Mass violence has no place in democracy (Column: Spy’s Eye)

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Crime including a stray incident of violence in public may have a personal motivation but there was nothing personal about an episode of mass violence — it was always instigated by politics, domestic or externally guided. For the government of a sovereign democratic nation, the test of success would lie in whether it was able to take note of the first signs of a directed violence — as different from an agitation that might show aggressiveness — for preventive action.

These markers would always be on the radar of intelligence. Mass violence is the culmination of a brewing process that would never go unnoticed by the nation’s internal watch mechanisms. It can, therefore, be said that there was never a case of lack of Intelligence in reference to the specific episode of planned militant violence that aimed at causing a mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley in early Nineties.

The much talked about film — “The Kashmir Files” has unravelled the background and horrific dimensions of this shameful saga of violence and it is only appropriate that the entire matter was examined in depth to determine if there was connivance of those in positions of authority at that point of time which resulted in the failure of the administration including the Police to adequately respond to the first signs of the impending savagery.

This is required to be done in the interest of the future of India as a democratic nation. Beyond some cinematographic liberties the movie has brought out the reality of tragic events of raw violence that was directed against a targeted community. This remained hidden from the gaze of Indian citizens — for reasons that again were rooted in politics.

The leadership of the valley-based political parties in power in the state –supported by those at the helm of affairs at the Centre — was so much dependant on the separatists for electoral success that it looked the other way when militants belonging to the lead player in Hurriyat-Jamaat-e-Islami- initially stepped up terrorist violence in the name of Islam.

What is worse, it deliberately refused to name Pakistan for cross- border terrorism in the state- ignoring the flow of Intelligence — and the leadership at the Centre too went along with this pro-Pak stand. This is precisely what encouraged the Pak ISI to ultimately plan and execute the sinister act of setting Islamic militants upon the Kashmiri Pandits with brutal violence, to drive the latter out of the valley and achieve the mission of converting the territory into a ‘Muslim land’ to strengthen Pakistan’s claim on it. The victory of the anti-Soviet armed campaign in Afghanistan in fact strengthened Pak ISI’s resolve to replicate the Afghan Jehad in Kashmir and the appearance of Harkat ul Ansar — the first group of Jehadis of Taliban infiltrated into the valley to unleash violence in 1993 — proved that. If the political leaders of valley parties and those at the Centre would have firmly stood against cross- border terrorism from the very beginning, the Kashmiri Pandits would not have been exposed to the one- sided onslaught of militants.

Apologists for Pakistan continue to hedge the issue by alleging that ‘atrocities’ of Indian army were continuing in Kashmir in the name of counter-terror operations and contending that the ‘will’ of the Kashmiris was not being ascertained for resolving their problem — clearly echoing Pakistan’s demand for ‘self determination’.

The result of all this is that faith-based terrorism was still not being condemned unequivocally by the protagonists of ‘minority politics’ in the country. Mixing politics with religion is bad enough but clubbing politics and violence can be disastrous for democracy.

The lobbies at home and abroad working against the Narendra Modi government particularly after the return of BJP in power in 2019, have spread the narrative of majoritarianism, authoritarian rule and suppression of minorities against the regime. In the run up to the recent assembly elections in five states the environ became overlaid by the shadow of communal divide in the country – an important reason for this was the political belief of the opposition parties that against a highly divided majority community the consolidated support of the Muslim minority could become a match winner.

The image of integrity and strong governance and the success of schemes meant to help the common households, brought the BJP to power for a remarkable second time in Uttar Pradesh but it appears that SP also improved its position largely because of the full backing of Muslims it got in the state — this was reflected in the loss of security deposits by the candidates of Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Musalmeen (MIM). What is of serious concern, however, is the fact that the Hindu-Muslim divide is being used by Pakistan to fish in the troubled waters here. This is a threat to India’s internal security.

Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan falsely alleged that the ‘pro-Hindutva’ policies of Modi government had put the position of Muslim minority of India in jeopardy. The action of Pak Foreign Ministry in summoning India’s Charge d’Affairs to convey its ‘deep concern’ over the alleged ban on Hijab in the classroom, imposed in some parts of Karnataka, shows that Pakistan has made its intervention in the internal affairs of India on ‘Muslim issues’ a part of its foreign policy. In his address to the nation on March 31, Imran Khan made out that US was acting against Pakistan in concert with India. Pakistan has put Indo-Pak relations in a Hindu-Muslim framework — India has to watch out against this external attempt to cause destabilisation here.

It is likely that Islamic radical organisations already active in some parts of India will intensify their covert endeavours to recruit militants while their supporters among the Ulema and the elite stepped up communal propaganda from open forums to fan ‘Islamic brotherhood’. There are hardly any voices from the community’s leadership warning Pakistan to mind its own business and not pretend to be a caretaker of Indian Muslims. Sponsored writings in India and abroad are already engaged in badmouthing Indian democracy in general and running down Modi government in particular. It is instructive to recall that in India, terrorism was to a significant degree whipped out of communal militancy — a classical case was the emergence of Indian Mujahideen from the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) an offspring of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind.

The Jamaat is a pro-Pak organisation that worked for establishing Hukumat-e-Illahiya or Islamic Rule in India. Pak ISI has been able to draft militants of all hues of the Islamic spectrum – from Hizbul Mujahideen (HuM) to Taliban- Al Qaeda combine in its proxy war against India in Kashmir and elsewhere.

The declared anti-India stance of Pakistan has opened up new ways in which communal front will be exploited for creating internal trouble in India and militancy injected in the name of Islam. Reports of Afghan Mujahideen making an appearance in POK after the return of Taliban Emirate at Kabul do not come as a surprise. There is added work for our Intelligence set up in the days ahead.

Politically instigated public violence is becoming a rather common spectacle in India with states like West Bengal, Kerala and Maharashtra attracting greater notice. The incident of burning down of houses with women and children inside, at Rampurhat village in Birbhum district by a rival political group on March 21, typically illustrates the failure of the law and order management. Law and order is a state subject and its maintenance is generally unsatisfactory because of two reasons — an excessive political control on the Police machinery and a decline in the quality of leadership of the administration. Birbhum seems to be another example of politically tinted approach of the state Police — it is significant that material large enough for preparation of 200 crude bombs was recovered in the district within 24 hours of the Chief Minister visiting Rampurhat and ordering the Police to go all out to arrest the culprits and recover arms and ammunition.

The CBI now investigating the matter must examine the larger issue of working of the Police on the law and order front and identify the points of failure in this regard for helping the Centre to bring about a general reform.

The administrative leadership of the state has to measure up to the new situation where the responsibility of the Police goes beyond maintenance of law and order to the safeguarding of internal security of India -often as a first responder. Political elements instigating disturbances and enemy agents provoking mass violence, have to be identified in time and proceeded against.

All of this requires a kind of coordination between the Intelligence agencies of the Centre and the state and district Police set up — that would work through a system of ‘nodal officers’ named in advance and made responsible for initiating an effective and integral response on the first reports on a situation of potential public violence.

An early reform in the direction of making state administration and Police a little more independent professionally, in dealing with cases of instigated mass violence, is for the Centre to have a Constitutionally valid role in the preparation of panels for the selection of IAS and IPS officers by the state governments for the posts of Chief Secretary and DGP. This course of action was in fact recommended by our Apex court in its observations made in July 2018 while disapproving of the trend of state governments choosing to appoint an ‘acting DGP’ as a prolifically convenient option.

(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)

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