Merchants of hate

Published : Jul 04, 2008 00:00 IST

BJP activists in Hyderabad burning the effigy of a "terrorist" after the Jaipur explosions, on May 14. The party seems determined not only to politicise the mayhem caused by terrorists but also to communalise it.-KRISHNENDU HALDER/REUTERS

BJP activists in Hyderabad burning the effigy of a "terrorist" after the Jaipur explosions, on May 14. The party seems determined not only to politicise the mayhem caused by terrorists but also to communalise it.-KRISHNENDU HALDER/REUTERS

The BJPs equation of Muslims with terrorists is part of a wider Hindutva agenda.

IT is woefully clear that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is out to play the Hindutva card with great fervour in the next Lok Sabha elections. It has decided not only to politicise the mayhem that terrorists cause but to communalise it as well. It will target the Muslim community as a culprit to be denounced and a perpetrator to be punished. The cry for the re-enactment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) was revived after the Jaipur blasts on May 13. But the terms in which the plea is couched have escaped notice.

Let me quote from an authentic report in the Organiser of May 25 of BJP leader L.K. Advanis considered statement on the blasts. His attack on the United Progressive Allliance (UPA) government is well known, but not so well known is his attack on Muslims. The government is unwilling to summon the requisite political will to mount a comprehensive attack on terrorism for fear of losing its vote bank. Read: for fear of alienating Muslims. The innuendo is not veiled. The expression he used vote bank is Advanis notorious shorthand for Muslims. He added: Evidently, terrorist outfits have come to believe that they have nothing to fear so long as the UPA government is in office at the Centre. Guided by the same vote bank considerations the UPA government repealed POTA soon after assuming office in May 2004.

He suppressed the facts that POTA had nothing to show by way of results, that its application was communally selective, especially in Gujarat, and that it had incurred censures of respected international human rights bodies.

BJP president Rajnath Singh sang the same tune, as Organiser quoted him: Any strong action against terrorism will weaken its vote bank politics. On June 1, he referred to the fatwa of the respected seminary Darul Uloom in Deoband on May 31 denouncing terrorism and said: Darul Uloom is seeking to dissociate Muslims from terrorism when the Congress-led government wishes to equate Muslims with terrorism and, on this basis, rejects the demand for enactment of an anti-terror law.

This is Orwells double-speak. The basis equating Muslims with terrorism is entirely a BJP creation, as his and Advanis statements earlier establish. Rajnath Singh made it plain that the BJPs equation of Muslims with terrorists would be an integral part of a wider Hindutva agenda.

Along with cultural nationalism [read: Hindutva], Article 370, uniform civil code and true [sic.] secularism, we are committed to preserve the national unity and integrity (Hindustan Times, June 2, 2008).

In its Annual Report of 2008, Amnesty International noted the cries for reviving POTA. Demands for new domestic anti-terror legislation continued. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 was not repealed despite protests (page 153).

POTAs predecessor, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), had proved worthless and 72,000 of the 77,000 people arrested under it were released without charge. Only 1.8 per cent of those prosecuted were convicted.

But there is a sharp difference between the two laws, as the noted scholar Ujjwal Kumar Singh points out in his outstandingly able work The State, Democracy and Anti-Terror Laws in India (Sage, pages 244). He writes: A significant distinction between TADA and POTO/POTA, indicative of the political context within which POTA has been brought, is that while TADA did not carry a central image of the nation or national security, the latter carries an image that is part of the Hindutva agenda of the nation and national security. Moreover, while identifying terrorist activities, TADA specifically mentioned threatening harmony between communities as an act of terror. Following widespread allegations of its targeted use against religious minorities, POTA removed threatening harmony between communities from the ambit of terrorist activities, purportedly as a safeguard. Far from being a safeguard, the removal translated in practice into a deflection of attention from the communal activities of Hindu fundamentalist organisations, while the Act continued to be used selectively against the Muslim community.

Perhaps the most prominent selective use of POTA is in Gujarat where out of 250 persons against whom POTA has been imposed, 249 are Muslims. The majority of POTA cases in Gujarat have resulted from its application in the Sabarmati train burning case in Godhra. Curiously while the circumstances of the tragic train burning incident were and still continue to be pieced together, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, declared it a terrorist act immediately after it occurred. In the midst of the unbridled brutalities unleashed against Muslims in different parts of Gujarat, on 2 March, 2002, Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) was applied in the train burning case. Contrary to popular perception, POTO was not subsequently withdrawn. It was only kept in abeyance, that is, deferred, till more suitable circumstances presented themselves. The fact that POTO, still an ordinance, was to come up before the Parliament for approval before it became an Act, was perhaps an important consideration. POTA got enacted in an extraordinary joint session of Parliament on 26 March 2003, and almost simultaneously, the Act was re-invoked in the train burning case. The entire pattern of invocation, abeyance and deferral, followed by its re-invocation later, shows the exclusionary nature of the politics extraordinary laws represent and thrive on (pages 62-63). POTA was not applied to the perpetrators of the pogrom in Gujarat.

The author cites facts and figures to establish the selective application of POTA. It was promulgated as an ordinance (Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance) on October 24, 2001, soon after 9/11. On November 2, 2001, Advani said: If the Opposition opposes the ordinance they will be wittingly or unwittingly helping terrorists. It became an Act of Parliament in March 2002. It was more draconian than TADA in many respects as the Report of the Peoples Tribunal established (The Terror of POTA and Other Security Legislation edited by Preeti Verma; Human Rights Law Network, New Delhi; pages 445).

