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My op-ed in Mail Today: It's a war on India

(this op-ed was published in Dec 12 edition of Mail Today)

“There are a lot of very, very angry Muslims in India, The economic disparities are startling, and India has been very slow to publicly embrace its rising Muslim problem. You cannot put lipstick on this pig” – That was Christine Fair, senior political scientist and a South Asia expert at the RAND Corporation offering insta-advice on the Mumbai terrorist attacks. This  was printed on Nov 27th in the International Herald Tribune even before the identity of the terrorists were known.

It was not just Christine Fair who had such sound bites. Maria Mishra wrote in the Times, “The extreme poverty of many Muslims in India, whose status, according to a recent report, was below that of the “Untouchable” caste of Hindus, has increased frustration.” This untouchables meme was carried forward by Asra Q. Nomani in an Op-Ed in Los Angeles Times. Appearing on Larry King Deepak Chopra said, “We cannot, if we do not appease and actually recruit the help of this Muslim world, we’re going to have a problem on our hands.”

As per these experts, poverty of Indian Muslims, the institutional discrimination and lack of appeasement caused terrorists belonging to Laskhar-e-Taiba to take a boat from Karachi, land in Mumbai, and shoot indiscriminately at Indians and Westerners in railway stations, five star hotels, and hospitals.

The second category of experts had the Hindu right to blame. If only the Gujarat riots and demolition of Babri Masjid had not happened, such ill fate would not have fallen on India, they claimed. Most prominent among them, Martha Nussbaum, who wrote in an Op-Ed in Los Angeles Times about the Gujarat riots and the attacks on Christian churches skilfully ignoring other violent incidents in India like the rampage of the Congress party on Sikhs following Indira Gandhi’s assassination or the Naxalite terrorism rampant in many states.

These two theories fail to convincingly explain the Mumbai attacks: why did the terrorists murder Americans, Britons, and Israelis.? They also ignore the elephant in the room – the stated goals of Lashkar-e-Taiba. There is, hence, a need to balance these by certain obvious points which have been left out during the sound bite generation.

Omissions

The image, presented by these both these categories of commentators, is of an India resembling the Europe of the crusades while it so far from the truth. The great Indian middle class is approximately 300 million, which means that about 700 million Indians are not doing so well. The entire Muslim population in India is around 150 million and so the oft repeated claim that Muslims alone are not getting the share of India’s prosperity does not stand.

India, the land of  contradictions, mocks generalizations. It is the country where Azim Premji can be one of the richest people, Shah Rukh Khan, one of the highest paid actors, and A. R. Rahman, the most sought after music composer. It also the country where Dr. A. P. J Abdul Kalam, who was responsible for India’s missile program and the 1998 nuclear tests can become the President of India. These people are never mentioned because it upsets pet theories.

The coalition government that is in power in Delhi currently consists of two Muslim parties – the Indian Union Muslim League, a party formed “with an object of achieving the constitutional rights of Muslims, other backward and minority people of India. ” and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen which means All India Council of United Muslims.

Muslims sensitivities have played an important role in Indian foreign policy since independence to the Iraq war. A profound example is the relationship with Israel. In 1947 Albert Einstein, who had declined an offer to be Israel’s President, wrote a letter to Prime Minister designate of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, asking for support in establishing a Jewish state. Nehru wrote back saying that he was aware of the Jewish suffering, but did not like the idea of building a nation on Palestinian land. He also wrote that due to the large Muslims minority and the support required from Arab and Muslim states in the fight against Pakistan, he could not support Israel.

Since the start of the Iraq war, there was pressure on India to send troops. The war, which was unpopular in India, was unanimously deplored by the Lok Sabha. Still President Bush spoke to Prime Minister Vajpayee about how much he would “love to have Indian troops in Iraq.” The nation, as well as the ruling NDA administration, was divided on this issue but after the Cabinet Committee on Security meeting in July 2003, India rejected the American request. In his statement India’s Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha mentioned “our concern for the people of Iraq, our long-standing ties with the gulf region as a whole” for staying away. In short, India did not want to be seen as an occupational force among Muslim nations.

Motives

As the dead bodies were being cleared from the Taj, Nariman House and CST, it became evident that supporting the Palestinian cause, showering Yasser Arafat with various Nehru/Gandhi awards, and keeping away from Iraq did not differentiate us from the Americans, British, and Israelis. Also, as terrorist sprayed bullets at CST and Metro Cinema, they did not exclude Muslims for whose cause they claimed they were fighting.

In an interview with a TV station, two Mumbai terrorists mentioned Gujarat and Babri Masjid, among a list of other events against which they were reacting. Though they were trying to sound like Indians, these terrorists were not desperate Indian Muslims, but members of a Pakistani terrorist group banned by India and United States. In a letter sent to the media, the terrorists stated they they were avenging the atrocities committed by Hindus against the Muslims since 1947, much before Babri Masjid and Gujarat, and would stop only after each incident has been accounted for.

Reality

To understand why any future Deepak Chopra style appeasement will fail against such terrorists, one has to look at “The Ideologies of South Asian Jihadi Groups”, written by Husain Haqqani, the current Pakistani Ambassador to United States.The section on Laskar-e-Taiba lists United States, Israel and India as enemies of Islam and their goal for jihad is to “to eliminate evil and facilitate conversion to and practice of Islam.” They would like to wrest control of not just a small part of India, but “All of India, including Kashmir, Hyderabad, Assam, Nepal, Burma, Bihar and Junagadh”, since they were all part of the Muslim empire.

