May 21 marked Anti Terrorism Day in India.
It was on this day in 1991 when the former Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated by a suicide bomber affiliated with Tamil insurgents fighting for the right to self-determination in Sri Lanka.
Gandhi was seeking another election to the highest office when the incident happened. It is believed that he was targeted for promising to send Indian forces to Sri Lanka to help disarm Tamil guerrillas if he returned to power.
This outraged Tamil militants who felt deceived by the Indian state, which was expected to stand up for the persecuted Tamil community in the Sinhala-dominated island nation.
Of course, several others died in the bombing, which was unfortunate. But the Indian establishment decided to observe Gandhi’s death anniversary as Anti Terrorism Day as if it was the first such big incident of terrorism in India.
Since then, no government, including the current right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP regime, has missed an opportunity to use the occasion to do some tough talking about the growing menace of terrorism.
It has now become an annual event where the Indian state machinery keeps on reminding its citizens of its commitment to keep them safe from terrorists.
The issue with the whole narrative is that the definition of terrorism is highly problematic.
In the popular imagination of Hindu-dominated India, a terrorist is someone who is a Muslim, Sikh or extremists from non-Hindi speaking ethnicities, as well as revolutionary communists fighting a class war.
Only non-state actors fit that definition given by the government. Therefore, any act of terrorism committed by the state itself is likely to be overlooked.
Considering Gandhi’s own track record, treating his death anniversary as an antiterrorism day becomes only more ironic.
Gandhi was directly complicit in the 1984 Sikh Genocide.
Thousands of Sikhs were murdered all over India by the goons of his then-ruling Congress party that claims to be a secular alternative to the BJP. This bloodshed followed the assassination of his mother and then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984.
He was sworn in as the next prime minister after her death. Not only did pogroms occur right under his watch, he openly justified the violence as a reaction and shielded those responsible.
In the national capital of New Delhi alone, close to 3,000 Sikhs were killed by mobs in the first week of November that year.
It rather reflects badly on the world’s so-called largest democracy that it chose to adopt an anti-terrorism day in his memory. Why not November 1 as antiterrorism day in commemoration of those innocent Sikhs who were slaughtered across India by the followers of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi? Wasn’t that an act of terrorism?
After all, that was orchestrated to instil fear in the minds of the Sikh minority and polarize Hindu majority in the impending general election that saw Rajiv Gandhi being elected with more seats in the parliament. This was undoubtedly an unpardonable act of political violence, abetted and aided by the Indian government.
Likewise, the present prime minister, Narendra Modi, who is seen as a political hawk, used similar tactics in Gujarat back in 2002.
Modi was the chief minister of the state when a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire, leaving more than 50 people dead. Modi instantly blamed Muslims for the incident and incited his party men to indulge in rioting. Innocent Muslims were targeted all over Gujarat by the BJP cadre.
Notably, the Modi administration decided to prosecute those accused of torching the train for terrorism, but that was not the case with Hindu mobs that killed Muslims.
The 2002 massacre and Modi’s image of being a "tough on terrorism guy" helped him in ascending to power as prime minister in 2014.
The attacks on religious minorities have grown in India ever since.
Hindu extremists continue to target Muslims and other minority communities at will. So much so, his government has been shamelessly patronizing Hindu fanatics involved in bombings. One of them is Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, who got elected as a member of Parliament on BJP ticket in 2019. Modi himself promoted her in spite of the fact that she was linked to a bombing incident targeted at Muslim community in 2008.
It is pertinent to mention here that Thakur has also been glorifying Nathuram Godse, who murdered the leader of the passive-resistance movement, Mohandas K. Gandhi, in 1948. The patriarch of the freedom struggle in British India was shot to death for advocating for the coexistence of Hindus and Muslims, whereas Godse and his associates were determined to create an exclusionist Hindu nation.
Thus, terrorism was never an alien idea to the supporters of the Hindu right. It has always justified to use violence to suppress alien communities.
And Thakur was not alone in benefitting from the Modi government. Others engaged in terrorism for establishing Hindu theocracy got away with their crimes after Modi came to power.
On the 30th anniversary of Anti Terrorism Day, the Congress and the BJP again talked tough on terrorism, but what’s the point when these parties have themselves been involved in majoritarian terrorism one way or the other?
Both Gandhi and Modi should have been charged and punished for terrorism instead of being seen as fighters against this threat. But what can be expected from a system that has been compromised and overtaken by the bigots who have already taken India to the point of no return?
The mindset behind such majoritarianism has blinded everyone right from policymakers to the media and the society to recognizing terrorism from a very narrow lens. It is for this reason why the Indian state under the previous Congress regime and the present government has failed to outlaw any single Hindu extremist group involved in terrorism.
Their list of banned organizations only find mention of the minority community outfits or the left-wing radicals. Under Modi that hope has also dashed permanently even if the threat of Hindu nationalist terrorism is much more serious and continues to exist since the killing of Mohandas Gandhi.
This is not to suggest that extremists from minority communities have not indulged in terrorism or senseless killings, but the selective outlook toward the issue is unacceptable. Why only are the extremists from minority communities getting killed through extrajudicial means or being incarcerated when the Hindu chauvinists enjoy every freedom.? Why are only the Muslins, the Sikhs, the Tamils or the leftists seen as enemies of the nation, when those ruling the country are playing with human lives so blatantly?