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When the home minister speaks, every word has to be carefully chosen

January 30, 2013 19:56 IST

Distorting facts in relation to politics and religion and appeasing extremist ideology has grave long-term implications for India's security, feels C Uday Bhaskar.

Two recent developments in different parts of India draw attention to the very complex and troubled linkages in the corelation between politics, religion and the abiding challenge of terrorism.

On January 20, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde made reference to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bharatiya Janata Party running terrorist training camps to incite Hindu terrorism during the Congress party's Chintan Shivir in Jaipur.

In the course of the remarks, Shinde also dwelt on the BJP's cultural nationalism and felt this was a divisive approach that would weaken India's social fabric.

In the predictable uproar that followed, both from the BJP and non-partisan citizens, Shinde sought to clarify his remarks by noting that what he had said was not startlingly new and that this was the dominant refrain in the national media.

Specific attention was drawn to the Hyderabad and Malegaon terror attacks where innocent Muslim youth were apprehended with little evidence -- and later the involvement of right-wing Hindutva elements was revealed.

The national response to Shinde's remarks and the linkage with 'saffron terror' was predictably irate and the Congress party was clearly on the defensive in the matter, though a few voices were seen to be supporting the home minister.

In another incident, a local gurdwara in Panchkula, Haryana, refused the late Lieutenant General R S Dyal's family permission to conduct the bhog ceremonies related the distinguished soldier's death anniversary.

According to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee management, General Dyal had taken part in Operation Bluestar in 1984 where the Indian Army was ordered to flush out terrorists from the Golden Temple.

Despite earnest pleas, the SGPC did not relent and the general's family was forced to conduct the ceremony privately. The uniformed fraternity -- serving and retired -- is both hurt and outraged and this incident will continue to fester, just as the aftermath of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots continue to trouble the community and the conscience of the nation.

The trajectory of religion-linked terror that has struck a body blow to the Indian political spectrum begins with the January 30, 1948 assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Hindu right-wing forces.

This was followed by the post-Bluestar assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by Sikhs who were part of her personal security detail.

In both cases, an extreme form of personal conviction, triggered by a bruised religious sentiment, about the perceived transgression by the central protagonist -- the Mahatma in the first case and Indira Gandhi in the second -- led to their assassination.

In the decades that followed the Mahatma's tragic demise, the idea of a secular India where communal harmony and amity was upheld and protected in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution (the remarkable document whose 64th birthday as it were was celebrated on January 26) has been respected in the main.

However, a combination of external factors and the troubled internal situation has aggravated the internal security texture. The aftermath of the December 1992 Babri Majid demolition led to the March 1993 terror attacks in Mumbai where more than 250 people died.

Subsequently, over the last 20 years, India's internal security has been troubled by the steady incidence of such attacks.

The November 2008 Mumbai terror carnage that shook the country was the more horrific and the recent revelations about the David Headley (alias Dawood Gilani) case point to the iceberg that still lurks in the sub-continent where State sponsorship and the foreign hand are all tangled.

Over the last two decades -- since the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government came to power at the Centre in early 1998 -- there has been a bitter divide between the two major national parties -- the Congress and the BJP -- over how to deal with the challenge of religion-linked terror.

Regrettably, the discourse and the positions adopted by the two parties has been zero-sum and bitter and the net casualty has been a dilution in the national will and determination to address this scourge.

Terror, as has been often pointed out, has no religion -- or colour -- and when it occurs -- the State has to address it impartially and effectively. To that extent, Shinde's remarks were imprudent and covey the impression of being part of a short-sighted political gesture aimed at the minority community.

When the home minister of India speaks in public on such a sensitive and critical matter -- every word has to be carefully chosen. In the event that the Indian State does indeed have such evidence to link a major party like the BJP or for that matter the RSS institutionally, with the spread of terror, then the matter must be pursued to its logical conclusion. The law must be invoked without fear or favour.

If the State is seen to be pandering to the ruling party or coalition's political compulsion, then the reprehensible position taken by the SGPC in relation to General Dyal will be the order of the day.

General Dyal is a distinguished figure for the Indian Army and as the hero of Haji Pir, he was awarded the Mahavir Chakra. It is regrettable that the manner in which he was denied a certain religious protocol by the SGPC was tacitly accepted both by the Indian State and that spectrum of civil society which is rapidly mobilised on other issues.

Distorting facts in relation to politics and religion -- which are inseparable in a democracy -- and appeasing the extremist ideology that is against the spirit of the Republic would have grave long-term implications for India's security.

Hopefully, this matter will be debated in an objective manner in the forthcoming session of Parliament.

C Uday Bhaskar