The wave of jihadi strikes has affected many states -- ruled by the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Communist Party of India-Marxist and others.
Anger against certain aggressive groups of evangelists indulging in a scurrilous campaign against the Hindu religion and converting the impoverished tribals of central India to Christianity through the allurement of money has been widespread in many states of India, but this anger has been expressed in a civilised manner in most states. Only in the BJP ruled Karnataka and in Orissa ruled by an electoral ally of the BJP has this anger taken an ugly, uncivilised turn in the form of orchestrated attacks on Christians and their places of worship and even the alleged rape of a helpless nun.
Large sections of public opinion in India and abroad cannot be blamed if they attribute this to the inaction of the local governments in the face of the violence and view this as amounting to culpable complicity.
These two waves have given rise to antagonistic reflexes which should be of concern to any Indian interested in the unity, prosperity and strength of this nation. There is a disturbing denial mode in sections of both the Muslim and the Hindu communities.
Sections of the Muslim community are not prepared to accept that their co-religionists are behind this wave of jihadi terrorism. An attempt is being made by these sections, supported by sections of the so-called secular community, either to deny the involvement of some Muslims in jihadi terrorism or to rationalise their involvement through various arguments. There is a simultaneous attempt to denigrate and demonise the police and other law-enforcing agencies by debunking their version of the terrorist strikes and by coming in the way of their investigation.
Sections of the Hindu community owing allegiance to the so-called Hindutva groups are not prepared to accept any blame on their community and tend to project the anti-Christian violence as an outcome of spontaneous tribal anger against Christian missionaries with which, according to them, the Hindutva organisations have nothing to do. The perceived inaction of the law-enforcing agencies in the face of the anti-Christian violence is sought to be rationalised and explained through various arguments such as the lack of road and other means of communications in the affected areas which rendered prompt police action difficult.
Hindus used to be proud of the fact that their religion respected the places of worship of other religions and did not damage or destroy them. But, this is no longer so since 1992 when some Hindutva elements carried out wanton destruction of Babri masjid in Ayodhya.
Hopes entertained by many that this was a one-time aberration caused by historic anger over the alleged demolition of a Ram temple in the same place for the erection of a masjid have been belied by reports of wanton destruction of Christian places of worship in Karnataka and Orissa. India has already been paying a heavy price for the Hindu anger caused by perceptions of the appeasement policies of the so-called secular elements towards the religious minorities and the Muslim anger due to perceptions of the failure of the State to protect them and to be fair to them.
To this will now be added pockets of Christian anger over the death, destruction and humiliation inflicted on their community by the Hindutva elements, with the State allegedly remaining a silent spectator. The Christians will be rendered even more angry by the attempts being made by some intellectuals and others close to the Hindutva groups to play down the enormous gravity of the anti-Christian violence.
Do the orchestrated acts of violence against the Christians and their places of worship amount to acts of terrorism similar to the ruthless killing of innocent civilians by the jihadi terrorists of indigenous as well Pakistani and Bangladeshi kinds? Is the Bajrang Dal, which is allegedly behind the attacks on Christians, a terrorist organisation similar to the Students' Islamic Movement of India and the so-called Indian Mujahideen? These questions are increasingly occupying the centre of the debate. Instead of maintaining a laser-sharp focus on our fight against jihadi terrorism, we find ourselves spending more and more time in countering and removing suspicions of acts of terrorism against the Christians.
There is no universally accepted definition of terrorism and what is a terrorist organisation, but most definitions in common currency accept that there are some important components of terrorism -- repeated attacks of a pre-meditated nature on innocent civilians and their property to achieve an objective, which may be political, economic, social or religious. Spontaneous and isolated attacks in the heat of the moment, which are not repeated in an orchestrated manner, are crimes not amounting to terrorism.
The anti-Christian violence started as spontaneous, isolated attacks in the heat of the moment following the murder of a respected Hindu leader and some of his disciples in Orissa and the circulation of scurrilous pamphlets denigrating the Hindu religion by a Christian organisation in Karnataka. Law does not excuse even such isolated attacks in the heat of the moment, but views the heat of the moment argument as a mitigating circumstance while deciding the quantum of punishment. But repeated pre-meditated attacks of an orchestrated nature long after the heat of the moment has passed dangerously degenerate into the zone of terrorism.
If the Hindutva forces are not able to control the Frankenstein's monsters created by them in the form of Bajrang Dal, it is only a question of time before it comes under the scanner of terrorism experts of the Western countries. In the early 1990s, a US-based organisation called the Jammat-ul-Fuqra, headed by a Pakistani cleric and with a large number of Afro-American Muslims as members, carried out a wave of arson attacks on Hindu and Jewish places of worship in the US and Canada and there were some attacks on the members of these religions too.
The Counter-Terrorism Division of the US State Department placed it on the list of terrorist organisations to be watched and included a brief note on its activities in its annual reports to US Congress. This cleric has since returned to Pakistan and its activities in the US have ceased. It no longer figures in the list of terrorist organisations.
If repeated and pre-meditated attacks on Hindu and Jewish places of worship and on Hindus and Jews in the US can be viewed as amounting to terrorism, how can we argue that similar attacks on Christians and their places of worship in India do not amount to terrorism?
The Hindutva organisations should read the writing on the wall and mend themselves lest they come to be viewed by the international community as organisations of concern. If the Bajrang Dal comes to be viewed as a suspected terrorist organisation, the first to feel the pressure and adverse effect will be the supporters of the organisation in the Hindu diaspora abroad. It is in their interest to exercise pressure on the Bajrang Dal and drive some sense into it.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical studies, Chennai. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)