Daya Varma and Vinod Mubayi


The terror attacks in Mumbai and Oslo have provoked different responses but have brought out the urgency of combating hate speech and right-wing ideology.


The conjunction of two devastating atrocities, the July 13 attack in crowded market areas of central Mumbai that killed 21 people, followed a week later by the much more brutal assault of a right-wing Christian fundamentalist in the hitherto peaceful city of Oslo, Norway, that caused 76 deaths, brought out yet again all the political dimensions associated with the word “terror.” In both cases, the mass media at the outset automatically and robotically pinned the blame initially on Islam and Muslims. While the Mumbai attack is still under investigation with no suspects identified as yet, the perpetrator of the heinous violence in Oslo was quickly apprehended and is in custody.


In the popular media, however, both in India and the West, organized “terror” comes exclusively from Muslim groups while other armed assaults are usually labelled as the actions of lone, deranged individuals. This mode of thinking became especially noticeable after the events of September 11, 2001.  Breivik’s assault in a country where the police do not normally carry guns, was eerily reminiscent of the equally horrendous bombing in Oklahoma City in 1995 by another group of right-wing militants.  These suggest that far from being isolated acts, such events are an extreme but understandable outgrowth of the phenomenal rise of right-wing politics across Europe and America marked by intense anti-immigrant rhetoric directed specifically at Muslims.  As the Hindu newspaper commented in a recent editorial:


What was the message this mass killer intended to send out? Brevik’s claims that multiculturalism had rendered Europe effeminate; his hostility to the egalitarian premises of the democratic movements that have shaped Europe since the French revolution of 1789; his invective at Muslim migrants whom he casts as an existential threat — these are well-established motifs of the neoconservative politics that emerged resurgent in Europe after 1978. Brevik’s words and ideas are thus rhetorical amplifications of ideas that have become mainstream. His apocalyptic act of violence reflected his loss of faith in organized politics to deliver on its own promises.


The terrorist attacks in Mumbai, on the other hand, invoked two kinds of responses. Based on the premise that Terror = Muslims, the first response called for counter-terrorism, in the Indian context, retaliation against Pakistan. The second called for more intensive and better-directed intelligence efforts to deal with terrorism, including cooperation with the appropriate authorities in Pakistan to identify and bring to book these extra-state actors.


The first kind of response, counter-terrorism, has been naturally and expectedly championed by the BJP leader, Advani. As people were in shock and dismay, Advani went berserk shouting that the episode is the consequence of a policy failure and not an intelligence lapse. By policy failure he clearly meant that terrorist attacks on India are a consequence of India’s failure to mount attacks inside Pakistan’s territory. It is a cry for war between two nuclear-armed states the consequences of which, in political and human terms, should not be a mystery to Advani, but war against Pakistan is a logical extension of the war against the Muslims of India, in which no one has yet outdone Advani.


Terrorism as a major weapon to express political grievances is a phenomenon in which all major powers have had a hand. One power’s “terrorist” was another’s “freedom-fighter,” as Ronald Reagan described the Afghan mujahideen, who were actively assisted for over a decade by the CIA to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan. The labels are also interchangeable, as exemplified by the phenomenon of ‘blowback’ when the mujahideen morphed into the Taliban who became “terrorists” when they turned on their erstwhile promoters.  Mrs. Gandhi, in India, had the same experience with Bhindranwale.  It is said that it is easier to create a monster than to contain it.


Pakistan is currently a state in a state of considerable disarray.  Its civilian government may or may not know precisely what is going on in its own territory. It is true that many terrorist groups are being sustained within the geographic territory of Pakistan but it is not likely that the government of Pakistan creates and facilitates the operation of terrorists, although shadowy figures at various levels of its military apparatus have been implicated by knowledgeable commentators. To make an analogy, Hindu terrorists have now been officially identified in India and charged with many bomb blasts and other attacks but they are hardly the creation of the Manmohan Singh government. Terrorist attacks, including the derailment of the Samjhauta Express train in which 68 people, mainly Pakistani nationals visiting India, were killed, have taken place in India but the government of India has been unable to prevent them.


Right-wing rhetoric created a swamp in which poisonous terrorists like Breivik could thrive and grow in a country ruled by a moderately left-wing social democratic regime. Breivik’s admiring references to Hindutva ideologues (see article by Praveen Swami below) in his “manifesto” underlines the curious, transnational nature of right-wing ideology directed not only against so-called cultural Marxism but all progressive and democratic ideas and movements. Those killed in Norway by Breivik were not only innocent but also a symbol of a progressive Norway.  The killer, on the other hand, represents a social base for ultra reactionary politics. Hitler emerged out of that very politics by espousing Aryan origins and the Swastika symbol. This fact holds important lessons for India as the Hindu editorial indicates:


For India, there are serious lessons. It is not that there is a simple causal connection between jihadi terrorism and the overground Islamist movement; or between Hindutva violence and the mainstream politics of Hindu nationalism; or between Khalistanis and Sikh neo-fundamentalism. Yet each of these competing religious neo-conservatisms built a climate of hate that has spawned agents of horrific violence. Indian political parties, across the spectrum, are quick to attack terrorist violence — but only a few have the integrity and the courage to condemn the systems of thought and language that underpin it. The tragedy in Norway reminds us that words can kill just as surely as bombs and assault rifles. That is good reason to act hard and resourcefully against hate speech in our national political life.


M.S. Golwalkar, the most prominent leader of the Hindu Fascist organization, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), applauded Hitler. So the link between European fascism and Hindu nationalism is old. In earlier times, Hindutva had no possibility of joining European fascist and right-wing parties; all it could do was promote anti-democratic and anti-Muslim ideology. Now not only does it possess these ideological weapons but it has already tasted the possibility of state power. A truly dark future for India is no more a hypothetical concept. This frightening scenario is a clarion call for renewed approach to Indian politics.


INSAF Bulletin has consistently raised the slogan that Hindutva poses the greatest threat to India while both the organized left and leftist individuals are busy digging deep into the weaknesses of the Manmohan Singh government on political, economic and social front.


During its early days, the Communist Party of India as well as certain element of the Congress leadership laid the foundations of a democratic culture. Both have found new tasks. We hope both would look into what need be done.


Meanwhile, it needs to be reiterated that the attack in Mumbai cannot be responded to by launching a war against Pakistan that would lead to mutual nuclear suicide, which would no doubt be greatly welcomed by the terrorists themselves. Creating a huge army of surveillance monitoring each and every activity of its citizens, to prevent terrorist attacks is logistically infeasible in the Indian context; it would also severely reduce already compromised civil liberties, already compromised and threaten democracy itself.


It is to the credit of the Indian people that they have not been carried away by the ranting of Advani and his ilk; even more creditable is that sane voices for peace between India and Pakistan have been raised as the surest way of curbing terrorist plots hatched in Pakistan against India. As was indicated after the meeting between Manmohan Singh and Gilani in Sharm el Sheik last year, it is only by joint efforts and cooperation between the governments of India and Pakistan can terrorism be reduced and ultimately contained.

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