August 10, 2006

Attack on the idea of India

How ironic that Tony Blair should be the first major political leader to point out that the nature of our Kashmir problem has changed. In a speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council last week the British PM said, ‘‘Whatever the outward manifestation at any one time—in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Iraq and add to that in Afghanistan, in Kashmir, in a host of other nations including now some in Africa—it is a global fight about global values; it is about modernisation, within Islam and outside of it; it is about whether our value system can be shown to be sufficiently robust, true, principled and appealing that it beats theirs.’’

This is more true of the Indian subcontinent than anywhere else since it is home to the largest Muslim population in the world, but our political leaders continue to behave as if our fight is merely against a handful of radical Islamists. In her first major comment after the Mumbai bomb blasts all that Sonia Gandhi could think to say was that we must make sure that the Muslim community was not targeted. What will not be lost in translation to our security forces is that this is a message to continue to fight only a half-hearted, defensive war.

The terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Ayodhya, Varanasi and elsewhere are proof that our problem with the Islamists, and with Pakistan, is no longer about Kashmir. It is about whether we have the courage to defend the value system of India. It is a value system that is the exact opposite of our Muslim neighbours because it does not recognise the right of any religion to dominate the public space and it does not believe that religion is the glue that holds a nation together. It is a value system we should be proud of and yet we are always on the backfoot.

Last week Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri told an NDTV reporter that ‘‘the ball was in India’s court’’ and that there was little his country could do about religious ‘‘charities’’ unless there was proof of their involvement in acts of terrorism. (He was asked about the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizbul Mujahideen functioning in Pakistan under the guise of religious charities.) No Indian foreign minister would dare make such a statement. We have our own fanatics but if the Bajrang Dal functioned from the Kanchipuram mutt the Shankaracharya would be jailed.

Pakistan constantly flings Kashmir solutions in our face without realising that the problem has changed so much it needs to be looked at in a completely new context. As radical Islam has spread across the world, Kashmir’s problem has became subsumed by the larger jihad. Ayman al-Zawahiri clarified recently that the targets of this larger jihad are ‘‘crusaders’’, Jews and Hindus.

‘‘Cross-border terrorism’’ was yesterday’s problem. Today we face the far more serious problem of an attack on the very idea of India. I am willing to put in writing that even if by some miracle a solution was found in Kashmir tomorrow terrorist acts against India would continue. A new grievance would be found.

Liberal, ‘‘secular’’ Indian journalists would help find it just as some tried to link the train bombings in Mumbai to Gujarat. One national newspaper was insensitive enough to print names of dead Gujaratis on its front page to prove this point.

Before Gujarat it was Babri Masjid that was regularly summoned up to explain the Indian Muslim’s sense of grievance and before that there was the neglect of Urdu, Partition, poverty.

In Blair’s words, ‘‘Islamist extremism’s whole strategy is based on a presumed sense of grievance that can motivate people to divide against each other. Our answer has to be a set of values strong enough to unite people with each other.’’ The difference between India’s values and those of Pakistan, Bangladesh could not be better described.

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