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|March 6, 2002||
The monster of fanaticism
With the Indian and Pakistani armed forces in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on the border, the one thing missing was a Hindu-Muslim clash in India. On February 27, a mob of around 2,000 Muslims attacked a train at a railway station in Godhra, Gujarat, with petrol bombs. Fifty-eight people were burnt to death, including 25 women and 12 children. The next day virtually the entire state erupted in communal frenzy and over 500 innocent Muslim citizens were killed, many of them burnt to death in their cars or houses. With the Indian Army deployed on the border, it took nearly 24 hours to muster a sizeable force of soldiers to patrol the state.
With one stroke of incompetence the provincial government reduced India to the status of Rwanda or Burundi and brought disgrace on the country by giving a free rein to mobs on the streets of Gandhi's Gujarat!
The local police, their sympathies clearly with the rioters, were either ineffective or plainly inadequate. I have had reasonable experience of riot control during my career and have always shuddered to think what would happen if the mob frenzy spreads to the Indian countryside. Law and order and peace are ensured in the far-flung areas of India not because of the presence of the police but essentially by the community itself that accepts pluralism and is essentially peaceful. No army or police can control the violence if the entire community is seized by frenzy and bent upon violence against their fellow citizens.
While Gujarat was worst affected, even states like Karnataka, Maharashtra and Rajasthan saw sporadic violence. The depth of anger amongst the Hindus cannot be explained merely as a result of the February 27 attack. The direct and indirect linkage to jihad and the proxy war being carried out by Pakistan for the last 20 years cannot be denied.
Anatol Lieven, writing in Foreign Affairs (January-February 2002), says, 'Islamist terrorists also know the best way to encourage revolution in Pakistan is to provoke New Delhi or Indian Hindus into savage repression of India's Muslim minority. The war between India and Pakistan that might ensue would radicalise Pakistani Muslim feeling -- especially if India were seen as being backed by the United States. Such a war also would entail the horrendous risk of a nuclear exchange between the two countries.'
M H Askari, a well-known Pakistani columnist, writing in Pakistan's Dawn newspaper on February 27, the very day the Godhra massacre took place, dismissed the scenario painted by Lieven as 'unrealistic and farfetched'. We in India -- and hopefully Mr Askari -- now know better. I am reminded of another meeting with a senior Pakistani analyst, Dr Parvez Iqbal Cheema in Mumbai in February 1993. The cosmopolitan city was then just limping back to normalcy after a major bout of rioting.
Those were the days when violence in Punjab was at its peak. There were countless episodes when buses would be waylaid, Hindus segregated and shot in cold blood! It was and is an open secret that Pakistan supported this murderous campaign in Punjab with the hope of destabilising India. Pakistan has never missed an opportunity to rubbish Indian attempts at building a composite and secular nation.
My simple plea to Dr Cheema was that a secular and peaceful India is in Pakistan's interest. It is from this standpoint that many of us in India oppose the Pakistani claims on Kashmir that are based on religion and its 54-year itch to prove that the 'two-nation' theory is valid, that the Muslims of the subcontinent are a separate nation.
I pointed out that we in India have our own share of mad fanatics. If Pakistan professes to guard the interest of Muslims of the subcontinent then it ought to exercise control over its zealots. This would help India control its Taliban brand of crazies. The 1993 Mumbai riots and serial bombings ought to have served as a reminder to both India and Pakistan that the monster of fanaticism once unleashed cannot be controlled. Today nearly nine years and many jihads later, the worst nightmare seems to be coming true.
The history, geography, culture and kinship in the Indian subcontinent are of such complexity that there is really no substitute to approaching the issues on a regional basis rather than confining them to national boundaries.
Again harking back to July 1993, I was amazed to see Khalistani lobbyist Gurmeet Singh Aulakh being given the platform of the Washington Press Club to claim that the massacres of Hindus then taking place in Punjab were in reality the handiwork of the Indian government to 'defame' the Khalistani movement! Does this ring a rather familiar bell? It should, since most of the Islamic world firmly believes that 9/11 was actually an Israeli plot and that the Arabs and Osama bin Laden's followers were framed to 'defame' Islam.
Fifty years of Western bias has produced a sense of delusion in Pakistan. One, that it is equal to India, and two, while it can get away with the ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Pakistan, the huge population in India will continue to remain unprovoked.
The majority in India is aghast at the Gujarat administration's failure in quelling retaliatory violence in the state. Two wrongs never make one right. To deal with the emerging danger, what is needed is not a reductionist logic of military appreciation (a disaster when applied at the policy-making level) or pious speeches like the one delivered by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on January 12, 2002, but concrete action against fanatics and fanaticism.
Obviously, action against this evil has to be taken on a regional basis, in India as well as in Pakistan and Bangladesh! But for that, the subcontinent will need visionary leadership that is prepared to take the bull by the horns. Else, the region will continue to be a nuclear tinderbox.
Retired Colonel Anil Athale, former director of war history at the defence ministry, is a frequent contributor to these pages.
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