Prime Minister Modi and his partymen wax eloquent about the need to tackle and end terrorism. But what exactly is terrorism? The dictionary definition is “the unlawful use of violence and in timidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims“. Going by this definition, the lynch mobs that beat up and kill people suspected of carrying beef are terrorists. So too are Mus lim lynch mobs killing policemen in Kashmir. All these lynch mobs are unlawful, use violence against civilians, and have religio-political goals. They fit the definition of “terrorist“ like a glove.
Many in the BJP will not agree: they would like to say that Hindu sentiments have been hurt and anti-beef violence is an understandable though not entirely warranted reaction. The Hurriyat in Kashmir will also shed crocodile tears for the killed policemen but say the mob violence must be seen in the context of Indian military repression. Such excuses are as hollow and cruel as those given by al-Qaida or ISIS for their misdeeds.
The murder of 15-year-old Junaid Khan, for the crime of simply being a Muslim, has been condemned -after a typical long pause that will not discourage mobs -by Modi. Many of his ministers have also issued condemnations. Yet the lynch mobs have not appeared out of a vacuum: they have grown in a socio-political climate created by three years of BJP rule. A deadly mix of communalism and ultra-nationalism has stirred communal passions despite an absence of major riots. One more Muslim was killed by gau rakshaks in Jharkhand after Modi’s call for peace, showing how difficult it is to put the genie back into the bottle.
My fear is that, unless checked quickly , Hindu terror will be met with Muslim terror, and the country will go up in flames. If the state cannot protect Muslims, there is a high risk that they will devise their own armed squads for protection. Hindu-Muslim terror can escalate with the state a helpless spectator.
Modi wants to sell India to the world as a global manufacturing hub. That will not be possible if India’s fastest growing industry is lynch mobs. Economist Dani Rodrik has shown that the ability to manage internal conflicts is an important determinant of economic growth and prosperity . Since Independence, despite a thousand flaws, India has succeeded in managing its internal conflicts reasonably well, and reaped the corresponding social and economic dividends. That achievement is now in jeopardy .
Fifteen years ago, President Bush of the US congratulated India on having 150 million Muslims but no terrorists. That plaudit was an exaggeration, yet it was not unearned. Given the strident rise of militant Islam across the world since 2001, the moderation of India’s Muslims stood out. That moderation owed a lot to strenuous po litical efforts to check majoritarian violence and persuade minorities that India was their land too. Alas, the rise of lynch mobs could signal the coming end of that phase.
Across the West, small Muslim terrorist groups (mostly home grown) are wreaking havoc. They do not need financing or encourage ment from ISIS or other foreign agencies: the expertise and knowl edge for making bombs are on the internet. Militancy is not typical of Islam: the vast majority of Muslims in the West, as in India, are law abiding citizens who condemn ter rorism. Nevertheless, militants have become a menace in countries with just a few million Muslims. India now has a Muslim population of 180 million. Even if 0.01% of these Muslims turn militant, that will guarantee havoc. And if 0.01% of Hindus interpret the violence of 0.01% of Muslims as a reason to bash all Muslims, communal terror can ratchet up. Even if 99.99% of both communities are against hate crimes, that will not save the situation, unless the sternest action is taken to halt vigilante groups.
Dawood Ibrahim’s bomb blasts in Mumbai did not occur in a vacuum. They were a reaction to the antiMuslim riots that followed the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and the Shiv Sena’s maha-aarti riots of January 1993. Thirteen bomb blasts hit prominent locations including the Shiv Sena’s headquarters. Fortunately , violence did not ratchet up further, and communal tempers gradually eased.
If Hindu-Muslim terror escalates today , it will not easily be doused. I fear that those who sow Hindu violence will reap Muslim violence and vice versa, in a vicious spiral.