One faux pas after the other

FPJ BureauUpdated: Saturday, June 01, 2019, 11:17 PM IST
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The home minister has played into Pakistan’s hands with his ‘candid admission’ and won the admiration of Lashkar-e-Toiba founder Hafiz Saeed.

EVER since his appointment as union home minister – incidentally, on the day last year when, as power minister, he was responsible for 600 million Indians being without electricity – Sushil Kumar Shinde has made one unbecoming statement after another, some of them downright deplorable.

One of his worst pronouncements – in which he insulted both a highly competent officer and the country’s policy of secularism – made out that, for the first time, a Muslim had become director of the Intelligence Bureau only because of the kindness of Congress president Sonia Gandhi! The opprobrium that he thus earned did not seem to deter him.

For, shortly thereafter, disregarding the advice of the ministry of external affairs and even that of the Prime Minister’s Office, he invited Pakistan’s minister of the interior, Rehman Malik, to Delhi the day after the eleventh anniversary of the Pakistani terrorist attack on Indian Parliament. There is no need to repeat that the Rehman visit turned out to be ruinous because Mr. Malik abused the privileges of a guest to make most derogatory remarks against this country. Our maladroit home minister couldn’t even answer him adequately.

Mr. Shinde has now compounded his earlier performance by a statement at the Jaipur Congress conclave that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its political face and the principal opposition party, the BJP, were holding training camps to spread “Hindu terror.” Usually Congressmen are very happy when the saffron party and its mentor, the RSS, are attacked, rightly or even wrongly. But this time around, many in Shinde’s audience were embarrassed because terrorism cannot be given a religious label.

Nobody has ever called the cross-border terrorist attacks by Pakistani outfits such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed – organizations sponsored and supported by the notorious ISI – of which India has been the main victim, Muslim or Islamic terrorism. Jihadi terrorism or al-Qaeda terrorism or Taliban terrorism, it surely is, but not Muslim terrorism.

Similarly, an organization that calls itself Indian Mujahideen is responsible for some terrorist attacks. These cannot be attributed to the entire Muslim minority in this country.

Even Mr. Shinde realized eventually that he had made a terrible faux pas and retracted it, saying that he was doing no more than repeat the reports in the media on investigations that are being carried on, grave damage had been done. Obviously, he was referring to the Malegaon blasts and the attack on the Samjhauta Express. In relation to both these cases, the arrests of some Hindus having past association with the RSS-BJP have indeed been made. And although these investigations into pre-2008 incidents have now been taken over by the newly formed National Investigations Agency (NIA), these remain incomplete, and therefore no prosecution has yet been launched.

Moreover, while there is evidence that the Malegaon attack was the handiwork of some Hindu individuals associated with the RSS and the BJP, nothing has yet turned up to show that these two organizations had any involvement in, or knowledge of, these dastardly acts. It has to be added that in relation to the bomb attack on Samjhauta Express, in which some Pakistanis returning home were killed, the evidence available so far is only circumstantial. At the same time there is the UN verdict that the Samjhauta attack was carried out by LeT.  All that apart, the home minister hasn’t withdrawn his imputation that the Sangh Parivar’s “terrorist training camps” are operating even now. If so, what prevents his ministry and other government agencies from swooping on them, dismantling them and meting out exemplary punishment to those running them?

In the circumstances, it is no surprise that the BJP and the RSS are incensed. They are demanding Mr. Shinde’s dismissal and an apology by both the Congress president and the prime minister. Since neither of the two demands is likely to be accepted, the BJP’s alternative plan to take the issue to the streets would come into force. Sadly, Parliament will also be an arena of struggle, and there is real danger that its budget session might be disrupted. An even bigger danger is that competitive demonization of each other by the two mainstream parties – both are eyeing the series of state assembly elections this year and the Lok Sabha poll next year – could make the atmosphere in the country inflammable. Especially, in view of the kind of speeches that are already being delivered in Hyderabad.

If the BJP and its allies are virtually at war with Mr. Shinde, he need not worry. For he has won a new admirer, none other than the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks and founder of Lashkar-e-Toiba, Hafiz Saeed, the man most wanted not only in India, but also elsewhere. The United States has put a bounty of $10 million on him. His main pastime during the last four years has been to spew venom against this country.

Now, however, he is applauding Mr. Shinde, and declaring that the Indian minister’s “candid admission” must be carried to its logical conclusion, which makes sense from his point of view. To leave no one in any doubt he has spelled out what the Shinde statement must result in. Its first result, according to him, should be that propaganda about Pakistani terrorism should be rejected. At the same time India should be declared a country that gives support and succour to terrorism. Hafiz further says that Indian organizations “are involved in all kinds of terrorism in Pakistan.

And his piece de resistance is: “India has tried to involve us in the Mumbai attacks, but after a passage of five years nothing has been established against us in the courts.” Indian diplomacy has to cope with this kind of Pakistani campaign. But the irony is that the creator of the problem is India’s own home minister.

Where do we go from here would depend, of course, on whether the two mainstream parties, the Congress and the BJP, show wisdom, sagacity and awareness of national interest or they remain mired in mutual mudslinging.

That a bumbling individual should be both home minister and the leader of the Lok Sabha is proof of the poverty of talent in the Congress party. The party high command will not divest him of his posts.

But can’t it order him not to make public announcements without first getting the text approved by the Prime Minister?

INDER MALHOTRA

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