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1 Feb, 2009

Stoking the Fear Factor in India

Originally Published: 1 Feb 2009

MUMBAI: Two months after the 26/11 terror attacks in this vibrant hub of commerce and trade, India is being swept along by a strong current of patriotism, nationalism and jingoism identical to that which characterised post-9/11 United States.

An incessant barrage of daily sloganeering juxtaposes 26/11 with 9/11. An enemy (Pakistan) has been identified. A cause (fighting terrorism, mainly of the Islamic species) has been created. TV stations ceaselessly replay scenes of 26/11. For their sacrifice and valour, the heroes of the counter-attack are commemorated at national events, same as the heroic fire-fighters of New York.

Signboards and billboards at prominent Mumbai intersections exhort the public to remain vigilant for suspicious objects. “Together We Will Vanquish Terror”, proclaims a sign at several crossings.

Bollywood film-makers have already done some scouting, and heroic good-vs-evil movies about 26/11 will hit Indian screens, probably around January 26, 2010, Republic Day, when patriotic fervour tends to peak.

The same mass-media manipulation that triggered the post-9/11 “war on terror” and fabrication about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction is under way. India and the U.S. are now conjoined twins in terms of “shared values.”

In another crucial similarity with 9/11, questioning the official version of events of 26/11 is a no-no. A lone minister who tried it was lambasted in the Indian media as a “Minister of Conspiracy Theories”, coupled with vigorous calls for his resignation.

However, questioning the “official version” is an inherent public right in every democracy. As with just about every aspect of the “war on terror”, many aspects of the “party-line” just don’t hold up.

India has been one of the countries worst hit by terrorism – having lost Mahatma Gandhi to a Hindu terrorist, Indira Gandhi to a Sikh terrorist and Rajiv Gandhi to a Tamil Tiger terrorist. Sikh terrorists blew up an Air India 747 over the Atlantic ocean in 1985.

Kashmir has been a hotbed of terrorism for decades. Muslim terrorists have attacked the Parliament building in New Delhi, the stock exchange and commuter trains in Mumbai. Separatist (non-Muslim) terrorists are active in Assam.

All this should have made India one of the world’s foremost authorities in combatting terror.

In spite of all that, a small band of 10 terrorists, one of whom looked to be barely out of his teens, managed to go undetected through several months of training and reconnaissance, sail across 1,000 nautical miles from Karachi to Mumbai well-stacked with ammunition and supplies, land in one of the busiest parts of India just a few kilometres from a massive naval base, spread out into a number of public and well guarded places like hotels and railway terminals and battle Indian commandoes for nearly three days.

Adding insult to injury, among the first to be killed were India’s top three anti-terrorist officers.

Even to the most untrained mind, that sequence of events begs further scrutiny. It simply defies belief that with all their experience, the Indian internal security apparatus and defence establishment could be THAT incompetent.

The terrorists achieved nothing. Whatever causes they were propagating fell on deaf ears. Killing all those innocent people, including at least 40 Muslims in the railway terminal, was an exercise in failure.

But other groups are benefiting handsomely. They include those who want to: a) Halt India-Pakistan rapprochement and détente; b) divide Hindus and Muslims and prevent realisation of the communal-harmony goal of Mahatma Gandhi; c) sell highly profitable security equipment, such as CCTV cameras and X-ray machines for deployment at thousands of public places across India; d) herd Indian foreign and security policy into the American/Israeli camp; and e) go on the offensive to contest an upcoming election on the basis of making India “safe from terror.”

The man being talked up as the next prime minister is Narendra Modi, presently the Hindu fundamentalist chief minister of Gujarat, home to the communal riots of 2002 for which Mr Modi was held culpable but never accountable. Hundreds of Muslims were massacred in those riots.

Connect these dots and start from the basic premise of a detective seeking to establish motive before tracking a killer, and the official version becomes laughably full of holes, just begging to be dissected from every possible angle.

Indeed, those who seek to silence this questioning are the real betrayers of Indian democracy, the real violators of human rights and the real suppressors of the pursuit of truth, justice and accountability.

The law of unintended consequences has also kicked in. Even as the “war on terror” now focuses on Pakistan and, by extension, Muslims, the hydra of Hindu terrorism has been unleashed and is raising its multiple heads.

Getting big play in the Mumbai media but – surprise, surprise – none in the international media is the case of the terror attacks in Malegaon.

After rounding up the usual gang of suspects, mainly Muslims, and finding nothing, the anti-terrorist squad began to look elsewhere. The new suspects turned out to be Hindu fundamentalists who, as the front-page headline accompanying this column clearly shows, wanted to set up a “Taliban-style” militant Hindu government in India. They also wanted to seek help from Israel for their cause.

Just this past week, another mob of Hindu fundamentalists attacked a pub in Bangalore and beat up some of the girls, calling them “prostitutes.” One of the men was quoted as saying that the gradual emergence of a “pub culture” was against India’s “Hindu culture.”

The anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination was celebrated on Jan 30. Wherever it is, the soul of the Father of the Nation must be in agony.

Religious fanaticism is resurging. Some of India’s biggest companies are facing regulatory scrutiny following a self-confessed fraud by the CEO of I.T. giant Satyam. Corruption is rampant, and inflation is devastating the incomes of the poor.

But never mind. A welcome distraction has miraculously turned up. Terror is threatening the country. The “fear factor” is alive and well. An election is looming. The “saviours” are waiting.

What great timing!