Tentacles of dread and the terror Gameplan
By M J Akbar
Terror is testing the resilience of the Indian government and the sagacity of the Indian people. The first is in shambles, but the second is holding up. The will of the people has become the safety net protecting the Indian state from the wont (a slightly archaic English word for normal behaviour) of Manmohan Singh and Shivraj Patil.
The power of terrorism lies in its ability to generate fear. Arbitrary death — anonymous, place uncertain, extent unknown — is the principal means by which the terrorist seeks to shroud a nation under a pall of dread. But the essence of fear is personal: the collective is only a sum total of individual fears. This makes the potential reaction more intense, for the threat to one's life so easily breeds irrational rage. Rage is but one final provocation away from violence.
The Indian Mujahideen, whoever they might be (I am not totally sure they are truly Indian, and am certain that they are not true Mujahideen) know what they are doing. Their strategy of slander-and-slaughter is not aimed at the Indian government, for which they have utter contempt in any case. Their target is the real enemy, the people of India. They are sowing continuous poison along Hindu-Muslim seam lines in order to enrage the former, provoke communal violence and exploit the resultant angst among Muslim youth so that more might drift towards terrorism. They want gulfs that cannot be crossed without irreversible corrosion.
The Union and state governments have not been tested by a post-terror conflagration because the overwhelming majority of Hindus have shown an exemplary commitment to peace, but this can hardly be taken for granted. The Union home ministry seems to have a single, callous default position: amnesia. It has convinced itself that if it can fudge its way through a few days after any calamity, people will forget, or that popular consciousness will be overtaken by the next big story. Its abject failure to stem the tide of terrorism is evidence that its investigation is essentially non-serious, reminiscent of the police chief's formula in the famous film, Casablanca, whose solution to any problem was to “round up the usual suspects”.
A narrow pattern in names, suspect-sketches and allegations is pulled out from the same soiled bag within 24 or 48 hours of any incident. This cliché-approach begs a question: if the range is limited, why cannot the perpetrators be caught despite their repeated audacity? For starters, someone more qualified than me should check whether there is ever any resemblance between suspect-sketches and those eventually arrested.
In the absence of genuine culprits, alibis and red herrings are fed to public opinion in the hope that the appetite for punishment will be sated, memory dulled. But memory is an accumulator. Fear is a gathering storm, which needs to be dispersed before it breaks.
Terrorists have inflicted the greatest damage on those in whose name they pretend to act, Indian Muslims. Already burdened by multiple anxieties, Indian Muslim youth are now frozen in the headlights of suspicion, and thus easy fodder for a police force that exploits suspicion to harass a community instead of eliminating criminals. When the police admit a mistake, never easily done, there is nothing like a stainless release.
The victim of bias or misjudgment faces a hopeless future as even his meagre job disappears from the shrinking bundle of options. We never truly understand the despair of poverty, for even the sympathy of a brother does not extend beyond the fleeting breadth of emotion.
At one level, Muslims share the dread of sudden death with their fellow Indians. The bomb placed in the dustbin or a vehicle in a packed marketplace is not programmed to kill only non-Muslims. The killer devices do not have a selective device to demolish only the objects of the Indian Mujahideen's hatred. A bomb has neither religion nor discrimination.
But this pales before the dread of consequences, the worst of which is a riot. But consequences come in less hostile forms as well. Discrimination does not advertise, and the unwillingness to rent homes to Muslims in cities is only the most well-known form of it. Ghettos begin in the mind before they transfer into property. The desperate, and sometimes contradictory, search for alibis by Muslims indicates the pressure that the community feels. Conspiracy theories get fertile reception.
A measure of its collapsing faith in the Congress is the fact that these theories finger government agencies as frequently as they do traditional adversaries like the RSS and Bajrang Dal. Indian Muslims are relieved if anyone ascribes terrorism to Pakistan's ISI or America's CIA. The one Indian Mujahideen email that was traced to an American missionary resident in Mumbai was, for a while, the subject of much internet-advocacy.
Dissection pares arguments down to the bone in the search for any consolation: for instance, one of the two who signed the Mujahideen email signed himself as Al-Arabi; but Arabi was the name of a bridge-builder to other communities, unlike others who were aggressors. Would a terrorist have used such a 'peace-loving' pseudonym? Was this a mistake made by a non-Muslim mastermind?
Sometimes, a sense of discrimination propels some Muslims towards a prickly offensiveness. But these are palliatives that cannot hide the harsh truth, evident, after any incident, in the eyes of nameless Muslims, clouded by worry and uncertainty and in the shuffle of their step as they hurry home to their small mohallas in some corner of the urban sprawl.
News is a reflection of the visible. It has no space for the invisible. But each riot that did not take place also smuggles its way into the receptacles of the heart and the mind. For that we should be grateful to the sagacity of India, and not the capabilities of the government of India.