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Monday, December 06, 2021

Out of my mind: Old and new terrorism

Modern terrorism, especially of the jihadist variety, is directed against civilian targets where, by causing collateral damage, a notice is sent to the powers that be that there is an ideological and political war on.

Written by Meghnad Desai |
Updated: May 8, 2016 12:53:30 am
Bhagat Singh

Madan Lal Dhingra was staying at India House in London run by Shyamji Krishna Varma. Savarkar was also staying there. Dhingra assassinated Curzon Wyllie who had been ADC to the Viceroy. At a large meeting of prominent Indians in London, a resolution was moved to condemn Dhingra.

It would have been passed unanimously had Savarkar not intervened and defended Dhingra’s act of revolutionary terrorism. Mohandas Gandhi, not yet the Mahatma, denounced Dhingra’s action.

Very much the same attitude was displayed about Bhagat Singh by Mahatma Gandhi at the Karachi Congress, and he refused to intercede with the Viceroy Lord Irwin to commute the death sentence Bhagat Singh had been given.

Gandhi and the Congress consistently opposed violent interventions made by young Indians during the Independence struggle. The objection to violent action was a principle for Gandhi but merely tactical for his followers. Non-violence was expected to deliver success in the struggle. It did, and hence the rival paths to freedom were devalued. This is why the history of the Independence struggle marginalises people like Bhagat Singh.

But while violent action was not approved of by the Congress, terrorism did not have the negative connotation for everyone. The British had experienced terrorism from the Irish freedom fighters — Sinn Féin and the IRA. Very often the financial support for the groups came from Irish Americans who loathed Britain and supported the violent struggle. India became a victim of nationalist terrorism during the Khalistan movement and by proxy from the Tamil Eelam movement, which claimed Rajiv Gandhi’s life. This was the case till the early 1990s.

Terrorism began to have a negative connotation when the Americans first experienced violent attacks on themselves abroad, as on the US Embassy in Kenya or on USS Cole during the late 1990s. Finally when 9/11 took place, terrorism was labelled as America’s and by implication the world’s number 1 problem. America was then the sole superpower or hyper-power as the French called it. So the 21st century began with a negative image for violent political action on part of unofficial groups.

The al-Qaeda changed the meaning and practice of terrorism. Terrorism is a politically motivated private (non- governmental) action. The actions of the Anushilan group or Bhagat Singh were directed against officials who represented imperial power. This was also the Irish revolutionary tradition at the outset. It was only in late 20th century in Northern Ireland that the terrorist activity became sectarian and directed against civilian population as well. Once the Americans became hostile to terrorism, they withdrew the financial support. After that, peace was easy to achieve in Northern Ireland.

Modern terrorism, especially of the jihadist variety, is directed against civilian targets where, by causing collateral damage, a notice is sent to the powers that be that there is an ideological and political war on. The jihadist struggle has no territorial limits and it has no final goal except the conversion of everyone to the Wahabi version of Islam. It is directed at Muslim nations as well as everyone else. It does not wish to negotiate and has no interim goals. The progress in technology of violence allows the terrorist as an urban guerrilla to kill many people in one attempt. Bhagat Singh’s revolutionary terrorism belongs to a different world.

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