In Roots of Terrorism, Bajpai's definition and understanding of the word is problematic. If we really want to address the roots of terror, we'll have to follow some unsettling trails, says DILIP SIMEON.
THIS is a timely book by an accomplished observer. However, the title's evocation of a radical analysis is belied by its contents. After an introduction to the differences between terrorism and war, and terrorists' lack of respect for innocent life, the author scans left and right wing extremism. He then chooses to focus on secessionist movements in the North East, Punjab and Kashmir. Bajpai's reason for this is that left and right wing extremism is perceived as being indigenous, and that the scale of the violence and casualties caused by the latter is relatively small. "When we say terrorism, therefore, we refer basically to the violence in these three borderlands".
In the aftermath of 9/11, we surely need to think seriously about terrorism. A dictionary suggests the following: Terror is "the state of being terrified or extremely frightened; intense fear or dread". Terrorism is "the systematic employment of violence and intimidation to, especially into acceding to specific political demands". A terrorist is "a person who uses and favours violent and intimidating methods of coercing a government or community". There is ample evidence of these methods being used by the Shiv Sena, the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Why do they not qualify as terrorist organisations? Must usage be a constraint to the act of definition? Why is "terrorism" so resistant to definition by the UNO and governments?
Is it because there exists a seamless connection between authoritarian establishments and extra-legal violence? Eqbal Ahmad in 1998 described the official preference for eschewing causation and definition, which require comprehension and consistency. He cited a query about the causes of Palestinian terrorism, addressed by Yugoslav's foreign minister to U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz. The latter pounded the table and replied, "there is no connection with any cause. Period." The Prime Minister recently told the U.N. that talk of root causes served to justify terrorism. Bush and Vajpayee are the good guys, period. After the murder of Staines and his sons in 1999, Vajpayee asked for a debate on religious conversions. Swayam-sevaks of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) routinely cite the "root causes" of the violence that accompanied the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Evil has a context when we identify with it, but becomes an emanation of Satan when we don't. If we really want to address the roots of terror, we shall have to follow some unsettling trails.
We need to interrogate the hypocritical discourse of violence in India. Officialdom regularly uses "riot" to suggest spontaneity. (As in the "Delhi riots of 1984"). This detracts from official complicity or downright instigation of mob-violence. Since the Calcutta Killing of 1946, it is doubtful that any major "riot" has been free from these tendencies. A case may be made for positing elements of deliberation in communal violence this is true for the activities of the RSS. Bajpai speaks of these as "Hindu militancy", rather than terror. A glance at the order banning the RSS on February 4, 1948 might have clarified the matter. He mentions the targeting of "upper"-caste people by left-wing insurgents in Bihar, but not the killings of innocent "low"-caste villagers by the Ranvir Sena. This is not a matter of analytical inflection. Terror breeds in fury at perceived injustice, unequal protection of the right to life, and humiliation of ordinary people. The Indian state has not even-handedly enforced the constitutional right to life, enshrined in Article 21. Unless these failures and the RSS cabal's promotion of violent paramilitaries are brought into the analysis, we will not understand the roots of terrorism. Bajpai could also have examined identity politics, which has emerged as the breeding ground of intolerance and authoritarian political agendas.
Some assessments are questionable. Has the Indian state really "taken care to avoid harm to non-combatants and to use violence in a controlled manner"? The book could have mentioned the Naga village of Oinam that suffered Army atrocities in the late 1980s (the case is still pending), and in Kashmir, it could have described the Bij Behara case, the shooting of Mirwaiz's funeral processionists and the killing of innocent suspects in the Chattisinghpura massacre.
Details of these would have provided readers with material on which to formulate a better understanding of the roots of popular alienation in these "borderlands". Bajpai's sober assessment of the dangers of nuclearisation, his warnings that "just because the gradualists have proven ineffective does not mean that the militarists are right", that American intervention in Afghanistan would add to India's problems in Kashmir and his scenarios of military confrontations between India and Pakistan are balanced and impressive. The bland statement that Gandhians "would claim that a government should abdicate its law and order functions in the face of terrorism" is unfair. It is to be appreciated that he has raised the issue of the cult of violence in mainstream Indian society, the pogroms of Delhi in 1984 and Gujarat in 2002. His last sentence is unexceptionable "in de-legitimising violence, it is not just, or even primarily governments that must exert themselves; it is all of us as practical and concerned citizens".
Roots of Terrorism, Kanti P. Bajpai, Penguin Books India, 2002,
Dilip Simeon is a historian.
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