By Swapan Dasgupta
It is both bizarre and a sad commentary on national life that the gruesome massacre of 76 people in Norway should have produced political ripples in faraway India. On the face of it, there is absolutely nothing to link the deranged Anders Breivik, the self-professed Justiciar Knight of the Knights Templar, to India. Unlike two or three members of the xenophobic English Defence League with whom this self-absorbed Norwegian had at least some human contact, Breivik appears to have been a loner in every other respect, and consciously so. His interactions with persons of similar political inclinations were through Facebook and other internet sites, and were guarded. And it is doubtful whether his Facebook friends included any Indian similarly obsessed by the imagery of the 12th century Crusaders.
Yet, India did intrude into his consciousness insofar as he viewed Hindus as one of the early victims of an Islamic expansionism that was now threatening to overwhelm Europe. His grand sweep of world history, as reflected in his 1,500 page political testament he posted on the internet just hours before he undertook his killing spree, contained sporadic references to India’s past and present. While most would view these as patchy and over-simplistic references, culled from the internet, to contemporary sectarian tensions, others have quite deliberately detected a common purpose linking Breivik and some of the advocates of Hindu retributive terror. A section of the media blessed with sharp sensationalist antennae has been quick to draw its own conclusions from the Knights Templar’s show of solidarity with “sanatan dharma” movements and particularly their ability to keep control of the streets against Islamist encroachments.
At a time when the Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh has charged the RSS of organising “bomb making factories” and Home Minister P. Chidambaram P. Chidambaram has linked the BJP’s agitation over the 2-G scandal to a sense of nervousness over investigations into “saffron terror”, it is inevitable that there are moves to locate Breivik’s exhaustive fulminations in an Indian context. From the perspective of one-upmanship games that are played out each evening on the TV news channels this is entirely understandable. Politicians need to take pot shots at their opponents and the electronic media needs to combine news with a generous measure of entertainment. The danger arises when people holding positions of responsibility start mistaking their little fun and games for reality.
The biggest danger lies in the growing demonization of “Right wing” in the Indian popular discourse. Ever since the suspected involvement of Sadhvi Pragya and Colonel Purohit in the Malegaon bomb blasts came into public notice and was followed by Swami Assemananda’s purported confessions in the Mecca Masjid and Samjhauta Express bombings, there has been a spirited attempt to suggest that the security establishment have either erred grievously or were guilty of communal bias in focussing primarily on Islamist / jihadi conspiracies. The Batla House encounter in Delhi and the focus on the Azamgarh links of the Indian Mujahedeen were seen as examples of this miscalculation. The US Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks indicate that influential politicians such as Rahul Gandhi believed that ‘saffron terror’ far outweighed the dangers to national security posed by groups with an Islamist orientation. Indeed, had it not been for the fortuitous arrest of Ajmal Kasab, it is quite likely that the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai would have been the subject of a politicised tug-of-war, with claims and counter-claims vitiating the inquiries. Even the documented involvement of Pakistan in the Mumbai attacks hasn’t prevented parallel conspiracy theories from being aired and being conferred a measure of respectability.
The perception that an anti-Islamist “Right wing” poses an equal, if not greater, threat to national security is likely to be bolstered by last weekend’s killings in Norway. Read with the publicity-seeking antics of “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski and the killing of 168 people by the Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, there are compelling reasons why investigative agencies shouldn’t foreclose the possibilities of the non-Islamist or even anti-Islamist dimensions of terror. The Mumbai police were, for example, absolutely right to approach the investigations into the serial blasts earlier this month with an open mind. Yet, the relentless quest for ‘balance’ should not contribute to investigations premised on the virtues of denial.
The belief that society may be damaged by competitive terrorism, however, needs to be kept in perspective. The evidence from the West suggest that whereas Christian fanatics and white supremacists have killed some 200 people in the past decade, the corresponding tally for those inspired by Islamism was a staggering 4,000. In the United Kingdom, the country most affected by the terror virus in Europe, the number of “Right wing” loonies convicted in the past 10 years for the possession of dangerous weapons and explosive and for plotting terror strikes was 6; in the same period, the corresponding figure for convictions for Islamist-related terror offences was 138.
We do not have any corresponding figures for India (since cases rarely reach a judicial culmination) but my guess is that, like in Europe, the danger from “Right wing” terror remains a potential one. It could become more real if vigilance is lowered.
Finally, following the 9/11 attacks, there has been liberal indignation over the relative indifference of counter-terrorism strategies to the “roots of terror.” It has been said that the basis of Islamist rage should also be addressed. By this logic, it becomes incumbent on society to read Breivik’s verbose testimony—that includes proposals for forcible conversion of immigrant Muslims in Europe to Christianity, a 50-year ban on their maintaining contact with their countries of origin and the creation of ghettos where permissive ‘liberal’ lifestyles may be tolerated—with a measure of seriousness. If terror has no religion, it can hardly be said to have a secular rationale.
The logic of viewing all terror with the yardstick of equivalence can lead the democratic world to undertake a voyage from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Deccan Chronicle/ Asian Age, July 29, 2011