Why mumbai is the heart of Muslim terrorism
(In Covert : 16-31st August 2008)[Subscribe]
There are only two Mumbai Muslims whose lives have been made the subject of movies that were released commercially. One film was official, financed by the Government of Pakistan. The other was unofficial, and fictionalised, made by the Mumbai film industry. The film on Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a tribute to a stalwart whose admirers will not tolerate a word of criticism against him. The second man evoked a strange kind of fascination because his was the story of unparalleled success against unbelievable odds, a trajectory that could only be measured by the thespian skills of an Amitabh Bachchan. This person was called Mastan Mirza in life, and is near-legendary as Haji Mastan. The first was the ultimate law-abider, a man who refused to break the law even as part of the freedom movement. The second made a fabulous career out of contempt for the law: and within the decline from the sublime to the unfortunate as role models lies the tragedy called the history of Indian Muslims in the second half of the 20th century.
After a public career that saw as many ebbs as flows, Jinnah emerged as the great hero of Indian Muslims by the late Thirties. Pakistanis, naturally, placed him on a heroic pedestal after 1947, while Muslims who remained in the mother-country shrunk from the memory of past adoration. Out of insecurity and trepidation, they shifted their trust to Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru honoured their trust, and initiated the gradual process of restoring their self-confidence. But he could not give them jobs. The thin middle class among Indian Muslims were denied jobs in both the public and the private sectors in the Fifties and Sixties; while their poor were exploited by whoever [including the wealthier Muslims] threw a few crumbs in their way.
Curiously, a now-forgotten, impossibly puritan Congress leader, Morarji Desai, became an improbable source of relief when as Nehru’s Finance Minister he passed the Gold Control Order. No politician should be so foolish as to come between an Indian woman and gold. The age of smuggling began in earnest. The saviour-model of Mumbai’s young Muslims shifted from Nehru to Haji Mastan. The former might have given inspiring speeches, but talk could not compete with nourishing work. The shift was entirely logical and justifiable. If you do not give the young a place in the white economy, where else will he go except the black economy? He is not a saint that he is going to starve to death. Bollywood has tracked the change. Till the Fifties and the Sixties there used to be a movie genre called Muslim social. Today, that might be called Muslim anti-social. By and large, this world was content to live below the surface, expanding its clout in cinema through financing, but unable to break through into respectable space, although Haji Mastan did personally emerge to settle down in Malabar Hill and even start a political party that dreamt of an alliance between Muslims and Dalits. The party flopped. Mastan died in his bed. The most startling aspect of the email sent by the previously little-known, but proudly terrorist, group self-styled the Indian Mujahideen, is that it was written in perfect English. This itself has created suspicions about whether it is real, or a plant. Those who consider these terrorist attacks to be a conspiracy always have enough questions to raise doubts. But, in the absence of concrete proof to the contrary we must assume that these organisations are based in some reality. Certainly the havoc they create is real, and the impact on non-Muslims is sulphurous.
The email destroys the subliminal connect we make between terror and deprivation; this is the work of someone who speaks English and therefore must be educated. He must belong to a widespread organisation, with links in Mumbai, Surat, Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Bangalore at the very least, and possibly in Chennai and certain cities of Kerala as well. These members may not be part of a single group; they may be scattered over different work environments. They have organisational skills of high capability, and managerial talent, or they would not have been able to coordinate the different elements of a complex operation so smoothly. I cannot imagine that they would have acquired these skills in legitimate business; they are more comprehensible as part of the management structure of the Mumbai criminal world. The email was traced to Sanpada in Navi Mumbai. Three Wagon Rs and one Maruti 800 were stolen and driven through Surat to Vadodara, where bombs were loaded. 24 unexploded bombs have been found, and there may be more.
There has to be some explanation for such a smooth operation. We tend to think of crime as primitive activity. Cloaks, dagger and masks are for comic books. Crime is much more than theft. Smuggling is as sophisticated a business, run by economic rules and managed by accountants and experts in purchase, storage, delivery, marketing and price sensitivity as any other business. Its volumes demand a large network of personnel on the soft side. A very small group is slowly distilled into the hard, dark side, to become killers and dons; the majority live in the grey area, and are thankful that they have some sustenance for their families. Their rewards would be significantly less, but they would be more at peace with themselves. They would have normal aspirations, hoping to bring up children who could get an education and find a job outside their nexus. The hard criminal graduates to violence and killing, an occupational hazard. It is from this small pool that the effective terrorist, the planner and the killer, emerges. Support for terrorism doubtless comes from a wider pool, but there is a wide gap between desire and delivery. Once the young are impelled towards violence, it is easy to reroute a core element into mass terrorism, particularly through false lure of pseudo-religion. A seminal moment for Mumbai Muslims came during the riots of 1992 and 1993 after the demolition of the Babri mosque, when Narasimha Rao and Sharad Pawar were presiding over the fate of the nation. To cut a long and grievous story short, those riots stopped only when in March an underworld-terrorist response brought down seven buildings in Mumbai. The message is still heard: the state terror that permits riots against Muslims can only be stopped by counter-terror.
The underworld has a natural contempt for the Indian state, for the daily face of the state is the policeman. It knows that the police is corrupt, it corrupts the police. It knows that India is a nation of crime without punishment. There have been innumerable instances of terrorism, and no one has been caught. The state seems incapable of finding the guilty, and impotent on the rare occasion when guilt is established.
The terrorist’s reasons may vary. There might be a terrible fusion of victimisation and frustration that drives him to believe that the most fitting way in which he can take revenge upon India is by destroying the nation’s peace, both directly and indirectly. The indirect desire is to provoke a communal backlash, and hope for a repeat of a Gujarat-style carnage, which can fuel the next generation of terrorists. It is possible that this is why three BJP-run states were targeted, and it must have been great disappointment that even Narendra Modi did not oblige. Modi managed the consequences with a calm skill he should have shown six years ago.
But the repeated instances of terrorism by Muslim groups are defaming the community, creating a scare within and anger outside. It has almost become ritualistic for Muslim men and women to protest against terror attacks, but the ritual is important because the mass of Muslims genuinely do not want to become trapped by a violent fringe. They know that their future lies in some form of accommodation with the non-Muslim, that terrorism is a disease that will kill the community as easily as it kills the other. The self-inflicted wounds of terrorism are only one of the many injuries on the body politics of Indian Muslims.
And they cannot find the leadership to heal the wounds. Why?