Two recent developments  in different parts of India draw attention to the very complex and troubled linkages in the co-relation between politics, religion and the abiding challenge of terrorism. On Sunday last (Jan 20 ), the Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde made reference to ‘ the RSS and BJP  running terrorist training camps to incite  Hindu terrorism’ during the Congress Party’s ‘ chintan shivir’ held in Jaipur.  In the course of the remarks, Shinde also  dwelt on  the ‘cultural nationalism’ policy of the BJP and opined that this was a divisive  approach that would weaken the social fabric of the country.

In the predictable uproar that followed, both from the BJP and  non-partisan citizens,  Shinde  sought to clarify his remarks by noting that what he had said was not  startlingly new and that this was the dominant refrain in the national media. Specific attention was drawn to the Hyderabad and Malegaon terror attacks wherein innocent Muslim youth were apprehended with little evidence to prove their guilt – and later the involvement of right-wing Hindutva elements was revealed. The national response to the Shinde remarks and the linkage with ‘saffron terror’  was predictably  irate and the Congress Party was clearly on the defensive in the matter – though a few voices were seen to be supporting the Home Minister.

In another incident, a local gurdwara in Panchkula, Haryana refused the family of the late Lt. General R S Dyal permission to conduct the bhog ceremonies related to the death anniversary of the distinguished soldier. The reason according to the  management of the  Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC) was that General Dyal had taken part in the 1984 Bluestar operation wherein the Indian Army was ordered to flush out the  Sikh terrorists who had holed up in the Golden Temple. Despite earnest  pleas  the SGPC did not relent and the family was forced to conduct the ceremony privately. The uniformed fraternity –  serving and retired is both hurt and outraged and this incident will continue to fester, just as the aftermath of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots continue to trouble the community and the conscience  of the  nation.

The trajectory of religion linked terror that has struck a body blow to the Indian political spectrum begins with the  January 1948 assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Hindu right-wing forces. This was followed by the 1984 assassination of PM Indira Gandhi by  Sikh police personnel who were part of her personal security detail. In both cases, an extreme form of personal conviction  triggered by a bruised religious sentiment,  about the perceived transgression by the central protagonist – the Mahatma in the first case and the Prime Minister in the second led to their assassination.

In the decades that followed the tragic demise of the Mahatma, the idea of a secular India where communal harmony  and amity was upheld and  protected  in keeping with the spirit of the Indian Constitution ( the remarkable document whose 64th birthday as it were was celebrated on January 26th this year)  has been respected in the main.

However a combination of external factors and the troubled internal situation has aggravated the internal security texture. The post 1992 Babri Majid  demolition   led to the March 1993 terror attack in Mumbai where more than 250 people died. Subsequently over the last 20 years, the internal security of India has been troubled by the steady incidence of  such attacks. The November 2008  Mumbai terror carnage that shook the country was the more horrific and the  recent revelations about the David Headley (alias Dawood Gilani ) case point to the iceberg that still lurks in the sub-continent where state sponsorship and the foreign hand are all tangled.

Over the last two decades – since the BJP led NDA government came to power at the centre in early 1998,  there has been a bitter divide between the two major national parties – the Congress and the BJP –over how to deal with the challenge of  religion linked terror. Regrettably the discourse  and the positions adopted by the two parties has been zero-sum  and bitter and the net casualty has been a dilution in the national will and determination to address this scourge.

Terror as has been often pointed out has no religion – or color – and when  it occurs – the state has to address it impartially and effectively. To that extent the Shinde remarks were imprudent  and covey the impression of being part of a  short-sighted political gesture aimed at the minority community.

When the Home Minster of  India speaks in public on such a sensitive and critical matter – every word has to be  carefully  chosen. In the event that the Indian state does indeed have such evidence to link a major party like the BJP  or for that matter the RSS  institutionally,  with the spread of terror – then the mater must be pursued to its logical conclusion. The law must be invoked without fear or favor.

If the state is seen to be pandering to the political compulsion of the ruling party or coalition, then the  reprehensible position taken  by the SGPC  in relation to General Dyal will be the order of the day. 

General Dyal,  is a distinguished figure  for the Indian Army and as the hero of Haji Pir, he was awarded the   Maha Vir Chakra. It is regrettable that the manner in which he was denied a certain religious protocol by the SGPC was tacitly accepted both by the Indian state and that spectrum of  civil society which is rapidly mobilized  on other issues.

Distorting facts in relation to politics and religion – which are inseparable in a democracy - and appeasing the extremist ideology that is against the spirit of the Republic would  have grave long term implications for the security of the country. Hopefully this matter will be debated in an objective manner in the forthcoming session of Parliament. ….once the military bands recede up the Raisina Hill on Tuesday – January 29th.