Sunday, November 2, 2008

Threat of vigilantism

SWAPAN DASGUPTA - Times of India, 2nd Nov, 2008

In the sixth series of the gripping BBC tele-serial Spooks, the MI5 is confronted by two contrasting adversaries: an Iran hell bent on becoming a nuclear weapons state; and the covert or ganisation, Yalta, that seeks to restore global multi-polarity by bringing the US several notches down. Made up of patriotic stalwarts of the British establishment, Yalta runs a parallel intelligence network, strikes deals with the Islamists and un dertakes bombings and assassinations. Many MI5 agents are lured by Yalta operatives into joining the secret war because they, too, are disconcerted by Britain’s skewed “special relationship” with the US Although over-dramatised and far removed from the cerebral espionage games of John Le Carre’s Cold War thrillers, Spooks addresses a problem confronting the liberal State in an age of crime, sleaze and terrorism: the threat of vigilantism. Modern societies with codified laws and elaborate checks and balances have based themselves on the unstated assumption that the State enjoys a monop oly of violence. Just as there is no legitimacy for insurgents, warlords and ter rorists, there is no space for modern day Robin Hoods or, for that matter, Su perman. Those like Yalta who take it upon themselves to rectify national prob lems through unilateral violence are likely to be viewed in the same vein as say, al-Qaida terrorists as outlaws. The people’s adherence to non-violence is n’t a Gandhian fad; it is a pillar of statecraft. There is no compelling evidence as yet to determine whether the flamboyant Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and her associates — the alleged practitioners of ‘Hindu terror’ — are guilty of vigilantism or are victims of an elaborate frame up. The signals are confused and conflicting. There are hints that Muslim-domina ted Malegaon was bombed on September 29 as an act of retributive violence — to force Muslims to share the pain of terrorism. At the same time, the instant secularist equation of ‘Hindu’ terror with jihadi terror has prompted concern of a frame-up by a beleaguered government. Certainly, the suggestions of a conspi racy involving serving and retired army officers seem utterly fanciful and could even provoke a backlash. If, for argument’s sake, a Hindu hand in the Malegaon bombings is established does it imply that terrorism is a problem of competitive extremism? This is pre cisely what the government would like us to believe — that there is an immoral equivalence between radical saffron outfits and the treacherous SIMI, and that a ban on one should automatically lead to curbs on the other. Apart from driving a wedge between the BJP and its NDA allies just prior to the election, unearthing a Hindu terrorist conspiracy may help the government project an image of even handedness to those Muslims who feel done in by counter-terrorism. Yet, despite the law treating all terrorists as equal outlaws, there are im portant differences between jihadi terror and the Sadhvi’s alleged criminali ty. Jihadi terror is directed both at the kafirs and the sovereignty of India. Nei ther SIMI nor the Indian Mujahideen have faith in the Constitution. They want nizam-e-mustafa (the rule of God) and terrorism is a means to that elusive pipe dream. Their target is the Indian way of life. The Hindu extremists have a more limited agenda. They want retributive justice against the killers; they feel Hindus are too meek and effete; they want a militarised Hindu society that takes an eye for an eye; and they believe that the alternative to vote-bank politics is to combine the roles of prosecutor, judge and executioner. Jihadi terror is based on warped theology; the extremist Hin du is driven by revenge and frustration. Let’s not delude ourselves that the two are fringe phenomena. The Batla House encounter may have triggered Muslim fury but the Sadhvi is fast ac quiring cult status among angry Indians seeking quick-fix solutions. Terror ism hasn’t won the day but it has disfigured the cosy assumptions on which In dia operated. The moral authority of the state is in tatters.

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