The rage generated by the hanging of Yakub Memon for the 1993 Bombay bombings will not die down anytime soon. While some continue with the chest thumping, others decry the barbarity of capital punishment. But there is also a significant minority that refuses to buy the State’s argument that Yakub was killed to send a “powerful message” to the terrorist groups and is anguished by how the Indian State targets the minorities in the name of counter-terrorism even as it refuses to acknowledge that majoritarian Hindutva politics is to blame just as much as Islamic militancy for terrorising the people of India. A simple question that the State has failed to address so far is how was the massacre of Muslims in Bombay in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition any less an act of organised terror than the bombings that it provoked.
In other words, what is it about bombs that makes their use by underground groups a crime more heinous in the eyes of the State than the use of swords, petrol cans, LPG cylinders and other low-tech instruments of brutal murder and mayhem by organised mobs of rioters who swear by Hindutva and are egged on by leaders from the bully pulpit? Why are “terrorists” of the first kind hounded by agencies of the State, caught, tortured and killed in cold blood in extrajudicial encounters or by hanging, while the second kind — the merchants of mayhem — end up in positions of authority and are honoured with State funerals after they die?
One example of this anti-minority orientation of the Indian State are the double standards applied to Yakub and the other accused in the Bombay blasts case, on the one hand, and the late Bal Thackeray and his Shiv Sainiks who were indicted by the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission for orchestrating the anti-Muslim violence that preceded the bombings, on the other. Yakub’s hanging juxtaposed with the State funeral for the Shiv Sena supremo is a powerful emblem of this discriminatory and prejudiced understanding that seriously impairs India’s fight against terror.
If terrorism were to be defined as a belief system that legitimises the use of all possible means to terrorise people in order to further a political cause, how are the anti-Muslim massacres — for instance, the Bombay riots — any less “terroristic” than the bomb blasts carried out by underground Islamic groups?
Was Yakub, the man who helped the Indian investigating agencies in a big way to establish Pakistan’s connection with the perpetrators of the Bombay bombings, a terrorist? Was Afzal Guru, who was hanged to satisfy our “collective conscience” that was outraged by the 2001 attack on Parliament, a terrorist? No investigating agency could establish it beyond any doubt, yet that did not deter the Indian State from hanging them. Our rulers declared that justice was done and asked us to celebrate. And those who refused to revel in these cold-blooded murders were branded as “anti-nationals”. Why are our attitudes towards coldblooded murder by the State considered to be the benchmark of our patriotism?
It is high time we questioned the “mainstream” narrative propagated by the State on terrorism and national security. For nothing else has weakened our fight against terrorism more than the way the State treats the two kinds of terror — anti-minority massacres by mobs mobilised to give a boost to majoritarian politicsand bomb blasts by Muslims recruited by underground groups that offer them a chance to retaliate and avenge the mass killings — differently. This unequal treatment has alienated an entire community from the national mainstream. What can be more “anti-national” than that?
THE SCATHING INDICTMENT
Justice Srikrishna Commission was instituted by the Maharashtra Government to look into the causes of the 1993 Bombay riots. For five years until 1998, victims, witnesses and alleged perpetrators were examined and questioned. The Commission was disbanded by a Shiv Sena-led government in January 1996 and was later reconstituted on 28 May 1996 after a public uproar. Its report called Bal Thackeray the “veteran general commanding his Shiv Sainiks” as they went on a rampage that tore Bombay’s secular fabric to shreds. The report identified causes and perpetrators of the riots. Its findings were as follows
⇏ The carnage continued as local miscreants also got involved in it to settle personal scores
⇏ The riots began to spiral out of control, forcing party leaders to issue an appeal to stop the attacks
THE HATE CAMPAIGN
⇏ Violence intensified from 6 January 1993 onwards, instigated by Marathi newspapers such as Navakal and Saamana
⇏ The Shiv Sena added more fuel to the fire by making false statements and writing vicious articles
⇏ In a Time magazine interview, Thackeray justified his party’s terror tactics by saying that these methods ensured safety of citizens
RIOTS LED TO BOMB BLASTS
⇏ Justice Srikrishna concluded that the Bombay riots led to the bomb blasts
⇏ “Tiger Memon, the key figure in the serial bomb blasts case, and his family had suffered extensively during the riots and therefore can be said to have deep-rooted motives for revenge. It would appear that one of his trusted accomplices, Javed Dawood Tailor alias Javed Chikna, had also suffered a bullet injury during the riots and therefore he also had a motive for revenge.” ( chapter VI, volume I)
⇏ Malicious political campaigns began from July 1992 onwards with slogans like, “Is desh me rahana hoga to vande mataram bolna hoga ( If you want to live in this country then you have to say Vande Mataram)”
⇏ Communal activities of some Muslim organisations such as the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and the Bombay Muslim Action Committee in response to the Ram Janmabhoomi movement worsened the atmosphere further (chapter I-II and volume I)
⇏ Hindu communal parties justified riots by highlighting an incident, where a family of five was set ablaze in north Mumbai on 8 January 1993.
