Rahul Gandhi: Punished for plainspeaking
Imagine. If a politician and a foreign diplomat on a flight were to discuss terror, without anyone hearing them, and the politician does some plain-speaking in the process, is it treachery? Obviously not, unless the diplomat had other intentions.
This weekend, remarks Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi purportedly made to the US Ambassador — that radicalised Hindu groups poses a big threat — exposed him to some vilest attacks.
What went unnoticed is that, in demonising Gandhi, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came out squarely in defence of far-right Hindu extremist groups, whose violent activities have come to light. Everytime, a Muslim commits an act of terror, my head hangs in shame. On the contrary, the BJP is seen backing terrorists of one shade, rather than distancing itself from them.
I do not draw any vicarious pleasure from arrests of certain Hindus for alleged acts of terror. With every new terrorist born, we only become more unsafe. But when Muslims suspected alleged usual witch-hunting of the ‘usual suspects’, the entire community was tainted with the same brush of terror. But, as the saying goes, whatever man has done, man may do. BJP leader L K Advani pleaded with the Prime Minister for a woman Hindutva activist arrested for alleged terror links.
I have often said that the BJP’s long-term prospects hinges on their (so far missing) efforts to build capacity to represent all sections of society, not one. Hindutva may have been a short-term asset, but it is a long-term liability.
This is a nation of vast chunks of diverse ethnic, cultural and religious electorates. It’s a salad bowl, where ingredients of different shapes, sizes and colours come together to form one whole, while retaining their original flavours.
Now, let’s do some plainspeaking on what Gandhi said, to begin with? For one, he did not say that radicalized Hindu extremists were a “bigger threat” than the LeT, the Pakistani terror outfit, as is being made out to be.
There was a sweet little distortion weaved in by the RSS and the BJP. BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad used this twist and some atrocious adjectives to punish Gandhi’s plainspeaking.
Here’s the relevant portion from Ambassador Timothy Roemer’s cable, sourced to Wikileaks:
“5. (C) Responding to the Ambassador’s query about Lashkar-e-Taiba’s activities in the region and immediate threat to India, Gandhi said there was evidence of some support for the group among certain elements in India’s indigenous Muslim community. However, Gandhi warned, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalized Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community.”
From the above paragraph, three things weighing on Gandhi’s mind are apparent. One, Gandhi looks concerned about support among certain elements of Indian Muslims for the LeT. Two, in comparison to this, growth of Hindu radical groups could be the “bigger threat” to deal with.
So, he wasn’t quite weighing the threats posed by the LeT vis-à-vis Hindu radical groups. When he said far-right Hindu extremists were a bigger threat, it was in relation to the local moles the LeT may have.
Obviously, LeT supporters in India would be minuscule compared to the expanding support base of radical Hindu outfits. So, what was so treacherous about what Gandhi said?
Overall, these two points together talk of threats India faces from extremists in both communities.
Gandhi may have suffered a moment of naivety by confiding in a foreign diplomat, who reported the conversions back to his bosses. Frankly, diplomats all over the world routinely do this. They would be failing in their duty if they did not help their establishments make sense of domestic politics in countries they are posted.
For all the brouhaha, Gandhi wasn’t whispering any secret into Roemer’s ears. Gandhi has aired his concerns over radicalism in Indian society in public before. On October 6, 2010 in Bhopal, he called both the RSS and Students Islamic Movement of India organizations with extremist ideologies.
The BJP has argued that, by highlighting the threats posed by Hindu radical groups, Gandhi has given Pakistan the upperhand. But can we afford to mete out a disproportionate response to terror? Can we, for the phantom fear of Pakistan, choose to put the lid on one source of terror, while constantly focusing on the other? A counter-terrorism that is selective is a lame horse, at best.
Muslims today are quite aware of and acknowledge the problem posed by Islamist extremism. It affects their lives in more debilitating ways.
But for those led to believe that only Muslims could be terrorists, evidence to the contrary is mounting. The RSS and its acolytes seek to eliminate our cultural and religious diversity. They seek to foist a monolithic Hindutva (literally, being Hindu) character that militates against our plurality. (If its vision and ideology is any different, I stand corrected.)
Years of promoting intolerance, majoritarianism and hatred have caused far-right Hindutva outfits to tether on the edge of terrorism. Only hypocritical politicians can choose to ignore this disturbing fact.