Debating India

A salutary approach

Tuesday 29 August 2006

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s remarks at a conference on terrorism organised last week by Muslim clerics in the capital addressed their immediate apprehensions against the grisly background of the Mumbai bomb explosions. They also served the larger purpose of making clear the United Progressive Alliance Government’s determination not to allow the spectre of terrorism to menace the secular and democratic fabric. In response to fears expressed that Muslims would now become targets of suspicion, with mosques and madrassas stereotyped as centres of terrorist activity, Dr. Singh was quick to reassure Muslim community leaders that his Government would take "concrete steps" to dispel their doubts - among other things, by convening a meeting of Chief Ministers soon to address concerns over Muslims "being targeted and wrongly implicated" by law enforcement agencies investigating terror-related crimes. He made it clear that there was no question of his Government approaching terror as a phenomenon linked to any particular community: when there was terrorism in Punjab, it did not mean the Sikh community had a propensity to it; likewise, the Tamil community could not be held suspect because of the implication of the LTTE in terrorist crimes.

This is an eminently reasonable and just point to make. In effect, the Prime Minister was sending out a message globally that the secular government of a country of more than a billion people, where Hindus constitute 80.5 per cent of the population, decidedly does not consider its close to 150 million Muslim citizens potential recruits in a global jihad. This contrasts with the response of Prime Minister Vajpayee to the genocidal violence in Gujarat in 2002: he was reported in the press as registering his distress over the level of violence but also saying, shockingly, that "wherever there are Muslims they do not want to live with others" and that "instead of living peacefully, they want to preach and propagate their religion by creating fear and terror in the minds of others." A modern secular state representing an ancient, multi-streamed civilisation, which has had a relatively successful record of maintaining a harmonious coexistence of various communities, cannot possibly share `Islamophobia’ - and the paranoid attitudes and political styles towards Muslims - encountered in several western countries, including some of their airports and airlines. Terrorism in India is the specific product of local and regional circumstances, and of communal and extremist ideologies of different kinds. There is a cross-border dimension to it; but this must be seen in proportion and must not become a catch-all explanation. Terrorism tends to menace society typically during periods when the political system deviates from the pursuit of secular and democratic policies and from the rule of law. That the fallout of the Varanasi and Mumbai atrocities was swiftly contained is, in good measure, due to the sober response of a political authority that was scrupulous in not apportioning blame to any community. Salutary lessons can be learned from this experience.

See online : The Hindu

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