While India is not involved in Iraq, it is actively involved in Afghanistan, not as an occupier, but as a partner financing irrigation projects in Northwest Afghanistan, power projects in Herat and Kabul and building roads like the one connecting Delaram on the Kandahar-Herat highway to Zaranj near the Iranian border. The name of an intelligence service which would be upset by the loss of strategic depth in Afghanistan due to Indian presence is left as an exercise to the reader.

This is a war against India by a brutal enemy with a nefarious goal – one which Christine Fair, Maria Mishra, Asra Q. Nomani and Martha Nussbaum have not emphasized in their articles. As for Deepak Chopra, we only hope that he writes a book thicker than “Why Is God Laughing?” so that we can use it to deflect bullets during the next terrorist attack.

12 Responses to My op-ed in Mail Today: It's a war on India

  1. A-kay December 11, 2008 at 10:11 pm #

    One of the most balanced op-ed I have read on this issue. Just like China, which things any land that was part of Chinese empire at any point of time in history belongs to it, I guess these Jihadi orgs also have a very tinted and jaundice-d sense of history and expansion. One cannot appease terrorists, only way is to trash them and make them repent, so they wouldn’t dream of ever trying again. Alas! we are such a soft state that this will only remain a dream…

  2. Vishwapriya December 11, 2008 at 11:45 pm #

    Brilliant writing. I have been frustrated for the past few weeks reading stories that echo sentiments of the likes of Prof. Nussbaum-sadly many of these from our own land of so-called seculars. All this is happening because of muslims being marginalised in India is not only an ill-infomred argument but a dangerous one. One has to understand that while one end of the spectrum holds sucess stories of the Kalams and Premjis, on the other lie illeterate, poverty ridden muslim families just like the hindus, christians and sikhs in India. There were muslims protesting these attacks on Id day, there were mullahs condeming these attacks. So they dont represent the voices of the “downtrodden” as much as Nussbaum does?
    Also, if one carefully reads ones history this ridiculous argument of muslims being treated like “untouchables” will evaporate. There is a whole bunch period fiction in atleast the telugu language which mentions the social conditions of muslims vis a vie the “untouchables” and the Brahmnins. While muslims could drink form the higher caste wells, not so the christen-converts -the untouchables. Moreover, muslims freely intermingled with the so-called “higher castes” as opposed to the “untouchables”. One only hopes that people who call themselves academics, do their bit of groundwork before wirting politicaly correct lies.

  3. B Shantanu December 12, 2008 at 1:18 am #

    JK: Just one word…

    SUPERB.

    Should be required reading for all foreign commentators.

    Thanks.

  4. Vishal December 12, 2008 at 5:58 pm #

    Wonderful post.

    Regarding the often discussed poverty of Muslims — would love to hear your thoughts on Sachar Committee Report.

  5. froginthewell December 13, 2008 at 9:36 am #

    Vishal :

    1. Blaming terrorist attack on Muslim poverty or any attack on Muslims, is no different from blaming Gujarat riots on atrocities of Muslim rulers over centuries. Why should one of these be “evil” and the other “matter of fact”?

    2. It is very difficult, if not impossible to “lift” a community out of poverty. Inspite of the US being so advanced, blacks are still quite distant from being anywhere near as well-off as whites, and that is NOT because of racism at all. One can only expect such things to happen over a long period of time, during which these communities may actually mix with each other through marriage.

  6. Nithyanand Rao December 13, 2008 at 9:38 am #

    Wonderful!
    I read about Deepak Chopra’s comments in print,before actually seeing him on TV and found him amusing,to be honest.It’s not a good sign when people take him have enough expertise in these matters,to be called to give comments on live TV.
    Also,I loved the humour in your article.We need it,in these times,especially..

  7. John December 13, 2008 at 9:23 pm #

    You can add Fareed Zakeria also to the list, he is also carefully propagating similar agenda. He presents himself as the voice of indian muslims to the world to spread his narrow views.

  8. Vishal December 14, 2008 at 7:50 am #

    FrogInTheWell,

    1. I disagree with those who think that Indian society’s treatment to its Muslim minority is responsible for the terrorist attacks. But the analogy you’ve put forward is not quite right. Muslim rule (over major parts of India) ended two centuries ago. Retributions for something that happened centuries ago can not be equated with reactions or revenge to currently existing subjugation (if we assume it exists, that is).
    2. Man, this comment of yours have Hitler’s interpretation of social Darwinism (i.e. the roots of Nazi ideology) written all over it.

  9. jk December 14, 2008 at 9:33 am #

    Vishal,

    Sachar Report is a very important one. But in India, poverty and backwardness knows no religion. For a “secular” state to say, let me give preferential treatment to Indians who pray to Mecca, would be denying the same justice to poor people who don’t pray looking at Mecca. Opportunities should be available irrespective of your religious beliefs and not based on vote banks isn’t it?

  10. jk December 14, 2008 at 9:38 am #

    A-kay, Vishwapriya, Shantanu, Nithyanand, John,

    Thanks for your support.

  11. froginthewell December 14, 2008 at 9:50 am #

    Vishal :

    1. I disagree. Neither counts as “genuine” retribution because the people killed aren’t related to people who were responsible for any atrocity. Both types of (faux-)retributions are equally unjustified. And being apologist for one type of faux-retribution is as bad as being apologist for the other.

    2. I did not say that some communities are racially inferior. I did not say that communities cannot lift themselves out of poverty. When I talked about “lifting a community out of poverty”, I was referring to a set of proactive steps specifically aimed at improving a community. Such steps don’t work. Communities come out of their situation not overnight, but over a long period of time. That is what I said.

  12. Pangala Nagendra Rao March 7, 2009 at 12:19 pm #

    Brilliantly presented well balanced post!!

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