Achin Vanaik is professor of politics at the University of Delhi. He spoke to Martin Thomas from Solidarity about the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai (26-29 November). First we asked about the background to the attacks, and how they fit into the pattern since the demolition by Hindu chauvinists of the Babri mosque in 1992, and the attacks on Indian Muslims in the following months.
The destruction of the Babri mosque was obviously a landmark event in terms of the communalisation of the Indian polity, but this particular attack — given the fact that the targets were foreigners, and it was very likely an offshoot of Al Qaeda, in collaboration with Lashkar-e-Taiba [an Islamist group based in Pakistan], that carried it out — is rather different from the 1992-3 blasts.
If one was trying to find a marker in Indian politics for the background to this, the more relevant marker would not be 1992-3 but the February 2002 Gujarat pogrom [in which up to 2000 Muslims were killed].
That was the most extraordinary and devastating pogrom since Partition. Its implications were even greater than those of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
Since then, those who responsible for it, such as Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, have not only got away with it in terms of criminal law. They have got away it politically. Modi is now seen as a potential prime minister.
The significance of that is enormous. Since 2002, and the way in which the perpetrators got away with it, Muslims in India feel more besieged than ever before.
A new development has taken place in the last two years. Small groups of Indian Muslims are now involved in terrorist activities, in a way they were not before. Before, any Muslim element in terrorism in India was always external.
But this particular event was more connected, I would say, to the consolidation of the strategic alliance between India and the United States. There was probably a mixture of motives in those who carried out the attack. Foreigners were targeted to send a message to the United States and the UK and Israel. In the second place, it may have involved a reaction to the bitter communalism and demonisation of Muslims in India as well as the issue of Kashmir.
Of course, none of that justifies the horror and stupidity of the attack. The horror is obvious — it is a moral horror at something terrible. The stupidity is that what such an attack is kind of gift from the lower levels of the international reactionary Right — Al Qaeda and others — to the higher rungs of the international reactionary Right.
The United States and others are going to utilise this to rationalise and justify their global “war of terror”, and the Indian state is going to back them.
About 20 Muslims were among the people killed in Mumbai. There is so far no evidence that the attack was connected to Muslim elements in India. There were about ten terrorists. They were trained; they had familiarity with the targets. One captured terrorist under police interrogation has pointed to the Lashkar-e-Toiba as a directing force with which they were in telephonic contact in Karachi.
After the bombings in Mumbai in 2006, there were mass raids on Muslims by the police. That hasn’t happened again. But the events have diverted attention from the recent uncovering of the fact that a number of blasts in Malegaon and elsewhere which had been attributed to Muslims were actually the handiwork of people connected to the Hindu communal forces.
In fact, one of the people killed in the recent events, who was the chief of the police anti-terror squad in Mumbai, was also the chief investigating officer who had just uncovered the fact that there was a strong connection between various Hindu communal groups and the blast in Malegaon in 2006.
The fact that he was killed led to rumours that maybe there were Hindu communal forces involved in the recent attack. I think it is probably more of a coincidence. Certainly they will be happy that he is dead and he cannot continue the investigation of Malegaon. Certainly what has happened as a result of this is a complete diversion from the atrocities carried out by the Hindu communal forces, not just in Malegaon but very recently against Christians in Orissa.
In the crowds in Mumbai there were a number of slogans like “Pakistan murdabad” — “death to Pakistan”. That is unfortunate, though it may well be true that there was some connection to forces in the ISI [the Pakistani secret police].
Anti-Muslim feeling, though widespread, is not as widespread in India as anti-Pakistan sentiment and slogans. There are 140 million Muslims in India, and many people understand the implications of such a large minority.
However, a number of people have said that we must not allow this to disrupt efforts to get peace with Pakistan. They have pointed out that terrorist forces have also attacked Pakistan — attempt to assassinate Musharraf, assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the attack on the Marriott hotel in Pakistan very similar to the attack on the hotels here.
The Pakistani government is not in control. The only way to defeat this sort of thing is not to pander to anti-Pakistani sentiment, but to move towards rapprochement and peace at the broadest possible level and to undercut the support for terrorists.
People have also pointed out that it is one thing to talk about tightening security measures. You can do that at the level of intelligence, border security, rapid reaction, and so on. It is another thing altogether to use such events to justify anti-democratic measures of surveillance and monitoring which violate civil rights.
Despite all these terrible events which we oppose, the single biggest dimension of the problem of terrorism in the world is the terrorism carried out by states. That has a much larger scope and scale.
This kind of “terrorism of the weak” helps to rationalise, justify, and divert attention from the “terrorism of the strong”, which is what states do.
You have 180-plus killed in the Mumbai events, you have three thousand killed in 9/11, but you have 10,000-plus civilians killed in Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands killed in Iraq after the invasion of 2003.
We will now find more people in India talking about how we must connect to the global “war on terror” and ally with the United States and Israel
But Israel and the United States — and India, and Russia, and China, all of them — carry out brutal terrorist activities.
Terrorism is basically a technique. You cannot wage war against a technique. The more intelligent people on the Right recognise that, like Zbigniew Brzezinski, only they won’t go on from that to say that the United States is guilty of the worst kind of brutality against innocent civilians.
There will be further demonisation of Islam and Muslims. Already any number of people are pushing forward the slogan — and it will get more resonance now — that “all Muslims are not terrorists. But all terrorists are Muslims”. That is completely wrong. It’s much more widespread.
In Mumbai, for the last 15 years, since 1993, we have not had a repetition of large-scale communal attacks on Muslims. But what we’re likely to see is the emergence of a generalised sentiment that “these Muslims are not to be trusted”, and so on.