Tuesday, Oct 04, 2022

India’s own politics of denial

Attacking the state for pursuing Hindu terrorists will dent India’s credibility

Swami Aseemanand’s “confession”,detailing the activities of Hindu terror groups,has produced a deep moral vertigo. There is,to be sure,much more that needs to be investigated and explained. This evidence needs to be squared with other sources,particularly on the Samjhauta Express blast. The timing of the “leak” of the confession will certainly raise political eyebrows. The confession,without corroborating evidence,may not prove to be decisive.

But,as strategic expert B. Raman has rightly said,the circumstances make it difficult to dismiss this confession out of hand. This much is crystal clear. First,that terror groups inspired by Hindutva exist. It is not much of a comfort to say that these are fringe elements. The significance of these elements is often revealed only in long hindsight; they can trigger fears and anxieties far in excess of their numbers. Who knows what sort of subterranean counter-politics these revelations will generate? Even if they are only a few drops,they are a poison that can vitiate the whole. Pious homilies about their marginality cannot disguise this possibility.

Second,these are groups that,even within their own paradigm,have created a new moral abyss. They have cloaked themselves in the garb of victims seeking retaliation. They are not only tempted by violence,they have no compunctions about striking the holiest places of worship like the Dargah at Ajmer,the deepest manifestations of our civilisation’s connection to the sacred. What kind of sickness has allowed the appellations “swami” and “sadhvi” to be colonised by a tissue of violent resentments?

Third,our response to this challenge has been,at best,an embarrassed denial. In the process we have put on display our double standards. We could not even get ourselves to admit that anyone claiming the appellation Hindu could be terrorists. This is more a symptom of our prejudice than a fact. This also seemed to blindside investigative agencies enough that they kept on pursuing the wrong leads and targeting the wrong groups.

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But there is also a national security challenge posed by this episode. The BJP,perhaps instinctively,but true to form,is not handling these revelations well. The leaks may well be politically motivated. But in the larger scheme of things the motivation behind the leaks is a small sideshow. Whichever way you look at it,India’s credibility is seriously dented. We all understand that the CBI can be used politically,and no one puts it past this government to use law enforcement agencies selectively. Yet,if the BJP attacks the credibility of the state lock stock and barrel,think of the consequences. The one thing about credibility is that you either have it or you don’t: you cannot cherry-pick. If we legitimise the argument that there is nothing to law enforcement agencies but politics,where does it leave any action of the state? After all,it is the very same state that prosecutes Afzal Guru and Ajmal Kasab.

God knows,there are serious miscarriages of justice and abuses of power in our system. But to simply dismiss the state on partisan grounds would be to say exactly the same thing states like Pakistan say about India: that this state cannot be trusted with any investigation and any evidence. Instead of attacking the state,the BJP needs to help examine the case on the merits. The only way to deal with possible miscarriages is to examine the veracity of a charge,not change the subject by impugning the source.

Besides,the BJP needs to learn a political lesson. Nothing diminished L.K. Advani before the last election more than his artless,passionate and entirely a priori defence of Sadhvi Pragya. Their attack on Hemant Karkare haunts them to this day; it suggested a level of pre-commitment,small-mindedness and a lack of institutional judgment not befitting a leader. Nitin Gadkari’s equivocations and Ravi Shankar Prasad’s defensiveness are in the same vein.


The BJP has to recognise that a strong and credible state is incompatible with any form of community partisanship. It could have turned this crisis on the head by at least being consistent on the issue of possible miscarriages of justice. It could have shown equal concern for Muslim youths falsely arrested.

The RSS will,on the surface,make all the right noises distancing itself from terrorism. But the revelations are so damaging that if it has any semblance of genuine nationalism left,it will have to do more than verbal distancing. It will have to actively cooperate to root out this menace,and find a way of atoning as an organisation that is unprecedented. This is highly unlikely. But it is the only way of answering the question as to why the organisation should be tolerated at all.

Let us,for a moment,even suppose that the Congress is playing cheap politics with the timing of these revelations. But even cheaper politics,in return,will do more damage. In some ways,for us as citizens,the charge that the investigation is politicised is also a psychologically easy let-off. It prevents us from fully confronting the significance of all that is being revealed.


A few self-selected crazies on the net notwithstanding,there is little reason to believe that the activities of the terror groups being identified has wide political support. If anything,there is likely to be revulsion. But there is a danger that this revulsion will be overshadowed by embarrassment,producing a silence that smacks of complicity. This silence can only add to the political damage we have already inflicted on ourselves.

We also need to understand that India has been diminished by these revelations. We can go on all we want about the difference between India and Pakistan. We can say that the Pakistani state has supported terrorism,but the Indian state has not. But to most of the world this will appear to be more a matter of degree than of kind. It will once again relate the issue of terrorism,not to a particular state,pursuing its objectives through violence,but to the general history of Hindu-Muslim violence and counter-violence.

The only way this damage can be repaired is if the Indian state credibly and relentlessly pursues its investigations,without us impugning its credibility from the start. Perhaps this serious crisis can be turned on its head. By admitting our mistakes,blind spots and omissions,we can at least send a signal that we have the resilience and courage to correct our mistakes. Otherwise,we will be exactly in the same boat that we place Pakistan: a society that practises the politics of denial.

The writer is president,Centre for Policy Research,Delhi

First published on: 11-01-2011 at 04:07:14 am
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