Could Bilawal and Rahul step in? - Jawed Naqvi - January 13, 2011

Source :

CONSIDERING the dire straits that India and Pakistan are in today with their respective versions of religious insanity, who can deny the urgent need to sink mutual differences and bail out together before the gathering storm swamps both.

The religious right in both countries has nurtured a hidden alliance and each half screwdriver turn of madness by one has given vital oxygen to the other. Both need to be rooted out before they take over.

Call it desperation or realism, but there is no denying that the conventional secular leadership on both sides has had its say on approaches to combating terror and they have landed us in an untenable mess. That`s reason enough to risk a radical if uncertain change. That`s why Rahul Gandhi and Bilawal Bhutto might do well to exchange notes for a badly needed joint approach to fighting religious terror and other barbaric traditions that stalk both countries.

It is not as though their elders did not make any effort to confront the menace of medieval violence. In fact, the last serious effort in this regard was subverted by their respective intelligence agencies. Other entrenched interest groups too feared losing their monopoly over the conduct of bilateral relations to civilian governments on either side.

Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani offered the most promising agreement in July 2009 in Sharm el-Sheikh when both leaders had “agreed that terrorism is the main threat to both countries”. And they had “affirmed their resolve to fight terrorism and to cooperate with each other to this end”. For daring to make the pledge they were condemned by their respective `systems`.

Inevitably, the only significant hope to row back from the Mumbai terror-linked standoff was abandoned. The tail wagged the dog, which it pretty much still continues to do.

There is a compelling logic to the need for Rahul Gandhi and Bilawal Bhutto to undo the damage and move on from there to build a secular, liberal and just society their forebears had promised but, for a variety of reasons — including exigencies of the Cold War — failed to deliver to their people.

On the face of it, the idea to park hopes on two rather young and relatively inexperienced men to step in to plug the haemorrhage may seem preposterous. But time is slipping. And they have spoken with unusual clarity to kindle hope. Both have lost a parent and a grandparent to bigotry, which they had indulged and only later, when it was too late, tried to challenge. The lesson is too obvious to be lost on either of the young scions.

The task at hand is not a straightforward secular versus communal or democratic against extremist confrontation. The problem may be more complex. Still, Rahul Gandhi`s assessment that Hindu terror is a serious threat to India could form a solid basis to work out a strategy to fight a decisive fight. Extremism nurtured by religious minorities should be similarly dealt with. Bilawal Bhutto`s earnest promise to defend Pakistan`s minorities is a good starting point for his country.

How, then, are they going to go about their tasks? The murder of Salman Taseer by a religious zealot has prompted an old question in my mind to surface again. Why are there two teams dominating Pakistan: one that wants to join the Americans to fight the Taliban and the other that seeks to fight the Americans with the help of the Taliban? Why can`t there be a third force that deters both? After all, the whole world knows that foreign military presence in Pakistan works to the disadvantage of those who genuinely wish to cast the country in the image of Jinnah`s liberal ideals.

Rahul Gandhi too needs to share his thoughts with the people of India and not whisper them into the ears of a foreign diplomat. Did he not know that sharing his fear of Hindu terror as a threat at par with Muslim extremism with the American ambassador was potentially self-defeating? Going by the flourishing alliance that has consolidated between India`s Hindu right and Israel`s Jewish right, is there any reason to realistically expect the Americans to sympathise with Gandhi`s implicit secularism?

As with Pakistan, where the Taliban`s widening terror imprint is used to consolidate America`s military presence in the country, the Indian middle class has become accustomed to taking sides between the twin threats of corporate vandalism and religious terrorism without acknowledging that the two go together. There is a tendency to turn a blind eye to the threat callous corporate culture poses to India`s democracy. That Ratan Tata and the Ambani brothers, among others, have explicitly endorsed the main suspect in the Gujarat communal carnage as prime ministerial material has been indulged as a workable possibility by the middle classes.

In their hurry to `develop` somehow on the debris of an inclusive society, Indian analysts ignore similarities between the gruesome murder of an Australian Christian missionary and his two sons by the Hindu right, for example, and the condemned Christian woman that Taseer spoke up for.

Curiously in India extremism of the minorities — the Sikhs and Muslims, for example — is readily described as terrorism, but the illegal demolition of a mosque or a massacre of Sikhs, Dalits, Muslims, Christians or tribespeople by the Hindu right is explained euphemistically as misplaced nationalist zeal.

The arrest of a group of activists of the Hindu right in an alleged conspiracy to attack Muslim targets across the country has lent credence to Rahul Gandhi`s fears. That this group and not any Muslim suspect was responsible for a spate of attacks, including the murder of Pakistanis passengers on the Samjhauta Express, is not the only reason for the two countries to come together. There is already the pending matter of Pakistani terrorists inflicting unspeakable carnage in Mumbai.

Bilawal Bhutto will not be able to go about defending Pakistan`s minorities if the zealots who attacked Mumbai roam free. Rahul Gandhi can start looking at ways to tackle the Kashmir dispute frontally. It is an enabling factor in terrorism in India. He should of course do so with a resolve that is not deterred by a rightwing Hindu backlash. Is it too much to ask of our young leaders?

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

No comments:

Post a Comment