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Gujarat is not main recruiting ground for jihad

September 08, 2003 18:35 IST

After the Mumbai blasts of August 25, the chattering classes of India have subjected the rest of the country to unending bouts of gratuitous sermonising.

The real problem, we have been told, is not terrorism but the roots of terrorism. Just as Americans were told that 9/11 was the logical outcome of allowing the Palestine problem to fester, India has been informed that home-grown terrorism is a consequence of Gujarat voting for Narendra Modi. If minorities feel threatened, we are informed reassuringly, and if their voting power is offset by the weight of the majority, they will invariably turn to terrorism.

These are compelling arguments and they will be heard with increasing frequency in the coming months as the nation debates the new terror. But before we rush to Rajghat to participate in bouts of self-flagellation and collective atonement, it may be worthwhile to consider a few facts, as they have emerged.

First, it is fiction to maintain that the global Islamist terror has left Indians unaffected. From the 51-year-old Nisar Ahmad Ansari who is said to be the hidden hand behind the series of blasts in Mumbai, to the 3 feet 5 inches tall Noor Mohammad Tantray who was arrested in Delhi on August 31, there is mounting evidence of Indians who have received jihadi training in camps located in either Pakistan or Afghanistan. Nor are their numbers limited to a few deviants. Indian intelligence agencies estimate the number of trained jihadis could be as much as 5,000. It is also known that the process of creating a jihadi force within India, and not just Jammu and Kashmir, was initiated by the Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen as early as 1993.

Second, while it is politically expedient to attribute the recent spurt in terrorism to last year's riots in Gujarat, the linkages are not supported by the evidence. The post-Godhra riots may have left Indian Muslims emotionally distraught and given talking points to radical preachers in mosques, but Gujarat has not been the main recruiting ground of the jihadi groups. The major centres of recruitment have been the Hyderabad region of Andhra Pradesh, western Uttar Pradesh and Assam. The arrest and interrogation of the blind, 35-year-old, Muzaffarnagar-born Harkat activist Qari Salim Ahmad Siddiqui revealed that 300 boys from Assam were sent for jihadi training to Pakistan as early as 1998. Indeed, all the evidence points to Muslim ghettos, rather than riot-affected areas, being the cesspools of subversion. In short, it is not Muslim insecurity that has bred Islamic terror. The jihadi appeal seems more an outcome of the lack of exposure to modern India.

Finally, despite the much-publicised entry of middle-class and professional Muslims into the jihadi groups, it is actually the small-time maulvis running obscure madarasas who motivate the youth into extremism. Strategically funded by hawala money and grants from religious trusts based in the Arab world, they give to the jihadi cause a quasi-religious passion. The Hanif family, which triggered the blasts in Ghatkopar and the Gateway of India were, for example, drawn into jihad by the fiery sermons of itinerant preachers. Their interrogation by the Mumbai police suggests they didn't flee the city because they believed they would not be caught because they were working for their religion and would be protected by God.

The police forces in Mumbai, Delhi and elsewhere have done a tremendous job unearthing some 172 networks of terror. Yet, as the authorities themselves concede, this is only the tip of the iceberg. There is evidence of many small and, perhaps, even unrelated conspiracies to subvert India and make it bleed.

The shape of the problem is by now known. Yet, as a society India has shied away from confronting it head-on. There is little point heaping all the blame on governments. In a democracy, politicians can only act within the framework of public opinion. In India, there is nothing resembling the outrage that was felt in the US after 9/11. Consequently, the political class has refused to go beyond fire-fighting.

It is likely to remain that way until enough Indians muster the energy to say, enough is enough. So far there is no anger, just fatal resignation and bogus platitudes.


Swapan Dasgupta