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Beware, the preachers of jihad

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January 19, 2006 19:02 IST
A few thoughts arose when I heard Union Human Resources Development Minister Arjun Singh offering the reason why he had turned down IIM Bangalore's proposal to open a campus in Singapore. They should, the minister pontificated, address Indian needs before they look elsewhere. How does one respond to this?

First, I thank Heaven that the venerable Arjun Singh is not in charge of any of the economic ministries. Using the same logic, shouldn't the Government of India immediately ban all export of, say, grain or textiles? After all, there are still millions of Indian citizens who are noticeably ill clad as well as chronically malnourished. (Poverty in India is counted in calories; being 'Below the Poverty Line' means going hungry.) Given that food and clothing are of far greater importance to human existence -- more so than MBA degrees -- why hasn't Shri Arjun Singh's colleague in the commerce ministry banned all such exports?

My second thought was that it would be rather nice if the human resources development minister were to look a little closer into primary education, not just the post-graduate degrees offered by an IIM. And if the veteran from Madhya Pradesh is at a loss where to start may I suggest his ministry take another look at the mushrooming madarssas?

Readers may recall three weeks ago I wrote about the murderous assault at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore that resulted in the death of poor Professor M C Puri. Among other things, I speculated on the menace of unchecked immigration from Bangladesh. (Serious enough, my 'secular' friends should realise, for the CPI-M chief minister of West Bengal to be troubled.) I have, since then, spoken to several people in the security agencies.

Bangladesh: Next terror frontier?

Very briefly, they agree that 10 million Bangladeshis spread across India offer wonderful cover for terrorists. But they added that there is an even greater potential problem - homegrown, or to be more specific, home-educated terrorists. Take a look at the list of suspects arrested in connection with the Bangalore Shooting Case, and you will see what they mean.

Abdul Rehman was arrested when he was found in the Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh. A Bangladeshi citizen, he was posing as a taxi driver who went by the name Razi-ur-Rehman. If I have understood the situation correctly, at least eleven religious teachers from Nalgonda are also being questioned.

Simultaneously, the police arrested Ahmed Shakeel, Syed Hazi and Majid in Hyderabad, on charges of plotting to assassinate the prime minister. The explosives for the purpose were to be delivered by one Shahed, whom they were to meet in Bidar in Karnataka.

Basheer Khan Mysori was picked up in Chennai. He works as a preacher in the 'communally sensitive' town of Bhatkal in Karnataka. Mysoori apparently knows the aforementioned Abdul Rahman/Razi-ur-Rehman.

In Maharashtra, the police took Imam Ghulam Elahi Yahya Baksh of the Haj House in Mumbai into custody. The police say there is 'solid evidence' of his links with the Lashkar-e-Tayiba . The Imam's antecedents are being traced in his native Bengal.

Are all of these men linked to the Indian Institute of Science shooting? Not necessarily. But two facts immediately jump out once you go through this recital. (And there is much more that the police are obviously unwilling to talk about.) First, a surprisingly large number of the people under suspicion are linked to religious education. Second, consider how widespread the informal network has spread. This case may have been ignited by events in Karnataka but it has forced lawmen in every neighbouring state to take a good hard look at their own people.

There is a possibility that the likes of the so-called 'Razi-ur-Rehman' shall give themselves away thanks to their accent or other peculiarities. (Although it is increasingly easy to merge in with the crowd in a city as large and as cosmopolitan as a Mumbai or even a Hyderabad.) But how will you pluck would-be jihadis should they be Indian citizens born and bred? And that is exactly why presence of 'teachers' praising the philosophy of jihad is so dangerous. They are corrupting impressionable minds.

Let me point out that the perils of the unsupervised madarssas have been recognised even by General Musharraf. He is now attempting to inspect them, perhaps even to exert some kind of control over them. But it seems beyond him, even though he exercises dictatorial powers in a nation where soldiers may just outnumber these 'teachers'.

Sadly, there are far too many people in South India who are yet to reach even General Musharraf's level of realisation about the dangers. Andhra Pradesh can scarcely wake up long enough to concentrate on the actual menace of the Naxalites leave alone the potential dangers of unchecked fundamentalism. The looming assembly elections are the chief preoccupation of the political class in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. And in Karnataka, people seem to have no time for anything but trying to avoid fresh polls!

With the honourable exception of Jayalalithaa -- most policemen speak admiringly of her uncompromising and pro-active attitude to terrorism of any sort -- no party has given the issue the attention it deserves. The Left Front is deaf to the message of its own chief minister in West Bengal. The BJP is trying to form a ministry in Bangalore. And the Congress is simply too busy trying to salvage what it can in peninsular India.

But this is an issue that is not going to go away. Whether Dharam Singh remains at the helm or Kumaraswamy takes over may be a fascinating issue for the chattering classes, but it is far less important than the subtle menace of fundamentalism in southern India. The Indian Institute of Science murders should have been a wake-up call, not just to policemen and politicians but also to the leaders of the minority community. But will they actually act?

And will Shri Arjun Singh in distant Delhi take a lead on the issue, or does he prefer to pursue his futile quest to grant independence to Aligarh Muslim University while yoking IIM Bangalore?

T V R Shenoy