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Home > News > India@60 > Interview

The Rediff Interview/Former Chief Election Commissioner T N Seshan

'Americans think democracy is like giving a lollipop'

January 25, 2007

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In the third part of an extensive interview, former chief election commissioner T N Seshan tells Shobha Warrier that terrorism arose once upon a time by a minority thinking that they are being seriously marginalised, be it the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Catholics in Ireland, the Kurds in Turkey, or the Muslims in Palestine.

Part I: 'There is reason to be less cynical today'

Part II: 'Reservation is a storm in a teacup'

Let us go back to something you said in 1998. You said the philosophy of our existence was tolerance and not fundamentalism. Is not fundamentalism on the rise now? At the slightest provocation, people flare up. There is intolerance everywhere.

First, it is easier to be intolerant than tolerant. Second thing is, the vast majority of people show tremendous tolerance whether it is in Nashik, whether it is in Bombay, or in Ahmedabad. Nobody did react and butcher the others in these places.

There is only a small, mad minority of people from a particular community who are indulging in this.

But the small minority is creating disturbance in society; they are creating noise and problems.

One must analyse the roots of terrorism. Terrorism is now widespread. It is there all over the world. The purpose of terrorism is to work tremendous violence which is impossible to explain.

To perpetuate or perpetrate unthinking violence of a huge magnitude on a majority of people who have nothing to do with the cause is the methodology of terrorism. The technical methodology is RDX, ammonium nitrate, the AK 47, human bomb, etc.

How does terrorism arise? Terrorism arose once upon a time by a minority thinking that they are being seriously marginalised, whether it is the Tamils in Sri Lanka, whether it is the Catholics in Ireland, whether it is the Kurds in Turkey, whether it is the Muslims in Palestine.

What does Pakistan do? It takes charge of this and teaches a number of Muslims to be jihadis. But they want to create an impression that terrorism in India is a result of Kashmiri Muslims being angry, and terrorism in Palestine is because Palestinian Muslims are angry.

In order to fight terrorism, you must reiterate the central principle of tolerance --that we will not react; eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth will not work.

Though the world knew it earlier, the United States has recently issued a statement that Islamic fundamentalism and jihadis increased because of the war on Iraq.

They are not saying that is the reason; they are saying it is going to become the reason.

I would call it the metastasis of cancer. You got cancer in some part of the body, and the doctor says, 'It is malignant. Please remove it.' When you cut and remove it, the cancer spreads all over the body. That is called metastasis.

So, Americans went into Afghanistan and Iraq because of 9/11 saying that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. They sat there for four, five years but could not find a single WMD.

Now, the Americans think that democracy is something like giving a lollipop. No society becomes democratic merely by holding an election. Democracy requires rule of law. It requires admission by people to rule by consent. You can't do that by suppressing the minority, nor can you do that by allowing the minority to sit on your shoulder. You can take any example from the world.

How do you explain someone from Pakistan going and fighting in Chechenya, India, Iraq or Palestine?

Islam, alone of all religions, is trans-national. A Muslim in India finds brotherhood with the Muslim in any part of the world. Whether it is right or wrong is a different question but Islam is trans-national in its loyalty. That is what it is; you have to face it.

Wherever terrorism has struck India, some Indians have had a hand in it. Is it not a dangerous situation?

Why is it a dangerous situation? Please also note that all the accused are Muslims. But we are not making any conclusions because of that. That doesn't mean that all Muslims are terrorists. A small minority of Muslims carries the notion that they have an account to settle here. And, they are trying to account it by exploding a bomb here and a bomb there.

Yes, it is a dangerous trend but to fight that you don't abandon tolerance. You restate tolerance.

Gandhi's ideals of tolerance are even more valid than never before, say ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago. In fact, tolerance is not a good word -- there is a negative connotation to it (now).

I have an excellent Muslim friend who is my tailor. When he goes to the mosque and prays, he and his god have a communication, and I have nothing to do with it. I also go and pray to my god. So long as we do not cross each other's path, there is no reason why religion should be brought into the day-to-day life of people at all.

Is it not the politicians who are dividing people in the name of religion just to get votes?

Yes, it is. It is very easy to feed poison but it not easy to feed good things. So, the politicians are feeding poison.

When the police question the suspects, politicians jump in and say they are targeting the minority community. Are they not giving religious colour to terrorism and not allowing the law to act?

Yes, they are doing that which is all wrong. The highest courts have gone into the evidence and said that Mr X was the person responsible for the Parliament attack and he should be hanged. Then, there are demonstrations in Srinagar. Politics unfortunately plays on the sentiments and emotions of people.

Part IV of the T N Seshan interview: 'Nothing will break the country'

The Rediff Interviews