The rage generated by the hanging of Yakub Memon for the 1993 Bombay bombings will not die down anytime soon. While some continue with the chest thumping, others decry the barbarity of capital punishment. But there is also a significant minority that refuses to buy the State’s argument that Yakub was killed to send a “powerful message” to the terrorist groups and is anguished by how the Indian State targets the minorities in the name of counter-terrorism even as it refuses to acknowledge that majoritarian Hindutva politics is to blame just as much as Islamic militancy for terrorising the people of India. A simple question that the State has failed to address so far is how was the massacre of Muslims in Bombay in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition any less an act of organised terror than the bombings that it provoked.
In other words, what is it about bombs that makes their use by underground groups a crime more heinous in the eyes of the State than the use of swords, petrol cans, LPG cylinders and other low-tech instruments of brutal murder and mayhem by organised mobs of rioters who swear by Hindutva and are egged on by leaders from the bully pulpit? Why are “terrorists” of the first kind hounded by agencies of the State, caught, tortured and killed in cold blood in extrajudicial encounters or by hanging, while the second kind — the merchants of mayhem — end up in positions of authority and are honoured with State funerals after they die?
One example of this anti-minority orientation of the Indian State are the double standards applied to Yakub and the other accused in the Bombay blasts case, on the one hand, and the late Bal Thackeray and his Shiv Sainiks who were indicted by the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission for orchestrating the anti-Muslim violence that preceded the bombings, on the other. Yakub’s hanging juxtaposed with the State funeral by the erstwhile Congress-led UPA government for the Shiv Sena supremo is a powerful emblem of this discriminatory and prejudiced understanding that seriously impairs India’s fight against terror.
If terrorism were to be defined as a belief system that legitimises the use of all possible means to terrorise people in order to further a political cause, how are the anti-Muslim massacres — for instance, the Bombay riots — any less “terroristic” than the bomb blasts carried out by underground Islamic groups? Or for that matter the 1984 anti-Sikh riots?
Was Yakub, the man who helped the Indian investigating agencies in a big way to establish Pakistan’s connection with the perpetrators of the Bombay bombings, a terrorist? Was Afzal Guru, who was hanged to satisfy our “collective conscience” that was outraged by the 2001 attack on Parliament, a terrorist? No investigating agency could establish it beyond any doubt, yet that did not deter the Indian State from hanging them. Our rulers declared that justice was done and asked us to celebrate. And those who refused to revel in these cold-blooded murders were branded as “anti-nationals”. Why are our attitudes towards coldblooded murder by the State considered to be the benchmark of our patriotism?
It is high time we questioned the “mainstream” narrative propagated by the State on terrorism and national security. For nothing else has weakened our fight against terrorism more than the way the State treats the two kinds of terror — anti-minority massacres by mobs mobilised to give a boost to majoritarian politics and bomb blasts by Muslims recruited by underground groups that offer them a chance to retaliate and avenge the mass killings — differently. This unequal treatment has alienated an entire community from the national mainstream. What can be more “anti-national” than that?