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Has one person crossed over to Pakistan due to the Gujarat riots?

December 18, 2013 14:48 IST

'Pluralism is a fundamental fact of Indian life,' Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) tells members of the US Congress. 'Indians created a secular/plural State because that is what the majority believes in and not the other way round.'

Hindu and Muslim school children offer prayers for peace in their school in Ahmedabad.Dear Congressman, Congresswoman, Senator,

It ought to be a matter of concern and worry for any right-thinking Indian and American that just when the Chinese have upped their ante in the Pacific by declaring a no fly zone over disputed island territories and have laid claims to an entire state of the Indian Union (Arunachal Pradesh), India-US ties seem to be spluttering along.

The Barack Obama administration seems to be confused in pursuing multiple contrary objectives in the region and seems heavily influenced by the immediate (the withdrawal from Afghanistan) to the detriment of long-term stability in Asia that can only come about if India effectively balances an aggressive China.

The administration is also yet to kick off the habit of anti-Indianism, deeply ingrained in many American officials due to the six decades-long cohabitation with Pakistan, a proxy created by the British to permanently keep India mired in the region.

In the US Congress, on the other hand, two sets of groups have kept up anti-India perceptions alive by periodic pot shots at Indian nationalists, often derided as 'Hindu nationalists.'

The latest House Resolution 417 (external link), purportedly targeted at Narendra Modi, a declared Opposition challenger, is deeply offending as it indirectly targets the majority Indians as well.

To understand these machinations, it is essential to understand the broader picture.

Let us examine the Gujarat riots of 2002. Gujarat state and the city of Ahmedabad have recorded riots going back to 1711 AD. The riots during the Hindu Rath Yatra festival or a Muslim Urs was a common feature of the last 200 years.

The only riot-free decade has, ironically, been under Modi's watch from 2002 till date.

The 2002 riots were indeed horrific, and it is a fact that Muslims suffered far more than Hindus. The communal bias of the police is also a fact of Indian life. But to label this 'genocide' is false.

According to the statistics provided by the Union government, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus lost their lives in the 2002 riots. This was no one sided genocide.

The spark that lit the fuse was an incident when 63 men, women and children pilgrims were burnt alive when their train coach was set on fire in Godhra and the fire brigade was prevented from reaching the scene. The train was also surrounded and subjected to heavy stone pelting.

It was Gujarat's 'Rodney King' moment. Like the Los Angeles riots (external link) of April 1992 that followed the Rodney King judgment and lasted six days, the Gujarat riots were also brought under control when the army was deployed.

Most of the violence took place in these first 48 hours before the army became effective. Despite the Gujarat government asking for immediate army help, it took two days as at that point in time India was in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation with Pakistan and the army was deployed on the border, nearly 600 kilometres away.

The similarities and comparisons with the Los Angeles riots show that once a society erupts in a violent upsurge, it is indeed difficult to control the outbreak. No one calls the Los Angeles riots genocide nor is then California governor Pete Wilson held personally responsible.

In all cases of 'genocide,' when a State is complicit in violence, without exception, the first thing that happens is people leave their homes and become refugees.

Have the minorities fled the state of Gujarat or India?

Has a single person crossed over to Pakistan due to the Gujarat riots?

The only instance of large-scale ethnic cleansing in independent India has been in Kashmir when over 200,000 Kashmiri Hindus fled their ancient land and live as refugees in other parts of the country for the last 25 years.

The greatest danger to Indian pluralism is not the majority, but an organised, aggressive, minority that has memories of having ruled over the majority.

The constant dinning of the victimhood syndrome in the minority community has given rise to terrorist groups within India. These terrorists have carried out over 132 attacks targeting the majority community.

Over 1,500 people have lost their lives and around 4,000 have received grievous injuries.

Yet it seems that the world wants to remember only the Gujarat riots and not the Mumbai train bombings of 2006, the bomb blasts of 2007 or the armed attacks of 26/11 in 2008 in Mumbai during which many Americans also lost their lives.

Left-liberal groups find no compunction in supporting a Maoist Communist insurgency in three Indian states that have killed over 3,000 people in last five years.

There is indeed deeper lack of knowledge about certain basic facts about the Indian majority. The Indians are not just polytheists, but multi-theists.

One of the central beliefs, as enshrined in the Bhagwad Gita (Chapter XV) is that God resides in every living being.

The Indian concept of God is Ardha Nari Nateshwar or half-man half-woman. God is gender neutral.

Indians also believe that all prophets are right and there are several paths to human salvation, all equally valid.

What this has done is that within a family, the son, daughter, father and mother can each have their own favourite God and own chosen path, including the right to be an atheist.

The effect of this is that Indians have never fought a religious war in their entire history, have never persecuted persons based on faith.

India is the only country where the Jews have never faced any discrimination, Christianity arrived and thrived in the first century AD (at the time when in Rome, Christians were fed to lions for sport).

El Baruni, a historian of the 11th century, found Muslim trader colonies on the western coast of India, thriving under non-Muslim rule.

Pluralism is a fundamental fact of Indian life.

India remains liberal and plural not because of its liberal Constitution. In fact, Indians created a secular/plural State precisely because that is what the majority believes in and not the other way round.

How can a cluster of faiths that has no single book, no single prophet or an organised church turn into a dictatorial theocracy?

The US Congress not only ought to throw out resolutions like the proposed House Resolution 417, but admonish motivated mischief-maker groups.

Congress instead ought to watch the Obama administration's moves in conducting its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The acid test of American intentions will come next year with what they do with the heavy equipment left in Afghanistan.

If America chooses to gift it to Pakistan -- thus tilting the conventional military balance in the sub-continent -- then it may well be 'Goodbye America' by the new Indian administration.

The choice is yours.

Best wishes,

An Indian friend.

Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) is coordinator, Indian Initiative for Peace, Arms-control & Disarmament, a Pune-based think tank.

Dr Athale is a military historian and strategic analyst who has visited the US several times and interacted with American think-tanks for over 25 years.

Image: Hindu and Muslim school children offer prayers for peace in their school in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)