Sunday, September 14, 2008

Delhi Blasts and The Aftermath

Today's editorial in The Hindu was on expected lines. Blame the government but also blame the lack of justice to muslims that is supposedly at the root of this problem.

...the Multi-Agency Centre, which maintains counter-terrorism databases, received long-due funding for hiring several hundred new staff. But the action comes far too late, and is too little in scope to solve the problem. India is still years away from possessing a system for real-time intelligence sharing across States, or an online national crime database. Not one State government affected by the recent bombings has so far invested a single rupee in upgrading its police forensics facilities, hiring counter-terrorism experts, or creating teams of specially trained investigators.

Fair enough. There was a recent report somewhere of how the Karnataka government's creation of an antiterrorist cell is a complete sham with neither funding nor manpower of any sort provided to it. I am yet to read a single report of any institutional measures that any state government has taken following this series of bombings. But the next part is more disturbing:

In many areas scarred by the appalling communal violence, SIMI is seen as an armed militia defending a besieged and vulnerable community — not as a criminal organisation that must be crushed. While this perception is profoundly misplaced, its existence points to the wellsprings of rage fed by India’s depressing failure to act against the perpetrators of Hindu fundamentalist violence. Central and State governments have, for the most part, failed to ensure the equity promised by the Constitution to Muslims, a reality driven home by actor Shabana Azmi’s pained reflections on her inability to purchase a home in Mumbai. No great intelligence is needed to see that the jihadists are working against the interests of India’s 160 million Muslims. Islamist terrorism, as the cleric Mehmood Madani pointed out a in a recent interview to this newspaper, threatens to snuff out the hard-won gains of a new generation of Muslims who have defied the odds to emerge as successful entrepreneurs and professionals. But the stark fact is that there can be no peace without justice — a proposition civil society, administrators, and policy-makers must reflect and act on if India is to win the war against Islamist terrorism.

There are several problems with these contentions. The question here is not whether equity/justice has been denied to muslims but whether its denial as perceived by the perpetrators of these attacks can be addressed by the Indian state and society. The answer must be in the negative and the reason is available right in the email sent to media houses yesterday.

An excerpt from yesterday's Hindu:

Much of the manifesto is devoted to holding out threats to the police and media. It states: “Be it the ATS [Anti-Terrorism Squad] of Maharashtra, the ATS and ACB of Gujarat, the OCTOPUS [Organisation for Countering Terrorists] of Andhra Pradesh, or be it a psychological propaganda war by the biased media, none shall be spared when it comes to vengeance – the Qisas.”

Another excerpt regarding the email:

The mail referred to a night raid on some Muslim colonies in Mumbai's Andheri suburb on August 31 and alleged that the ATS had harassed and troubled Muslims there. "You threatened to murder them and your mischief went to such an extent that you even dared to abuse and insult Maulana Mahmoood-ul-Hasan Qasmi and even misbehaved with the Muslim women and children there," the mail said.

Yes, they have expressed deep resentment about the harassment caused to their community by the police interrogation. But any police inquiry is bound to cause great harassment to those who stand suspected of the crime. In this case, the organization is relatively new and the intelligence network has limited knowledge of its reach and the individuals who work for it. Naturally, a significant number of members of the community to which the terrorists are thought to belong are going to be questioned and perhaps even kept in temporary detention. No successful investigation can be conducted without some degree of psychological coercion, what one may call 'harassment'. The FBI uses similar tactics and so do government agencies across the world - not only is this necessary, the inconvenience and trouble to anyone innocent is inevitable. If this is what these terrorists call injustice and is sufficient to warrant more attacks, The Hindu is deluding itself into believing that the problem can be resolved by somehow winning their hearts and minds. It is quite clear that this is simply propaganda to justify their attacks. Even otherwise, one must have no illusions about preventing the next attack by somehow trying to 'address' these 'grievances'.

Secondly, The Hindu says that in many areas SIMI is seen as an armed militia defending a vulnerable and besieged community. Who sees SIMI as a defensive organization? I have not read any report in this paper or elsewhere saying that muslims consider SIMI as its defender and seek refuge in it. How are attacks upon marketplaces going to advance this so-called defense of the threatened?

