, was a person whose name had become synonymous with terrorism. And he told Muslims, particularly their impressionable young, that Osama was a legitimate role model.

Did Mrs Sonia Gandhi, an ally of Lalu Yadav, question him or even raise the subject? Not a word. Votes were more important, even if they came in the name of Osama bin Laden. Did the subject arise when Mrs Gandhi offered Lalu Yadav a prominent place in Dr Manmohan Singh's Cabinet? No.

To be fair to Lalu, this travelling Osama was not by his side in the Assembly elections that soon followed the general elections. He had switched over - or, to be more precise, had been purchased by - Ram Vilas Paswan. Did the Congress ask questions this time around? Not a chance. Votes, votes, votes: that was the only morality. It was all dismissed as a joke, and the laughter was doubtless very hearty in the comfortable drawing rooms of Lutyens' Delhi.

The joke has soured on the killing fields of Malegaon, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and a roster of cities that could enter the list of dread. The dead do not laugh even when there is a comedian as rich in range as Lalu Yadav.

The innocents have been killed and maimed by terrorists who have Osama bin Laden as their inspiration. I could produce a spread of direct and indirect evidence, from the manifesto of Indian Mujahideen to the taped speeches of Mohammad Masood Azhar (released by the BJP during the bargain over the hijacked Indian Airlines) to the honorifics used by "commanders" of the terror groups. A little will suffice. A certain television evangelist based in Mumbai, who has a devoted following among the terror groups, glorifies Osama as the ultimate Islamic hero.

On a different level, Maulana Sufiyan Patanigia, once head of the Lal Masjid seminary in Ahmedabad, and now on a revenge mission after the Gujarat carnage of 2002, is known as the Indian Mullah Omar, while his deputy Suhail Khan delights in the nickname "Chota Osama". The hate literature spawned by the Indian terrorist groups are full of the anti-Hindu venom that is encouraged by organisations like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, with its haven in Pakistan.

Common sense would suggest that those Indian politicians who claim to have some sympathy for Indian Muslims would seek, in their speeches, to create a distance between this deadly extreme fringe and the broad mass of the community, not only because this was wise but primarily because this was true. Instead, such of their ilk who are in the present government in Delhi have indulged in a curious, and inexplicable, dichotomy. On the one side, the Lalu Yadavs tout an Osama to fuel the worst kind of sentiment. And, on the other, there is what amounts to a complete denial that is inconsistent with facts. The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, seems to subsist on comfort food, perhaps because the truth is politically indigestible.

The most serious instance of comfort food was the formulation he offered to his good friend George W. Bush during the latter's official visit to India. He said that no Indian Muslim was involved in terrorism, and offered as evidence that you could not find any Indian Muslim in Osama's Al Qaeda. President Bush, in his wisdom, picked this up as proof of his theory that democracy was a panacea for all ills. Not only did democracies never go to war against one another, but they also managed to secure Indian Muslims from the temptations of terrorism.

Dr Singh had clearly not consulted his intelligence agencies when he came to such a conclusion. Even a check with the Mumbai courts might have persuaded him otherwise. Indian nationals have been involved in terrorist conspiracies at least since 1993, after the trauma of the demolition of the Babri mosque and the Congress government's startling indifference to both its loss and the communal havoc that ensued. It is possible that Dr Singh meant well.

But self-delusion is not diagnosis. It is perhaps such a frame of mind that takes the government towards a soft view of the guilt of Afzal Guru. Afzal Guru has been convicted for possibly the most outrageous attack on the Indian state. His conviction has been confirmed by the Supreme Court. There are no more legal avenues to traverse.

Look at this situation from the point of view of the veteran or the prospective terrorist. To start with, he knows that in India there is a lot of crime and very little punishment. If the guilty do get caught, it is often fortuitously. For lesser crimes, corruption is the sanctioned solution. For unforgivable crimes like terrorism, there is a pattern. An incident occurs, and lights flare in media. Worthy dignitaries visit the site and trot off to hospital.

The Home Minister of India repeats the same inane things he has been saying for four years. And then everyone retreats into the default mode of complacency. What is there to worry about? And when an Afzal Guru is caught and convicted, the state dithers. Perhaps this is why the Indian Mujahideen had the belligerence to taunt the government, through an email (sent before the timers wreaked their damage) that they were Indians and that there was little use in explaining this away with alibis.

The most interesting characteristic about homegrown terrorism is the degree of sophistication it has acquired. The Ahmedabad bombings began with an automobile theft in Navi Mumbai; the cars travelled to Surat and Vadodara to pick up their arsenals before reaching Ahmedabad.

The detonators were timed to inflict maximum damage on innocents, with a first, second and third tier of victims. This is a large operation from mastermind to foot soldiers, with a foreign connection but an Indian network. If our police cannot fold in a net, then policing has lost all meaning.

The battle is in India. India is being poisoned with a cancer. And all the government has as an answer is Band Aid.

M J Akbar is Chairman and Director of Publications, Covert


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