The united colours of terrorism

The colour saffron is one of my favourites. So is the colour green. Predictably, then, in my earlier years when I was starting out as a political correspondent, most of my clothes reflected these colours, in one hue or the other.

Now, considering I was covering the `saffron’ beat in those days, it is but natural that both the BJP and the Shiv Sena presumed that I was wearing my ideology, literally, on my sleeve. So when I broke from the relative anonymity of working for a wire service (UNI) to working for a newspaper (Indian Express) which encouraged analysis and critiques quite liberally within stories which were not strictly breaking news, I can imagine the shock these two parties had when they discovered that I was not quite a saffronist, despite the colours I wore from time to time.

Those were really interesting times: I remember Bal Thackeray questioning me once, “You were such a good girl all these years. What has happened to you all of a sudden?’’

“A newspaper has happened,’’ I replied. “And just because I wore saffron and green does not mean I am a BJP or Shiv Sena supporter.’’

Thackeray then proceeded to let off some steam about how the BJP had got it all wrong by including the colour green in its party flag. “That, as you know, is a colour that belongs to them (by which he meant Muslims). We have only saffron in our flags.” He sounded quite holier than the BJP.

I recall arguing with him at the time that saffron was the colour of peace and green, the colour of fertility. That’s why they had found place in our national flag, along with white which was the colour of truce. And that there was nothing `us’ or `them’ about it.

Thackeray, as I have known, could never refute a logical argument with logic and always topped impending defeat in a battle of words with one or the other of what he considered was a trump card. “Anyway, they are painting the Andheri station green. I have asked my Shiv Sainiks to stop that quite definitely,’’ he said triumphantly.

I, then, just gave up. The argument, not the colours. But it got me thinking and the next time someone said something about saffron to me I took the pains to point out that saffron was the colour of Adi Shankaracharya and Guru Gobind Singh long before today’s saffron propagandists had dawned upon the scene and I saw no reason why I should eschew that colour for anyone or any reason. So it was with green – some mosques may be painted green but that, surely, was not as important as the fact that green was the colour of Mother Nature, and not one of those who hated green could do anything about green grass, green leaves, green trees, etc.

So when Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, for the first time ever, put an official stamp on terrorist activities by groups like the Abhinav Bharat, by describing these as `saffron terrorism’, I was quite startled and did not know how to take that. For, I understand the Home Minister’s dilemma: if he calls them `Hindu’ terrorists, he hurts the sentiments of a lot of Hindus who have nothing to do with terrorism. It is the same as calling another kind of terrorism `Islamic’.

So are `saffron’ and `green’ more suitable words to describe the kind of terrorists who most definitely exist? Predictably, the BJP and the Sena are outraged and have even taken up the issue strongly in parliament. But now the wearer finally knows where the shoe pinches: what happens to all those people and all those years when `green’ was associated by these very saffronists with terrorists and they had no qualms in describing them as such?

I have always said a terrorist, like a goonda, has no religion: and you can find them in all faiths, including Sikhism, Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism (who after all assassinated the former President Bandarnaike of Sri Lanka — wasn’t that a Buddhist monk?). But just because these people are either Hindu or Muslim, Sikh, Christian or Buddhist, does not take away from the fact that the greater majority of people from all religions are peaceful and hate to be equated with violence of any kind.

Like I was, by a foreign correspondent, who once questioned me about the trishul-waving images of some `saffron’ activists shouting `Har Har Mahadev’ and dancing with abandon in Ayodhya during the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. “I didn’t know Hindus were like that,’’ he said.

“That’s not me,’’ I replied, deeply pained. “And that’ not what the vast majority of Hindus are like. Please don’t believe that all of us wave tridents and go for the kill!’’ I pleaded.

So, yes, I understand the outrage of both the Sena and the BJP when Mr Chidmabaram described some groups as `saffron terrorists’. It is to be presumed, after all, that neither the BJP nor the Sena has any links to people from the Abhinav Bharat, who, according to reports, even planned to blow up some senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders because they thought these RSS men were not doing enough for the Hindutva cause!

But, then, weren’t the Sena-BJP tarring all Muslims in the same brush until the discovery of Sadhvi Pragya and Lt Colonel Shrikant Purohit and their direct links to Abhinav Bharat and its bombing activities?

I agree with Mr Arun Jaitley and others that terrorists are just terrorists and must not be labelled saffron or otherwise. Pity, the thought did not occur to leaders like Mr LK Advani who, until Sadhvi Pragya happened, took great pleasure in saying over and over gain, “All Muslims may not be terrorists. But all terrorists are Muslims.’’

Well, no longer.

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