SOFT ON SHIV SENA, HARD ON MUSLIMS
⇏ Muslim miscreants get arrested while Sena leaders are let off the hook
⇏ Police said that arresting the accused belonging to the party would lead to a flare-up in the communal situation
• The decision had the approval of the assistant commissioner of police (ACP) and the zonal deputy commissioner of police (DCP)
⇏ The then chief minister Sudhakarrao Naik said “Bombay would burn” if they are arrested
⇏ Many Shiv Sainiks are charge sheeted without arrests and interrogations
⇏ The commission observed that repeated flexing of muscles by the Shiv Senaleaders adversely affected the police morale and psyche
Indeed, history won’t forgive us if we talk of the Bombay blasts without pointing out that the bombings would not have happened, perhaps, if the Indian State had not allowed the Shiv Sena under Thackeray to rule the streets of Bombay after the Babri Masjid was demolished by militant Hindus.
If terrorism is politics by striking fear in the hearts of the people, did Yakub instil more fear among a larger section of Indian society than the Shiv Sena supremo? The Justice Srikrishna Commission held Bal Thackeray squarely responsible for the anti-Muslim violence that stalked Bombay’s streets in 1992-93. This was the same man who had infamously taken “credit” for the Babri Masjid demolition by boasting that “my boys did it”. Despite this overwhelming evidence of his culpability in the entire chain of events that led to the 1993 Bombay blasts, here was one man whose party not only went on to rule Maharashtra but whose body was also draped in the national flag and given a State funeral.
Had this man been stopped before the Babri Masjid was demolished, there would perhaps have been no Bombay riots and, therefore, no Bombay blasts. Yet, it was Yakub who was condemned as an “anti-national” while the late Thackeray continues to be hailed by some as a “national hero”. What does this tell us about the nature of the Indian State? Is it really secular and democratic as it claims to be and what the Constitution requires it to be? Is this really a country where everyone is equal in the eyes of the law?
The killing of Yakub forces us to revisit the crimes of the man who was key to some of the most brutal acts of terror in this country. Why is Thackeray, the cartoonist turned- rabble-rouser, not counted among the most dreaded of “terrorists” and as one of those who contributed the most to killing the idea of India?
Thackeray stands testimony to the discriminatory attitude of the justice system in India. The “collective conscience” of the political and social elites was never outraged over his culpability in the killing of nearly 600 Muslims in the Bombay riots. It was never outraged over the violence unleashed by Shiv Sainiks against south Indians and north Indians living in Bombay, which forced many of them to leave the city. And, instead of being treated as a criminal enterprise on the basis of its actions, the Shiv Sena has been accepted by the Indian State as a “mainstream” political party ever since it was floated by Thackeray on the day of the Hindu festival Dussehra in 1966.
The Shiv Sena tapped into the frustration and inchoate rage of unemployed Marathi youth against the “system” and yoked them to its project of emerging as a party that would dominate politics in Maharashtra, especially Bombay. The party’s genesis was as an organised gang of goons who used to be hired by factory owners to attack workers and their leaders, especially from the textile industry that once dominated the economy of Maximum City.
Like all right-wing leaders, the Shiv Sena supremo never dared to question the big industrialists and his organisation always worked to further their interests. He saw trade union leaders and communists who propagated the politics of class struggle as “anti-nationals”. No wonder the Congress, which was in power then, colluded with the Shiv Sainiks in dealing with the “labour menace” when the worker’s movement was proving to be a major challenge to its domination of the political scene.
Thackeray’s venom against the worker’s movement led to the killing of prominent communist leader Krishna Desai, who had played a key role in the struggle for the rights of mill workers in and around Bombay. With the help of the then Congressgovernment and its police force, Thackeray succeeded in humbling the trade union movement in the state. That is how the Congress was responsible for abetting the Shiv Sena’s growth as a terrifying force that went on to target the Dalit movement as well. That, too, was at the behest of the Congress, which was threatened by the political mobilisation of the most oppressed castes.
All organisations of the Hindu Right have one thing in common: their politics is anchored in anti-Muslim vitriol. The Shiv Sainiks, too, trained their guns on Muslims as early as the late 1960s. Thackeray minced no words against Muslims and denounced them as “anti-nationals”. Muslim-inhabited areas were scornfully called “mini-Pakistan”. There was little doubt about Thackeray’s role in the anti- Muslim massacre on 7-8 May 1970 that came to be known as the Bhiwandi riots, but no one bothered to bring him to book.
In the following decades, no “mainstream” political party found the guts to take on the Shiv Sena and the State allowed it to thrive despite its politics of bullying and violence. This led to the gruesome anti-Muslim massacre unleashed by it in Bombay after the Babri Masjid demolition. The nation watched Thackeray openly take pride in the butchery committed by his “boys”. And he continued to rule Bombay from his palatial residence called Matoshree even after the Justice Srikrishna Commission indicted him for his role in the violence that raged in Bombay from December 1992 to January 1993, and led to the bombings in March ‘93.
The Hindu Right has never accepted that India belongs to people from many religions. Failing to identify people like Bal Thackeray as “terrorists” even as those like Yakub Memon and Afzal Guru are hanged in the name of fighting terror, the Indian State has put the spirit of the Constitution and the pluralistic ethos it enshrines at great risk. Indeed, there is no way the fight against terror can make any real headway unless the State stops honouring those who follow in Thackeray’s footsteps and continue to threaten the very idea of India as a secular democracy. And we would be failing in our duty as citizens unless we bring up Thackeray’s “terrorism” every time the State kills a Yakub Memon in cold blood.