The National Common Minimum Programme of the Government of India, May 2004, pledged its repeal. On September 21, 2004, the President promulgated two ordinances, simultaneously repealing POTA and amending the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967. In its winter session, both Houses of Parliament gave the ordinances their approval, confirming the removal of POTA from the statute books and replacement of the UAPA, 1967 by the UAPA, 2004. Civil libertarians are rightly critical of those amendments. The BJP never mentions them. POTAs repeal signified its electoral defeat, which continues to rankle in the Sangh Parivars mind.

India is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and is obliged to file periodically reports on its observance of the Covenant. They are examined by the Human Rights Committee set up by the Covenant. It comprises experts who judge independently. Successive Attorneys-General of India have been grilled by the Committee on the countrys security legislation, particularly TADA and the National Security Act, and preventive detention in general. Its proceedings are poorly reported in India. Hearings were held on March 26, 27, 28 and 30 in 1984, March 27, 1991, and on July 24-25, 1997. They welcomed the non-renewal of TADA and expressed fears of its replacement by another draconian law.

Rosalyn Higgins, who became a Judge of the International Court of Justice at The Hague, pointed out, on March 27, 1991, that TADA had provisions which were clearly incompatible with certain provisions of the Covenant. This view was widely shared.

A member of the Human Rights Committee, El-Shafei, asked what protection there was against arbitrary detention and the violation of other protected rights, in view of the overly broad language of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, Article 4(2) of which defined disruption activity as any action which questioned, disrupted or was intended to disrupt, either directly or indirectly, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India. Also, what procedures were available to detainees for complaints against abuses while in detention? Had any such cases been brought, and what had been the outcome?

TADAs non-renewal was small comfort. On July 30, 1997, the Human Rights Committee adopted a series of comments on Indias report: The Committee regrets that the use of special powers of detention remains widespread. While noting the State partys [Indias] reservation to Article 9 of the Covenant, the Committee considers that this reservation does not exclude, inter alia, the obligation to comply with the requirement to inform promptly the person concerned of the reasons for his or her arrest. The Committee is also of the view that preventive detention is a restriction on liberty imposed as a response to the conduct of the individual concerned, that the decision as to continued detention must be considered as a determination falling within the meaning of Article 14, Paragraph 1, of the Covenant, and that proceedings to decide the continuation of detention must, therefore, comply with that provision. The question of continued detention should be determined by an independent and impartial tribunal constituted and operating in accordance with Article 14, Paragraph 1, of the Covenant. It further recommends, at the very least, that a central register of detainees under the preventive detention laws be maintained and that the State party accept the admission of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent to all types of detention facilities, particularly in areas of conflict.

The Committees Comments constitute case law and are compiled in a book (The Human Rights Committee by Dominic McGoldrick; Oxford University Press). There are no Muslim vote banks on that Committee. POTA escaped censure because it lasted for three years, from 2001 to 2004.

We must examine the roots of terror and while combating it also redress the wrongs on which terror feeds. On May 28, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil proposed that rural job, housing and road-construction schemes be intensified in naxalite-affected areas to counter the influence of the Left extremists.

The Darul Ulooms fatwa, the second after the one on February 25, challenges the preaching of hate and revenge by some Muslim groups. They responded with abusive e-mails (Seema Chishti; The Indian Express, May 23). The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) could sponsor and organise the Mumbai blasts in March 1993 only by drawing on the spirit of revenge created by the riots of December 1992 and January 1993, the massive arrests of Muslims and the impunity with which the Shiv Sena and the Sangh Parivar operated. The Srikrishna Commission noted that.

A.S. Dulat, former Director of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), is no ordinary intelligence veteran. He has operated actively in Kashmir affairs, especially with the Hurriyat leaders, and understands political realities. His article in The Pioneer of May 24 comes as a breath of fresh air in an atmosphere fouled by the McCarthyite fulminations of Advani & Co. and ignorant and simplistic critiques by very many in the media. It bears quotation in extenso: We have to recognise that terrorism has its origins and society is made up of people and people have minds. Now that we have finally admitted that Pakistani criminals alone dont fill the ranks of terrorists and that they also include our own people, many of whom, like the SIMI activists, are quite educated and defy the jihadi stereotype, lets make a sincere, well-thought-out plan to address the Islamic mind. In the 21st Century, despite all the importance claimed by Tech-Int people, the overwhelming importance of Hum-Int cannot be overstated.

In short, there is a certain ideology that has gained currency in the post-Babri era. The Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Dawood Ibrahim and all others are fishing in the same pool. Counter-intelligence must focus on the cultural and economic compulsions that are driving Muslim youth into terrorist cells. The British government is doing a good job by encouraging the mainstreaming of Islamic societies in that country. The West has realised the limitations of a purely military solution. There will be nothing gained without seeking to remove the factors that agitate the mind of the Muslim. We must attempt this in a big way in India. One hears of the Justice Sachar Committee reports recommendations, but what prevents the government from implementing them? Whenever one goes in the U.K., from the moment of landing in Heathrow to the shops of London, one cannot help noticing the proliferation of Muslim youth employed in servicing customers. They have name tags like Abdul, Razia and many of the women even wear hijabs. Therefore, lets not get fixated by anti-terror laws and federal agencies. Nothing will change unless we change our attitude.

This is precisely what the BJP refuses to do. It stokes the fires of hate, presides over pogroms and sees POTA as a weapon for crushing the predictable and foolish reaction. That reaction, in turn, provides grist to the BJPs antiquated mill. Deobands challenge and the realism shown by officials like Dulat provide hope that before long sanity in the country will drown the merchants of hate of all hues.

On June 2, 2008, the BJP started violent breast-beating at Nepals decision to establish a secular republic in the erstwhile Hindu kingdom. Jaswant Singh cried: As an Indian and a believer in sanatan dharma [Hinduism], I feel diminished there is nothing more secular than sanatan dharma. Forget the double-talk in the assertion that a state based on one religion is secular. The lament reveals the BJPs real goal the establishment of a Hindu state in India.

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