Shabana Azmi's problem with finding a house in Mumbai is not relevant to this question at all. For one thing, the problem she faces in Mumbai in finding housing has been written about by others as well who are not muslim. In part, it has to do with owners' preference for vegetarians - many owners share a distaste for animal slaughter on the premises of their property by its tenants. They however realize that once rented out, they have no control over this and hence prefer to give it to those who they are confident will not indulge in such a thing. Secondly, this is to to some extent owing to unverified and unverifiable suspicion about a person's antecedents - the sentiment that Muslims are more prone to violence than Hindus feeds into it. Reports have suggested that banks have a similar policy of denying credit cards to certain categories including some sections of Mumbai dominated by muslims again because their cumulative experience has shown that recovery from such areas is poor. It is therefore not entirely surprising that a similar phenomenon is observed with housing but the question, from the perspective of a solution, is an unrelated one that must be tackled separately. Insisting that providing equitable housing for Muslims in Mumbai will make this problem go away is disingenious.

The government's response makes me positively ill. As for our home minister ever ready with his stock reply, the less said the better. The PM calls for calm as always, everyone from the President downwards has issued the standard condemnations and its back to business as usual. Of course, all governments are now on 'high alert', an expression that in Mark Helprin's words signifies 'bureaucratic absurdities that attempt little, achieve nothing and protect no one'. Finally, every party is now out to put its own spin on this in a manner they think will benefit them in the coming election. Advani is back to beating the POTA drum. The communists who have been screaming hoarse trying to get parliament reconvened for a second opportunity to embarass the government think they have found the perfect reason for it now. What can we really expect from all this noise? Nothing. Zilch.

The Indian mujahideen has now warned that their next attack will tentatively be in Mumbai. So enjoy the peace while it lasts (which from the record is probably not going to be long). Meanwhile, for the cameras, its over to Mumbai. God help India.

Update: Read P.B.Mehta's op-ed in the Indian Express today. He captures the sentiment well and provides the perfect riposte to The Hindu's erroneous assessment:

...There is the appeal to a fight for justice. But what sort of conviction is this in the justice of one’s cause that it can be articulated only anonymously, and can speak only the language of bloody revenge? Then there is the narrative of victimisation: portrayals of a community at the receiving end in assorted episodes from Babari Masjid to Gujarat. But this narrative of victimisation seems to become simply a pretext. It has its own self-fulfilling logic, so that everything that happens is simply more grist for the victimhood mill. Every political party, every state organ, every media intervention is portrayed as one vast conspiracy to reduce Muslims to victimhood, as if there are no spaces left to address legitimate grievances.[Emphasis added]

Amen to that. He poses some good questions.

While there may be widespread revulsion against terrorism, what will be the form of politics that will overcome the sense of victimisation that is now creeping in on all communities? How will we break the vicious circle the Indian Mujahedeen have identified: that any action taken by the state, investigation or punishment will be taken as further evidence of victimisation? Can the state overcome the accusations from all sides that it is partisan in the prosecution of its core duties? It may turn out that our biggest vulnerability is not communalism; it is a state structure now floundering for credibility, legitimacy and effectiveness.

8 comments:

Vidya said...

If any one wants to see how Shourie is making a fool of himself on the nuclear deal could be seen at http://www.ibnlive.com/videos/73578/09_2008/devils_shourie1309_1/us-aims-to-make-india-strategically-subservient-shourie.html

Vidya

Pilid said...

Vidya,

They both made some good points. On para 3e of the NSG statement, I think Karan got it right on its legal meaning but Shourie might well have it right about the political consequences - as SV pointed out sometime ago, the influence the Bush administration brought to bear in support of India could very well, at a future date, be similarly exercised to India's detriment. Though the text of the Hyde Act is not binding, one must not underestimate the consequences of the American perspective. There is no right answer to this; what actually happens will largely depend on the political circumstances at the time these provisions have to be invoked.

