Since independence, Hindu militancy has looked the biggest danger to our secular fabric. I have spent a long career combating the hate messages of groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Yet I have a nasty feeling today that Islamic terror may have become an equally great danger.
The direct effect of terrorist attacks on temple has been limited. But the indirect effect could be lethal, by bestowing respectability on Hindu extremism. For the first time in our history, mass murder of a community could prove a winning electoral strategy for the BJP in Gujarat. If this establishes communal killing as the basis for electoral success, it could become official BJP strategy in state after state, ripping India aprt.
The attack at Godhra was outrageous mass murder by a mob, not terrorism. However, the recent attacks on temples clearly represent Islamic terror.
We have overcome other forms of communal terror in the past, notably in Punjab. Militant Sikh groups targeted first Nirankaris and then Hindus, including many innocent bus travellers. After Indira Gandhi was murdered, some Hindus took mass revenge against innocent Sikhs in Delhi. Yet that did not bestow respectability on the Hindu killers. The Congress Party may have winked at it but did not condone it, let alone make mass murder an election strategy.
Ultimately Sikh terror was put down not by Hindu mobs, troops or police, but by the Sikh-dominated Punjab police. A communally explosive issue was solved through brutal but secular means. Hopefully, militancy in Kashmir too will one day be quashed by the Kashmir police (dominated by Muslims) in another secular, if brutal operation.
Ideally, a super-efficient police should catch terrorists and super-efficient courts should convict them speedily. Alas, our justice and police systems are pathetically slow and incompetent. They cannot combat even ordinary crime, let alone terrorism. Government terror alone is an effective counter.
Naxalites in West Bengal and Sikh militants in Punjab were put down by government terror, not rule of law. No proponent of civil rights could approve. In the long run we must develop a justice system that works. Till then, government counter-terror, with all its ham-handedness and injustice, is the only credible weapon.
But while this worked against Sikh militancy in Punjab and might work against Muslim militancy in Kashmir, it cannot work against Islamic terrorists unaffiliated to any state. The Punjab police could round up suspect Sikhs and Kashmir police can round up suspect Muslims without making the issue look communal. But if Islamic terrorist attacks spread to states like U.P. and Rajasthan, and the local police round up and torture Muslim suspects, this will quickly be seen as Hindu communalism. And it may indeed be the case if clones of Narendra Modi come to power in these states.
That is entirely possible. If Modi wins in Gujarat, the balance of power in the BJP will shift to Hindutva extremists, who will use the communal card in next year’s state elections in Rajasthan amd Madhya Pradesh. I believe Congress will lose these states anyway because of drought distress and misgovernance arising from fiscal bankruptcy after the Pay Commission award. Yet if the BJP fights a la Modi in these states and wins, it will give the credit for victory to Hindu militancy rather than drought or bankrputcy. The temptation to use communal hate as a vote getter everywhere in India could become irresistible.
If so, do not expect Indian Muslims to remain quiescent. Some of them may cheer Pakistan at cricket matches, some may buy Osama T-shirts, but till now they have steered clear of international Islamic terrorism. We are lucky indeed that our Muslims have not so far been seduced and taken over by global jehadi outfits. We have suffered attacks on temples in Gujarat and Jammu, but these look like bungled amateur jobs. They do not look like the work of skilled international terrorists that wreaked havoc in Bali and Kenya.
But if Hindu militancy takes the BJP to victory in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, expect the worst. Expect international jehadi terror to worm its way into the Indian Muslim community and entrench itself there. What follows could make the recent temple attacks look like child’s play.
In the worst case, India could degenerate into a Hindu-Muslim battleground. Escalating and self-reinforcing communal militancy could lead to private armies of Hindu and Muslim terrorists battling while a demoralised state wrings its hands helplessly.
Let me not exaggerate.I have sketched a worst-case scenario, not the most probable one. Actual outcomes could be less dire. But please recognise that Islamic terror is a global phenomenon knocking hard at our doors, and will surely gain entry, even a warm welcome, if encouraged by pogroms of the Gujarat variety. For that reason we desperately need Narendra Modi to lose in Gujarat. The opinion polls, alas, predict a different outcome.