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Confront these painful truths about communalism

Confront these painful truths about communalism

Why does an underworld don who offered the Indian cricket team Toyota cars if they beat Pakistan in Sharjah in 1986 become a resident of Karachi and India’s most wanted in 1993?

Former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar’s revelation (made on camera at a function despite a subsequent denial) only confirms what many players of the 1980s have confessed in private: Dawood Ibrahim was at one time in his life an ardent Indian cricket team supporter.

This columnist had been targeted for saying as much in an article I wrote soon after the Mumbai blasts of 1993 in The Times of India. The blasts were widely seen as a ‘Muslim conspiracy’ with Dawood as the mastermind.

The political narrative at the time had an ominous ring of stereotyping an entire community which one found abhorrent and one said as much in a column.
At the time, Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray had publicly announced that a true test of an Indian Muslim’s ‘patriotism’ was if he waved the tricolour at an India-Pakistan match.

I pointed out that by this spurious definition even Dawood should be seen as a patriot since he had been seen supporting the Indian team in Sharjah.

The comment on Dawood was designed to point out the inherent dangers of handing out ‘certificates’ of patriotism to minority group members in a politically surcharged atmosphere.

Instead, it stirred such a controversy that Thackeray attacked me in a public meeting, death threats were issued and I was offered police protection. A BJP MP even raised the issue in Parliament and distributed copies of the article which he dubbed as ‘anti-national’.

Even today, the Hindutva army on the social media tries to occasionally revive the issue by suggesting that I had validated Dawood as a ‘nationalist’ when that was far from the case.

Few were willing to recognise the real nub of  the argument: one was only asking a central question as to what had changed between October-November 1992 when Dawood was seen cheering the Indian cricket team and March 1993 when he chose to blast the city of his childhood.

Till today, no one (except Anurag Kashyap in his brave film Black Friday based on a book by journalist Husain Zaidi) has sought to address this inconvenient truth: why did a gangster involved in gold smuggling and contract killings with several Hindu members in his D company transform himself into an ISI-backed terrorist heading a ‘Muslims-only’ gang?

The answer probably lies in the traumatic events of December and January 1992-93 when, in the aftermath of the Babri masjid demolition, Mumbai’s cosmopolitan veneer was ripped apart by terrible communal riots.

If the city’s elite and middle class got divided on religious lines, then so did its underworld. Only the latter had AK-47s and RDX to add a horrific twist to the polarisation.
There are, of course, many other inconvenient truths which we do not wish to confront, especially in the context of communal riots.

Is it not true for example that the barbaric pogrom of 1984 which saw 3,000 Sikhs being massacred became a trigger for the Khalistani terrorism that followed? Is it also not true that the Gujarat riots of 2002 became a magnet for terror groups like the Indian Mujahideen to be formed?

Violence begets more violence is the oldest truism and one which has seen a cycle of rage and vendetta in the name of religion destroy neighbourhoods. 
Perhaps this is what Rahul Gandhi was alluding to when in a speech in Indore he spoke of how intelligence officials had told him that 10 to 15 Muslim youth were being sought to be recruited by the ISI in the aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar riots.

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Purely as an academic argument, Rahul may have had some basis for drawing a connection between riots and terrorism. But Rahul is neither a journalist nor an analyst seeking to understand the origins of violence.

He is a politician and the Congress’ heir apparent, and as a public figure he is expected to weigh his words much more carefully. To suggest, without providing concrete evidence, that Muzaffarnagar’s Muslim youth were now being won over by the ‘enemy’ is to treat the victim as ‘suspect’.

Worse, it could only confirm the worst suspicions and prejudices of those who seek to repeatedly question the integrity of the Indian Muslim.
The reality of Muzaffarnagar is far away from the political battleground. Even today, several weeks after the riots, hundreds of families are living in wretched conditions in relief camps, too scared to return to their homes.

Their plight, in a sense, is no different to any victim of communal violence: then whether you travel to the outskirts of Ahmedabad to Citizen Nagar to meet 2002 riot victims living next to a garbage dump, or to the overflowing drains of Tilak Vihar where the widows of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots live, or the makeshift homes for Kashmiri Pandit families in Jammu, the one common factor that binds these groups is the fact that their condition represents the utter failure of the Indian State to uphold the rule of  law. This is not about being Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus: it is about a society that doesn’t protect and provide justice to its own.

Has Narendra Modi ever even visited Citizen Nagar, or does it simply fall off the map of Vibrant Gujarat? Has Rahul Gandhi fought for justice for the widows of Tilak Vihar?
Will Omar Abdullah provide the healing touch to Kashmiri Pandits? And will Akhilesh’s government provide a sense of security to Muzaffarnagar’s homeless?

Perhaps these questions will never be raised because no political party can emerge with clean hands on the issue of rehabilitating victims of mass violence. Instead, we will engage in a zero-sum high decibel game of 1984 versus 2002. So much easier than facing inconvenient truths.

The views expressed by the author are personal

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