The rest of the interview was not great. Karan did not give Shourie a good chance to respond instead simply mouthing off his own view in each instance. This is a problem I have with anchors who often make the show more about themselves than about the person whom they have invited to interview.

Shourie's recent op-ed in the Indian Express is more illuminating. Check it out.

Shankar said...

(reposting..)

pSecular media's reaction to bombings:

DAY1:
Blame the Home Minister and the police

DAY2:
Hold RSS, BJP and Modi responsible

DAY3:
Assert that Muslims are the real victims. Criticize the law enforcement people for taking suspects into custody.

(well, Chindu is different.. it blames Modi within minutes after any violence)

Pilid said...

Shankar, I share the media anchors' sense of fatigue with this blame game. There is a real problem but beyond the verbal duels, nothing much seems to have actually happened.

R said...

My guess about this editorial is that Praven Swami wrote the first part and LiC added the last.

While this perception is profoundly misplaced, its existence points to the wellsprings of rage fed by India’s depressing failure to act against the perpetrators of Hindu fundamentalist violence

Read this noting what Praveen swami wrote on this saturday

(quote)
The story of SIMI’s top bomb-maker sits ill with the narrative often used to explain why Islamist terrorism has grown in India.

Qureshi studied at a secular school, not a seminary. He, unlike many inner-city Muslims, enjoyed access to both education and economic opportunity. Most important, Qureshi’s political radicalisation seems not to have been connected to the win poles that marked the growth the jihad in India, the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the 2002 communal pogrom in Gujarat.

(unquote)

And for the cheif, what Shabana Azmi said is the the absolute truth and he does not care even if Naseeruddin Shah exposes Azmi's propaganda

Anonymous said...

Pilid,

The Media Anchors have no moral right to feel fatigued with the responses made out by political representatives. First of all, they are very verbose and their questions take away a lot of the time slot and then they keep interrupting the speaker with their inane absurdities. Also people like Karan Thapar come with a blatant bias by which they ask inane questions of certain political parties and loaded questions of others. The recent instance is in Karan Thapar calling BJP a national enemy, which prompted the BJP spokesperson to walk out of the stage. At that stage, it was very evident whose side Karan Thapar was leaning.

Somehow the central theme for the visual media seems to only somehow increase their TRP ratings and not be newsworthy. We could therefore see gory images in IBN and conduct interview with the Young boy, without even protecting his identity, etc.

The Day the media provides a sense of balance, brings in newsworthy reports and do propoer research and erudite anchoring, we could hope for quality from these worthies. Until then, it is only a question f who is outdoing who in bringing about absurdities

Thyagarajan

Pilid said...

r,

Naseeruddin Shah may be right that he has never been discriminated against. But there have been others beside Azmi who are less of celebrities who have pointed to this problem. So there is probably some truth in it.

As for this Subhan Qureshi, there have been others like him before - remember the two Dutch boys who were killed by the BSF in Kashmir some years ago? And the engineer from Srinagar who played an important role in designing bombs for the LeT? Secular education is not a guarantee of a tolerant and liberal outlook by any means though the chances of someone becoming normal may be higher. It is possible that the events in Gujarat and the Babri Masjid may have radicalized some youth but the reasons are less important than solutions right now.

Thayagarajan,

I was referring to the media anchors' fatigue with respect to the blame game that followed the Delhi blasts, not the Shourie interview.

Yes, Karan Thapar can be quite biased. In that sense, his interviews are as much about him and his opinions as they are about the other person. Many of the questions he poses are more for rhetorical effect since it is clear that nothing the person might have to say is ever going to convince him anyway. Of course, the style can be very effective to make a point but it is important to remember that what you get can end up being more soundbytes than information.

Anonymous said...

"We could therefore see gory images in IBN and conduct interview with the Young boy, without even protecting his identity, etc."

Speaking of which, I was shocked to find chindu carrying the photograph of the boy in front page! (TOI chennai edition had opted not to give out any details).
How can the channels and supposedly national and responsible newspaper do this ??