On August 25, 2010, while inaugurating a three-day conference of state police chiefs and Inspector-Generals of Police, the then Union Home Minister P Chidambaram had stirred a hornet’s nest by warning them against a recently uncovered phenomenon of ‘saffron terrorism’.
“There is no let up in the attempts to radicalize young men and women in India. Besides, there is the recently uncovered phenomenon of saffron terrorism that has been implicated in many bomb blasts of the past,” he was quoted as saying.
It goes without saying that the phrase saw the main Opposition, the Bhartiya Janata Party attack Chidambaram in Parliament. Subsequently, for fear of antagonizing a section of the majority population in the country, Congress media-in-charge Janardhan Dwivedi clarified to the press that terrorism had no colour and should be denounced uniformly. Chidambaram too was forced to explain and say that he would toe the party line but added that right-wing extremist groups were active in the country, which were capable of carrying out acts of violence. However, he did not use the controversial term again.
Ironically, less than one and a half years down the line, another Union Home Minister in the Congress-led UPA government, Sushilkumar Shinde is under attack for the same reasons that his predecessor Chidambaram was. However, he chose to take it a step further and used the phrase ‘Hindu Terror’. “We have got an investigation report that, be it the RSS or BJP, their training camps are promoting Hindu terrorism,” Shinde said. So, whereas Chidambaram linked terror to colour, Shinde linked it to religion. Predictably, this time too there has been uproar and the Home Minister has came under sharp criticism from not only the BJP but Congress allies as well, like the NCP and BSP.
What made matters worse was that Shinde accused the RSS and the BJP of running terror camps. There is no doubt that this is where the Home Minister erred or for that matter went completely overboard. To have information about those who may have indulged in terror acts and who may have had links to the RSS and who may be from the Hindu community may be one thing, but to accuse the main Opposition party of running terror camps is another.
And if indeed the RSS and the BJP are running terror camps then what is the government doing about it? Why does it not close them down if the government has enough intelligence on them? Or for that matter, as the newly appointed BJP chief Rajnath Singh dared him to do so, ban the RSS and the BJP on the lines of banned organizations like SIMI.
Shinde did come out and later clarify that he meant ‘Saffron Terrorism’ and not ‘Hindu Terrorism’, but nevertheless the damage had been done by then. The BJP has been relentless in demanding the Home Minister’s resignation since then and has threatened to stall Parliament if an apology is not rendered. The battle lines are clearly drawn and it seems that the din is not going to die down any soon.
The question is how prudent it is to play politics in the name of terror. In a country like ours which is already polarized in the name of religion, region, caste and community, do we need more divisive statements from the political class and that too from a Union Home Minister which can widen the split.
What was even more inexplicable was the fact that Shinde chose the recently concluded AICC session in Jaipur to stoke the controversy. The Congress session was meant to discuss the issue of governance in the country and it was meant to be a brainstorming session for the all important 2014 polls. If Shinde as the Home Minister of the country did have certain information about acts of terror where the accused may have had links to the BJP and the RSS, then the platform that he chose to make it public did not seem very appropriate and the timing circumspect.
If Shinde was accused of politicizing the matter with one eye on 2014 polls by reiterating that the BJP and RSS were communal, then the charge is not completely misplaced. But what Shinde did not realize that there was also the fear the Congress may antagonize a section of the voters with such divisive statements.
What is also completely unfathomable is the double speak of the Congress party. And this is not the first time that it has been accused of doing so. Just like in the case of Chidambaram, the Congress distanced itself from Shinde’s controversial phrase. Party general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi told reporters: “Congress does not see any connect between terrorism and any religion. The party has earlier also made it clear that terror has no religion or colour. Congress never uses words like saffron terror or Hindu terror.” Union Minister Rajiv Shukla added: “He (Shinde) meant right-wing terrorism. There is no Hindu or Muslim terrorism.”
In what sounded a lame excuse Dwivedi said that no Congress leader could say such a thing with intention and that saffron was one of the colours in the national flag as well as in the party flag of Congress. “Sometimes it happens that some words come out of the mouth of an individual unintentionally,” he opined. This is either laughable or unbelievable that the man who is in-charge of internal security of the country would make a serious statement without a proper understanding of it.
What also confirms Congress’ double speak is the fact that the party’s other leaders were busy supporting Shinde. Senior leader Mani Shankar Aiyer applauded Shinde for what he said. “I am hundred percent with Shinde on this. This isn`t a secret. I want to thank the Home Minister for saying what everyone knows but does not have the courage to say.” And party general secretary Digvijay Singh said: “It is not Hindu terrorism but Sangh-backed terrorism.”
One fails to understand as to what is the real Congress position. Statements like these only confuse the minds of the average voter. Also, in a party where the culture of high command prevails, it seems unlikely that the senior leaders would speak out of turn and then get away with it. In such a scenario one is forced to believe that it is Congress’ deliberate strategy to speak in two voices just to keep certain issues alive.
Yes, the ideologies of the RSS may not be acceptable to some sections of the society and yes, many may not agree with the politics played the BJP, but then so is the case with other political parties in this country, be it the Congress, the BSP, the Shiv Sena, the DMK, the SP and so on and so forth. That is the beauty of a democratic country like ours where there is a place for divergent views and different ideologies to exist. We may not agree with a certain code of belief but we certainly cannot act irresponsibly and appear intolerant.
Those who have been accused of planting bombs in Samjhauta Express and Mecca Masjid may have been associated with the RSS at a point of time. They may be fringe elements about whom the RSS may or may not be aware of. In fact, the RSS leaders have said that people like late Sunil Joshi, whose group was allegedly involved in the Samjhauta Express, Mecca Masjid and Ajmer dargah blasts, were removed from the organization. The NIA has also reportedly said that apart from those who were at some point in time associated with the RSS, they have no evidence against the organization as a whole for being involved in terror activities.
But if indeed the top brass of the organization are involved in any way in goading these men to act against a particular community, then they should be taken to task. However, to speak without evidence is totally irresponsible and unbecoming of a Union Home Minister. Also to be noted is the fact the ones behind bars are yet to be convicted by a court of law for the crimes that they have been accused of.
An act of terror is an act of terror and a terrorist is a terrorist. Perpetrators of terror can have no religion and no religion propagates violence. Thus, there can be no such thing as Hindu or Islamic or Sikh or Christian terrorism. It’s only people like Hafiz Saeed who use the garb of religion to prey on innocents and brainwash them to fight mindless battles.