By A. K. Verma
The events of August 11, 2012, when a call by Raza Academy of Mumbai for a protest against perceived mistreatment of Muslims in the far away Bodo territory of Assam, led to rioting in which thousands participated, necessitating police firing and death of two and injuries to many more including police personnel, deserve a deeper scrutiny.
Muslim groups from outside came over to swell the number of protesters. In Mumbai, Pakistani flags were carried by some. The glass covering the Amar Jawan Jyoti icon was smashed. Clearly, though Indians citizens, there were elements in the crowd who did not mind being identified as Pakistani partisans or opponents of Indian nationhood.
Insurgent sentiments have been observed on the borders of the country. However, when a similar attitude is demonstrated within the country at any place, however microscopic, alarm bells should start ringing.
There are entities in the neighbourhood which have been trying for decades that such fires should rage in the country. Subversion was chosen as an early instrument and used in J&K and Assam where some dissident groups were financed to mount a threat to the State. Terrorism was added to this effort subsequently, unleashed again first in J&K and then enlarged to cover other parts of the country.
Creation of Indian Mujahideen followed. Subversion was now raised to an ideological level. The objective was to spread a virus which could function autonomously, without having to be linked umblically with the original promoters or needing a local centralized authority. The pattern being followed was that of Al Qaida which now has taken roots in several countries without being necessarily interlinked. The Indian Mujahideen is expected to operate similarly. The virus which has been spread is aimed at causing eruptions all across the body politic, with cancerous cells rising unexpectedly in splotches, without any warning or previous history. By any standard, the spread of such virus anywhere anytime is a dangerous development.
The question requiring careful investigation and determination is whether the Mumbai events of August 11 display such a virus in action.
Radicalisation of the Muslim community in India is the long term objective of this exercise of the enemies of India. They want to shatter into smithereens the secular, liberal, plural and tolerant environment in which the communities in India have been living for decades. Although India has not harmed any of its neighbours, this particular entity seems to bear a primeval grudge against this country which will not be satisfied until India disintegrates.
Islam is a religion which tends to keep its adherents in a tight embrace. It also unfolds a multilevel discourse touching all aspects of its society, religious, social, political and economic. It allows little room to its followers to stray from the prescribed puritan path. Wherever Islamic societies have decayed, the revivalist movements have always tried to uplift the society by emphasizing on the fanatical purity of Islam and its doctrines and exhorting its people to stick to its doctrinaire orthodoxy.
There is no room for nationalism in this discourse since all phenomena have to remain subservient to Allah who expects devoted application without exception.
Although Islam has branched into several schools of thought, the basic tenets remain the same, requiring unswerving loyalty and service. The Islamic law, the Sharia, remains for them the goal to be achieved.
Such dire requirements have posed problems for Islamic communities that live as minorities in different countries which live by modern civilizational values such as in Europe and America. Islamic values have collided against their long held humanistic and liberal outlook on life, compelling them in effect to declare that their multiculturalism is now a failure.
In Islamic countries also, orthodox religion has created problems for rulers who impose a secular philosophy on the people through a militaristic infrastructure and military superstructure. Islamic passions of the populations have now caught up with them in several North African countries through popular movements. The new leaders reaching the top as in Egypt are mostly Islamists. Kemal Ataturk’s Turkey is also no exception, with many former ruling generals now in jail and an Islamic party holding the reins of power. Only in Isalmic monarchies of West Asia where the rulers and the clergy are hand in glove a similar turbulence is absent.
Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution in Iran in 1979 had ushered radical Islam in that country. Ever since, Iran has been trying to export its version of radical Islam which wears Shia colours to its Sunni neighbours, creating sectarian divides.
Pakistan offers a case study of how a country which was born in 1947 with a secular culture, a British Legacy, is today inching towards radical Islam. Searching stability and security, Pakistan had made Islam its ideological foundation. When that even failed to resolve questions of identity, a greater and greater recourse to religion followed. Saudi money injected a heavy dose of Salafi doctrines in the intensifying religious milieu. When the state embarked on a policy of terrorism and nurtured militant groups to execute that policy, in time there was a blow back effect. The state itself became a victim of the terrorism it had sponsored.
Radical Islam and terrorism are closely related. Radicalism, once released, cannot be controlled. A radical Islamist is like a man possessed ready to sacrifice himself in the line of duty which he considers he owes towards Allah. That is how suicide bombers take shape.
Radical Islam has perhaps not entered India yet but there is a long history of puritan thought germinating and flourishing here. India’s secular constitution has so far succeeded in preventing religion and politics mixing together. Therefore, no political party could come into existence, using religion as a foundation. But the formulation of secularism is ineffective against concepts of supra nationalism. For the radical Islamist Ummah is his nation. He will, therefore, look for inspiration and guidance beyond the national frontiers.
The Mumbai events of August 11, 2012, clearly seem to indicate that a radical brigade may already be forming, composed of cells, not necessarily interconnected but driven by identical objectives, propagated by the enemies of the country. It should be no surprise if in the near future the suicide bomber also makes his appearance. Moderates will prove helpless in stemming the tide when it picks up.
In the modern world of quick connectivity, digitalized subversion is proving incredibly more potent. The entire phenomenon of Arab spring crystallized through instantaneous communications over the internet, twitter and face book. The Chinese have also been stung by what was being exchanged over their digitalized networks.
Using this technology and methodology, even a non state enemy can cause havoc. In this age the non state actor enemy becomes more formidable than a nation state enemy. A non state actor like Hafiz Mohd Saeed, Chief of Jamaat-ud- Dawa, who has publicly declared that the flag of Islam must fly eventually over the whole of India, can effectively reach millions to attract them and infect them with his cancerous ideology but the state sponsoring him can cloak itself through deniability.
Quite obviously, the problematic situation is on a growth mode. A holistic approach to prevent radicalistion and use of electronic means by state and non state actors for subversion is the need of the hour.
(A. K. Verma is a retired Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.)